Dave Huber is assistant editor of The College Fix. He has been blogging about education, politics, and entertainment for over a decade, most of that time at The Colossus of Rhodey and the popular media bias site Newsbusters. Involved in public education for over 25 years, Dave holds a B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Delaware and is a graduate student member of the National Association of Scholars. In 2000, in association with the NAS, Dave chaired the Delaware Textbook Assessment Committee which examined American and world history texts in the state.
STORY HERE and BELOW, scroll down, is Vanderbilt Professor Edward Rubin's response:
‘Cli-fi’ and the incorporation of climate change/global warming into college curricula
“The overall goal of this curriculum program,” the UCI Sustainability website says, “is to boost climate change/sustainability education at UCI, especially targeting those students for whom climate and sustainability may not be a focus.”
The College Fix received a tip from a source at UC-Irvine which offered suggestions on how to do just that, in this case for an English-related course.
The ideas included making use of “appropriate” vocabulary and readings since, after all, the goal of the program is to make sure all students on campus are reached.
Naturally, I was left wondering: Would it be acceptable to utilize vocabulary and readings (and writing assignments) that are skeptical of the conventional climate wisdom? Skeptical of current methods of sustainability?
This comes at a time when the genre of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” is becoming rather popular in pedagogy, despite it having been around for decades.
Blogger Daniel Bloom reports on a Vanderbilt professor who’s teaching two courses on cli-fi this coming spring semester.
Edward Rubin teaches law and political science at Vandy, and is offering a freshman course titled “Visions of the Future in Cli-Fi,” as well as one for the school’s lifelong learning program called “Climate Change Literature: A New Fictional Genre about a Real Problem.”
The latter has a more detailed description available:
In recent years a new genre of modern novels has emerged — climate change fiction, or “cli-fi.” It now includes dozens, maybe hundreds of books, some in the science fiction mode, others realistic works set in contemporary times, but with a climate change theme. These books are often entertaining in themselves, but also reflect our society’s effort to come to terms with an impending crisis. We’ll approach these books as literature, but we’ll also talk about the underlying issue of climate change, and what the novels say about it.
I’ve read a few on the list: Earth Abides is a 1950s tale detailing how some of the planet’s few survivors of a plague make their way in a new world; The Postman (also a film starring Kevin Costner) examines the collapse of society following EMP and biological attacks; and lastly, the world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for the film Blade Runner) has been decimated by radiation poisoning.
Cli-fi disaster scenarios have been popular for decades, but the global warming aspect of the genre has taken precedence over the last 25 years or so.
One of the more popular stories of the last 10-15 years is The Day After Tomorrow, which features scientist Dennis Quaid attempting, futilely, to persuade an overt Dick Cheney stand-in to “do something” before it’s “too late.”
The film plays on predictable stereotypes — that we’re all doomed unless we act now, and the GOP is comprised of science-hating Luddites and anti-immigrant racists … all the while the “science” that serves as the film’s basis is beyond ridiculous.
Conservatives/Republicans actually aren’t anti-science when it comes to climate change; indeed, they “suffer” from “solution aversion” — when “proposed solutions are ‘more aversive and more threatening to individuals'” than the problem itself.
For example, researchers at Duke found that when free market solutions were proposed to address climate change instead of government regulatory measures, the percentage of conservatives agreeing with statements about global temperature increase more than doubled.
(Note: the same researchers found that progressives suffer from the same malady: they will “deny facts and science too, when the popular solutions and implications are undesirable to them.”)
And hey, isn’t a healthy degree of skepticism a good thing? After all, does anyone recall how pollution and overpopulation were going to be the end of us? A lot of cli-fi from the late 1960s and 1970s proclaimed just this.
The novel Make Room! Make Room!, the foundation for the classic film Soylent Green, portrayed a ridiculously overcrowded New York City of the year 1999 (over 40 million people in the film), and while the film doesn’t specifically mention greenhouse gasses being responsible for the constant heat (I can’t recall if the book does), it does talk about man’s irresponsible use of natural resources and general pollution of the planet.
But the overpopulation worry never materialized despite warnings by folks like Paul R. Ehrlich, and the environment has actually gotten cleaner (excluding the new “pollutant” CO2, of course).
Still, those questioning agendas are often referred to as “rightwing climate denialists,” like this gent who reviewed the global warming novel The Water Knife.
If you’re interested in reading a climate apocalypse story with a 180-degree twist on global warming, get a copy of 1991’s Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn.
The novel envisions a world in which technology-averse “green” parties have assumed power, and have established strict environmental standards. These measures serve to accelerate the next ice age in which runaway glaciers are rapidly advancing southward.
I wonder if UC-Irvine would approve of this book …
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PROFESSOR ED RUBIN at Vanderbilt REPLIES to Dave Huber:
Teaching students about new developments – in science, in politics and in literature – is one of the essential tasks of higher education. A great many resources have been poured into new courses and new research about global terrorism after 911, and I doubt Mr. Huber would object to those initiatives. The World Trade Center attack was a tragedy, and we have suffered a few smaller terrorist attacks since then, but we are getting the problem under control; the possibility that Islamic terrorism will destroy the power or prosperity of the United States seems remote. Climate change, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists on our own university campuses and throughout the world, is a problem of potentially greater consequence. Their prediction is that it will generate killer heat waves, inundate coastal cities throughout the world and send millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of desperate people seeking refuge on our shrunken shores. It’s not as immediate a problem as terrorism, to be sure, but if we continue to sink our heads into the sands, those sands will be overheated or waterlogged by the end of the century.
Yes, “Conservatives/Republicans” are anti-science when it comes to climate change. All the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have declared it to be a hoax. James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has written a book declaring it a hoax, and the Republican majority in the Senate has allowed him to become Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. At the UN’s Conference on Climate Change in Paris, attended by representatives of from 185 nations, one of the main topics of discussion was how to develop strategies that would circumvent the US Congress. Because it is controlled by Conservatives/Republicans, our Congress is now the single greatest impediment to finding rational responses to the impending crisis.
It would be wonderful if conservatives would accept the reality of climate change and focus their concerns on potential solutions, as Mr. Huber asserts. Most people who want us to respond to climate change are desperate to get past the fruitless debate about whether the world’s entire scientific community has decided, for no conceivable reason, to participate in a hoax that violates all the professional standards to which it has previously adhered. They want to talk about the solutions that would be most effective at combatting the problem without impairing people’s lifestyles – after all, it is concern about people’s lifestyles that motivates the concern about climate change in the first place. Mr. Huber declares that “when free market solutions were proposed to address climate change instead of government regulatory measures,” the number of conservatives who are willing to confront the issue increases dramatically. But that’s not true. The response that most people think would be most effective is a carbon tax, which is a market based response. It corrects the obvious market failure that carbon producers, both companies and individuals, are externalizing the real cost of their activities, compels them to internalize that cost, and then allows them to devise their own solutions. Conservatives, including once again the US Congress, have been so adamantly opposed to this solution that there seems no hope of implementing it. Other types of solutions may involve government, but need not be regulatory in the sense Mr. Huber means. For example, every large city in the world should have a mass transit system. Most people who live in Manhattan take mass transit to work, rather than driving; the result is that Manhattanites uses about 90 gallons of gasoline a year, as opposed to the 390 used by other Americans. Of course, building all that mass transit would cost money, and the money would have to come from taxes. But we wouldn’t need to force anyone to use it; people would do it once it’s more convenient than driving, and in the long run it would save money, and contribute to saving the planet.
Mr. Huber’s counter-example of overpopulation is an interesting one. Actually, it is a problem, even if the dramatic situations depicted in some science fiction novels didn’t come to pass. No, New York doesn’t have 40 million people; Tokyo is close, but it’s not a problem, particularly since Japan’s population is stable. But a number of developing world cities, including Karachi, Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City, Lagos and Jakarta have more than 20 million, and they are environmental and human disasters. To be sure, we may be getting the problem under control, but that’s because nations throughout the world were able to overcome conservative resistance to abortion, family planning and equality for women. We can get climate change under control as well, but only if we recognize the problem and start working toward solutions. That’s why it’s so important for universities to teach the coming generation of decision makers about the realities of the problem.
A former book reviewer on the East Coast replies with his response to Prof Rubin's letter:
''RUBIN is spouting Newspeak. Nobody denies that climate changes. It's what is known as a non-linear dynamic, i.e., a chaotic system. And they only started using "climate change" when "global warming" started to seem a little dubious. And the solution to warming is the same as the solution for global cooling was — more work and money for bureaucrats. Moreover, as Michael Crichton said once, "When you hear the phrase 'scientific consensus', reach for your wallet." Science isn't about consensus. It's about observation, experiment, falsification, and replication. The kind of science these people are doing is what the alchemists and astrologers used to do — predicting, which, as Niels Bohr said, "is difficult, especially the future.''