How this came about
Climate Science, Climate Fiction is a course/collaboration co-teaching the basics of climate science through the lens of climate fiction. Learners will leave the course with a broad understanding of the various components of climate science – the hydrologic cycle, impact of greenhouse gasses, ice core records, plate tectonics, ocean circulation, weather, and more – key for understanding how and what we know about the climate crisis. As modes of teaching, relating to, and deeply understanding anthropogenic climate change, the course will teach through and with climate fiction, defined broadly as myth, art, literature, corporate reports, and other modes of fictionalization. Students will learn the basic math and physics crucial for developing a sense of quantitative comfort, while also generating their own works of fiction, through (m)any of the modes we engage with in the course. This course will draw from backgrounds in physics, geology, earth science, chemistry, art history, comparative literature, archival studies, media studies, architecture, design, and more.
In addition, this project will play with the way syllabi can be embodied. Through an exploration of various mediums of dissemination, both static and interactive/malleable, I aim to create a syllabus whose design aids in the learning goals and experiences of the course. The exact form is still up in the air but current ideas include: digital garden, choose-your-own-adventure, mad-libs-like zine, physical garden or park (through labeling and/or AR). The syllabi will focus on developing roots, both in its creation, as in, linking to the various, imprecise ways of knowing, and for the learners, in generating deeply interconnecting roots crucial for growing a forest (ecosystem, hydrologic system, mycelium network) of knowledge around, of, and beyond the climate crisis.
This course has been bumping around in my brain for maybe 3 or 4 years. I’ve seen somewhat similar courses begin to arise, but none that I can find that are explicitly grounded in climate science. From where I sit, as a white non-binary settler working on a PhD in glaciology at an Ivy League institution in New York City, there remains a hesitation in the scientific and artistic communities I belong to, move in, move through - a tension between scientific & artistic ways of understanding. And also corporate/for-profit ways of understanding, but I don’t like to group business with art/earth science.
When I think about climate, I think about Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I think about how I feel and what we stand to lose. These understandings can be expanded, if we acknowledge and maybe even begin to release the (often, imposed, circumstantial, western-education-related) fear or disdain or distaste we have for the physics, math, chemistry, biology, geology. When I think about climate, I also think about heat. I think about the hydrologic cycle as one of our intimate connections. I think about photosynthesis as in - chlorophyll, electron exchange, the miraculous transformation of carbon into glucose. I think about mountain ranges and sedimentary basins as the written word of our planet. There is so much wonder! How much richer do the stories we tell become (when?) earth is the story, and disciplines are consciously exceeded? What does it mean to learn physics from a fictional world? How does that change the emotional experience of a proof, a problem, a solution? What does it mean when we let fiction feed our science, let myths pose hypotheses?
I don’t consider myself an expert in climate science or climate fiction. But, as a glaciologist and a voracious reader of fiction, I’ve lived forever at their intersection. I am thrilled to have the chance to engage more deeply with the fields as a single line (a fiberoptic cable, a branch seeking sunlight) of inquiry.