New curriculum promises to teach both science and social impact of climate change
When Samantha Gray started a master’s degree in climate change at the University of Waterloo last year, she realized there were gaps in her knowledge. With an undergraduate degree in earth sciences from St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, NS, she had a solid background in science, but lacked a foundation in the economics, politics and legal aspects of his favorite field. “It’s important to understand the science, but you have to know how to apply this science in legislative and policy settings,” she says. “Looking back, I would have liked a more interdisciplinary approach to my undergraduate program.
Starting in fall 2018, StFX students will have access to exactly that. The school’s new Bachelor of Arts and Science in Climate and Environment program focuses on both the scienti ﬁ c and social aspects of the impact humans have on the world. “There are many jobs in all industries where graduates need to have interdisciplinary skills,” says Dave Risk, chair of the university’s earth sciences program and one of the professors who helped create the program. . “There is a change in the global labor market due to the great green shift. “
The four-year program will include a compulsory core curriculum with a balanced mix of science and social courses, such as introduction to the climate system, introduction to science-based policies, and climate change and people, who will be taught in collaboration with the university’s Coady International Institute. Courses in chemistry, mathematics, economics, philosophy and sociology complete the program.
Students will have the opportunity to specialize in either Climate, a concentration that focuses on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system, or Environment, which offers courses in resource management, chemical contaminants and terrestrial processes.
A variety of courses offer Indigenous content and perspectives on environmental and climate issues, with more in the pipeline. “Indigenous peoples ‘close relationship with the natural environment has provided them with both framework and specific knowledge about the environment and climate change that can further enrich students’ understanding of our surrounding environment,” says Risk.
The program draws on the expertise of professors from several university departments to give students a holistic understanding of how people affect the earth, and vice versa. “We need science to inform policy and we need economics to understand science. The nature of the question is interdisciplinary, ”explains Patrick Withey, associate professor of economics and another member of the program’s founding committee. “If we are to understand why the sea level is going to rise, we have to understand by how much it will rise and also who will be affected by it. In her economics of natural resources class, for example, students examine the effect on the Canadian and global economies of industries such as fossil fuels, water resources, and forestry. A scienti ﬁ c understanding of the impact of these industries on the environment helps students tackle issues such as biodiversity conservation and sustainability.
The interdisciplinary approach has worked well at StFX, says Risk, and students are asking for more integrated learning opportunities. “We looked at our other interdisciplinary programs and found that they generated fantastic professional results,” says Risk. “Students want options. They want depth, but they know the world is a more complex and nuanced place than before and they won’t have just one career.
The program provides hands-on learning opportunities to complement classroom learning. For example, students in Risk’s field methods course will camp in a cabin on Cape Breton Island to conduct studies on water, air and vegetation. Fourth-year students take courses that allow them to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world problems and scenarios. “Students come up with projects that will suggest community solutions and support consultations with partner organizations,” says Risk. And there is an option to do a 12 or 16 month cooperative internship.
Graduate students can expect to find work in a wide range of industries, from government policy to retail and manufacturing. “Nowadays, you see that companies in all industries hire people who have a responsibility for sustainability,” says Risk. “All great businesses need people who think about being green. “
Samantha Gray hopes to build a career in government and help change the way society deals with climate change. As a supporter of the interdisciplinary method, she welcomes the new approach to her alma mater. “An arts and science program will prepare students for the real world,” she says. “When it comes to climate change and the environment, I don’t think it’s possible to do one without the other.”
MORE ABOUT ST. FRANCIS XAVIER: