In CLLC-L 230 Geoengineering and Climate Change, Ryan O’Loughlin discusses how we as humans play into how the climate shifts. Through this course, O’Loughlin hopes to show that the slow response to climate change is a result of political, societal, and behavioral human tendencies. The class is designed to show that there is not one singular solution to climate change, but a combination of solutions, each designed to target a specific facet of every day life in order to make sure that averting the incoming climate crisis is a top priority.
An interview with Ryan O’Loughlin, a graduate student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, is below.
Why does this course fit the theme of this year’s Themester?
O’Loughlin: My course fits the “resilience” theme because it focuses on the study of climate change, and on the contentious proposed response to “geoengineer” the climate, from a variety of perspectives. These include philosophical, scientific, and ethical perspectives.
Students will learn not only in what sense the earth’s climate system is/isn’t resilient to disturbances such as CO2 emissions, but also why humans have been so slow and ineffective in responding to the problems caused by these disturbances. Indeed, climate change has even been deemed a “wicked problem.” Wicked problems call for diverse perspectives and interdisciplinary thinking, both of which will take center stage in my course.
The vast scope of climate change as a problem facing humans, and the interconnectedness of its impacts, calls for an interdisciplinary approach to thinking about the earth’s climate system and how we can make it more resilient (and how we can make the earth climate + human “system” more resilient). In this class we will see what different thinkers [across] disciplines can offer us. In discussing their work we can become more critical, adaptive, and diverse in our thinking.
What type of students do you encourage to take this course? Where do you suggest people can educate themselves about this topic if they are unable to take the class?
O’Loughlin: Anyone interested in science, reasoning, human values, and earth’s future would find this course interesting.
For the part of the course that talks about our knowledge of climate change and our slow response to it, I recommend Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt. There’s also a very engaging documentary based on this book that presents a condensed version of this material.
We also talk about some successes of climate models in the course. For this, I suggested Spencer Weart’s webpage (which is essentially a big online book), The discovery of Global Warming. See here: https://history.aip.org/climate/index.htm
For an overview of some ethical and political issues of climate change generally, check out: Stephen Gardiner’s book, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change.
Finally, specifically on the topic of geoengineering, its potential, and its limitations, I recommend Alan Robock’s paper, “20 Reasons why Geoengineering May be a Bad Idea.” For more details on the modeling of potential geoengineering scenarios, IU’s own Ben Kravitz is a climate scientist who is extremely knowledgeable about these issues.
If this class was condensed into a single guest lecture, what parts of the course would you highlight upon?
O’Loughlin: It would be so difficult to condense this class into a single lecture! If I had to do so, I would highlight the debates concerning whether its permissible to research, not implement, various geoengineering strategies and what this research actually entails, such as modeling, and what the results look like. We would look at arguments for and against the permissibility of studying geoengineering alongside consideration of what the scientific research papers on geoengineering actually say.
What do you hope people learn from your class and more importantly, what do you hope they teach others after being in this class?
O’Loughlin: I want students to learn why scientific knowledge is imperfect, even though it is the best we have, and how values and ethics can intersect with scientific findings. I’d like students to be able to explain to others why humanity has been so slow to address climate change, and what role models have played and continue to play for studying climate and geoengineering.
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