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New climate change course takes interdisciplinary approach

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Michael Bevis, a professor in Ohio State’s School of Earth Sciences who focuses on the areas of geophysics and environment, has been teaching climate change for a long time but only from a physics angle.

But in 2014, he said he realized climate change could be better understood, due to its complexity, if taught from multiple perspectives.

Starting in the upcoming Autumn Semester, his goal will come to fruition.

Climate Change: Mechanisms, Impacts and Mitigation,” is a new cross-discipline general education course that will teach climate change from three perspectives: earth science, biology and history.

The four-credit course is listed as EARTHSC 1911. It plans to identify problems related to climate change, analyze potential impacts on human beings and communities, and discuss solutions to handle current environmental situations.

Bevis said he got the idea for the class while he was teaching about physical issues caused by global warming. He wanted students to also understand the future impacts of climate change, so he decided to create a course to join other facets of it.

Bevis said he then made his request to David Manderscheid, executive dean of the College of Arts and Science and vice provost for Arts and Sciences. Bevis went through a series of processes to get things like the course idea, the syllabus and GE credits for different fields approved. It took more than 18 months from conception to final approval.

“It’s complicated,” Bevis said. “Universities tend to be conservative about new courses.”

In the new course, Bevis will talk about the effects of climate change, such as drought, flooding and rising of sea levels, as well as the reasons for those changes and predictions for the future.

However, when he was constructing the class, he felt that an important part was missing: the biological impacts.

He then contacted Steven Rissing, a professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, in early March 2014. Rissing will join the course to analyze how climate change affects living organisms on the earth.

He will focus on various consequences, including impacts on agriculture, the spread of disease and relationships between species, Rissing said.

“There is an interface interaction going here on all the physical and chemical interactions in the ocean, in the sky, and in the resulting and biological changes here,” Rissing said.

After Bevis and Rissing analyzed the physical and biological issues of climate change, they moved on to examine how historical context would affect their understanding of climate change.

That led to a collaboration with Sam White, an assistant professor in the Department of History, in April 2014.

White studies historic climate fluctuation. He was invited to the course to teach the influence on community and societal adjustments to the impacts of climate change.

His teaching will cover climate variability and model projection for climate change impacts, with a combination of various proxy information and human observations of climate during historical periods.

He will also talk about past human experiences, including cultural, economic and political factors for environmental problems, as well as people’s response and adaptation to them. He said this might help mitigate the impact of present climatic changes and predict future ones.

“There is probably a lot we can learn from the past,” White said. “I think we can get broader, overall insight into our (current climate) situation and what we might do about it.”

Beyond the knowledge of climate change, one goal of this class is to help students develop a scientific point of view, by teaching them to analyze ambiguous and complicated issues from multiple angles with evidence, Rissing said.

“We are trying to teach scientific literacy,” Rissing said.

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