New multicampus course gets students involved in practical climate change solutions

UC Ramanthan

Credit: University of California

Professor Ramanathan illustrates the global warming trend and what needs to be done to avoid reaching catastrophic levels of warming.

A new course on climate change solutions is coming to the University of California, and not just on one campus: six UC campuses will be teaching the class, and the lectures will be delivered by the top experts in their fields from across the UC system.

The brainchild of professor Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the course grew out of UC’s groundbreaking report “Bending the Curve: Ten scalable solutions for carbon neutrality and climate stability,” as well as the university’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which commits UC to reaching operational carbon neutrality by 2025.

The new undergrad course, “Bending the Curve: Climate Change Solutions,” follows the interdisciplinary nature of the report and hopes to attract students from various academic backgrounds and fields of study to have them work together in identifying and exploring solution-focused projects.

One of the 10 solutions from the “Bending the Curve” report became a call to action for Ramanathan: “Foster a global culture of climate action through coordinated public communication and education at local to global scales.” In response, Ramanathan designed a course about creating scalable solutions to climate change that was itself scalable, with the possibility of being taught not just at UC San Diego, but across the UC system and beyond.

“The idea is that with a course like ‘Bending the Curve,’ we could scale this up to all of California — hopefully even beyond,” said Ramanathan.

The course is framed around the report’s 10 scalable solutions and features video lectures from top UC experts on each topic. The lectures cover the multidimensional aspect of climate change, discussing climate science, societal transformation, technology, ecosystem management, governance, economics, communication and more.

“There is no single technology that will solve climate change,” said Ramanathan. “If we want to prepare our students to fight global warming, they need to understand the scientific and the human dimensions of the problem, and we need to give them the tools to address the problem.”

Unlike a typical lecture-based course, “Bending the Curve” uses a dynamic “flipped” classroom approach. Students learn content through online video lectures before class and come prepared to discuss the topic with the instructor and classmates in-person. Each instructor has flexibility to shape and adapt the course based on their expertise and the interests of the students. With students learning the material prior to discussion, this model of instruction engages the student in more active learning and provides a richer, more collaborative in-person experience.

To bring this all to life, the course was designed by an interdisciplinary team that included UC Santa Barbara social scientist Hahrie Han, an expert in social movements, and Alan Roper, an instructional designer at UC Office of the President (UCOP), with technical assistance by UC San Diego research associate Astrid Hsu. The Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI) at UCOP coordinated the efforts between campus participants across the system.

“It was exciting to get to discuss some real examples of solutions for climate mitigation, and to have such a dynamic set of students in the course,” said Lara Streiff, a student who took the course when it was piloted at UC San Diego. “We were fortunate to hear from professors throughout the UC system to get different perspectives. Many of the students were also in programs more related to international policy, so they brought unique views to the issues that you may not get the chance to explore in purely science-based courses.”

Streiff’s work in the class led to a research project with Ramanathan, and a paper published in the journal Urban Climate in September 2017. This was no fluke: Ramanathan is hoping that the work done by students in the class can have a chance to have a larger impact. Through a unique partnership with the California Digital Library (CDL), students will have the opportunity to develop their course projects into published open-access articles.

“Bending the Curve” will be taught as an undergrad course during the Winter 2018 quarter at UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC Irvine, and will be coming to UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz later in 2018.