by Rebecca Rhodin
For all the debate about global warming, one thing’s certain: Today’s students will live with the outcome, so it’s wise to look ahead.
That’s why two faculty members at Montgomery County Community College’s West Campus have launched a pair of courses to spark thinking and planning about the earth’s future.
“This is going to emerge as one of our greatest challenges,” says Assistant Professor of Geography Sam Wallace. “Students should address it before leaving college.”
In “Sustainable Climate Communities,” Wallace examines the cultural and economic impact of global warming, as well as mitigation and adaption strategies.
Geology Professor Rob Kuhlman delves into the geophysical basis of climate change and the impact human behavior has on it in the other course, “The Science of Climate Change.”
“I think it’s exciting. I think Montco is cutting-edge,” says Kuhlman. “It’s a contemporary and socially important suite of courses to meet future needs.”
A three-year, $64,000 grant from NASA enabled Kuhlman and Wallace to participate in a prestigious training program, from they developed the new courses. Both sustainability courses complement Instructor Jill Beccaris-Pescatore’s “Introduction to Environmental Economics,” which was offered for the first time last spring at the Central Campus.
In Kuhlman’s introductory survey class, students explore “patterns and trends that might indicate climate change” through data such as temperature records, rainfall measurements, and frequencies of floods and tropical storms.
Strengthening their analytical skills, students are encouraged to independently weigh the numbers to decide for themselves whether predicted changes are occurring.
Often, the course takes in a discussion of real events and their practical outcomes, such as last summer’s near-drought followed by heavy rain. Though the rainfall balanced out statistically, “corn production will be way down,” Kuhlman notes.
Wallace’s class examines climate change from a geographer’s point of view: its varying impact from nation to nation, diverse attitudes toward it and what countries should do — mitigate or adapt.
Even if Pennsylvanians don’t see big changes, he notes, it could one day afflict our nation’s trading partners. For example, rising oceans have already robbed the nation of Tuvulu of its fresh water.
Students come to Kuhlman and Wallace’s courses from a variety of majors because they want a peek ahead, for better or worse, at the Earth they’ll inherit. Kuhlman says he doesn’t “tell people what they should believe,” but that it’s foolish to ignore the possibility that the planet is heating up.
To Wallace, the issue isn’t debatable “when you have towns in Alaska falling into the ocean. Yeah, it’s changing.”
“I’m not going to see most of these changes,” says Wallace. “My students are the ones who are going to be left with this.”