Nature and Place
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Climate change & the humanities:

Q&A with Danilo Caputo, English Ph.D. student
Tell us about WR39C and how you've incorporated sustainability issues into the classroom. What have student reactions been like?

WR39C focuses on critical reading and rhetoric while also introducing students to research practices and social justice issues. WR39C instructors have a range of important issues to choose from, and I have decided to make climate change the core topic in my classes. Since I started teaching WR39C, I’ve used the course curriculum to not only teach my students how to become better writers, but also how to become informed advocates for climate action and sustainable practices. The quarter begins with covering the various causes and impacts of climate change, exploring the disconnect between science and policy, and observing the ways in which various disciplines in the sciences, social sciences and humanities engage with the issue. After introducing my students to a sampling of the ways in which climate change is analyzed and discussed, they are then asked to write research papers that explain a climate change-related issue and advocate for solutions or next steps to address the problem. The reactions have been great! Most of my students are STEM majors, and many of them write essays that deepen their knowledge of how their chosen fields intersect with climate change and, moreover, give them the means for translating that knowledge into action through their advocacy papers and presentations. Although students may enter the class with reservations about a writing course that uses climate change as its core theme, many leave informed, inspired, empowered about what they’ve done in ten short weeks.

You participated in the Climate Action Training Program with the Sustainability Initiative and did really interesting work around the communications of science. Could you tell us about that work?

My participation in the Climate Action Training Program, led by Steve Allison, UCI associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, was a fantastic experience. I had the opportunity to work with an incredibly intelligent and inspiring group of Ph.D. students from a range of disciplines, including engineering, biology, sociology, and anthropology. Our common interest has been to not only learn more about climate change and the impacts it will have on the planet, but also how we can pool our expertise together in order to address this issue in meaningful and significant ways. The training began with enrollment in a class at the UCI Law School led by Professor Joseph DiMento. This class, titled “Climate Change UCI: Law, Policy, Science, and Action,” was a multidisciplinary course that brought together Climate Action fellows, law students, and climate scientists to share their research and perspectives on climate change and international policy. We also had training in data science and led discussions of the latest Assessment Report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I also received a summer internship with the Sustainability Initiative; I worked on their Regional Climate Resilience Project, a community organizing project focused on climate change
impacts, vulnerabilities, action, and activism from the deserts of Riverside County to the coast of Orange County, and my job was to help them mitigate some of the miscommunication that usually comes with bringing together a diverse group of people including but not limited to scientists, bureaucrats, activists, business leaders, and other stakeholders. I produced a report tracing the history of the term resilience and its uses across sectors and disciplines, and I had the opportunity to share this work at a Poster Symposium, the CAT Program’s culminating event, last fall.

Tell us about your experience at the Climate Action Lobbying trip.

We got to put our climate action training to work last April when we were sent on a lobbying trip to DC. Our goal was to lobby on Capitol Hill to advocate for policies that are pro-environment, pro-economy, and are backed by sound science. Regardless of the current political climate, climate change is happening and we were determined to sustain efforts that address this issue by promoting bipartisan and even conservative-led efforts. To make the most out of each meeting, we spent weeks researching each Representative and tailoring our message to most effectively reach them. When we arrived in DC, we spent a day meeting with various organizations that promote climate action and sustainability. We met with members of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, and the Center for Environmental Policy at American University. The following day, we met with 10 Southern California Representatives and their aides from both sides of the aisle, including Mimi Walters, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, Linda Sanchez, and Alan Lowenthal. We also met with Senator Kamala Harris’ environmental aide, Kevin Chang  (a UCI alum!). Overall, the lobbying trip was an exhilarating and exhausting experience—one that I won’t soon forget. Although it remains to be seen how much of an impact we made in our meetings, the Climate Action lobbying trip has left an indelible impression on me.

Has your work in these issues inspired your post-graduation goals?

Absolutely! I’ve already noticed the positive feedback loop created by my activism and my teaching: I’ve become a better resource for my WR39C students because of what I’ve learned in the Climate Action Training Program, and the act of teaching WR39C and the positive responses from my students inspire me to become a better activist. I intend to continue to find ways to allow my passions and interests to converge in mutually beneficial and enriching ways. Moreover, through these collaborative experiences, I’ve come to recognize the vital role that those working in the Humanities can play in climate action and sustainability efforts; while discussing the gap between science and policy, I’ve learned that the two leading causes of this rift are the inability to clearly communicate and effectively humanize the problem. We in the humanities are perfect candidates for closing this gap, and that is how we can contribute.
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