Climate Change and Society
SOC 4950 – Variable Topics
Tuesday and Thursday 10:00-11:15am
Instructor: Casey Schotter

Introduction
Climate change is the greatest threat to human survival our species has ever faced. Humans have the power to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and adapt to the new physical and social realities of a climatically changed Earth. Our societies will have to adapt as well, whether we are discussing the international community, the nation-state, or the tribe, all social organizations will be affected by climate change. Sociologists have identified five major institutions that, more or less, stabilize societies: the family, religion, education, government, and the economy. These five institutions will play critical roles in how easily or difficultly humans adapt to climate changed Earth. Yet, these institutions are not independent of climate change and will undergo their own relationships of cause and effect with climate change. The sociological imagination becomes an indispensable tool for analyzing how we arrived in this position and ways of thinking to get ourselves out of it. In this class, we will discuss and examine the relationships between each of the Big Five social institutions and climate change: how is it causing climate change and how will it be effected by climate change.

Required Books and Readings

Throughout the semester, we will read some of the most up to date sociological and criminological articles published in the best journals. You can find these in the syllabus and when they will be read. There will be three books required for this class:

Lynas, Mark. 2008. Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. Washington, D.C.: Harper Collins Publishing, Ltd.
Bradley, James. 2015. Clade. London, U.K.: Titan Books.
Foster, John Bellamy, Richard York and Brett Clark. 2011. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

These books have been selected for a few reasons. Six Degrees is a good starter book for those unfamiliar with the severity or gravitas of climate change. Some of the science is a bit dated, however, the central themes are still relevant. Clade is a work of fiction that we will read in our unit on the family institution. A fun, fast paced read, Clade will provide one possible story of a family experiencing the effects of climate change over four generations. Finally, The Ecological Rift is a work of non-fiction by environmental sociologists that documents the effects of unrestrained capitalism on the environment. This will be read during our economy unit.

Writing Assignments and Participation

Our brains have a hard time grasping the totality of climate change, rationalize it, articulate it, and then point to a set of specific actions to take to prevent calamity. Thus, writing about our thoughts, feelings, and creative future predictions make the challenge a little more tolerable. Here, we will have a daily writing assignment due at the end of class (some will be conducted during class time). The assignment will vary based on the unit (see schedule), however, there will be some component of reflection and connection to climate change and sociology. We will also try our hands at creative writing. You will not be required to write the next greatest climate change novel, however, creative writing requires a focus on key details to paint a holistic picture for the reader. This skill is directly transferable to ethnographic methods where many sociologists fail to capture the subtle nuances of mundane, everyday reality.

Participation is also crucial to this class. Along with submitting a daily writing assignment, the class will be broken into literature circles, or reading groups, to discuss the books or articles for that day. You will be required to discuss what you read, what you thought about it, and how you personally reacted to it. Working in small groups like this may make it easier for more reserved students to feel comfortable to discuss. Daily attendance is also required. In the government unit, we will conduct a UN Climate Forum role-play game where students will be assigned to a specific block of countries. Each student will represent a single country in their block during the UN negotiations. It is very important that students are present for all of these classes.

Final Project and Paper

In lieu of a final exam, the class as a whole will work together to engage in community activism as it relates to climate change. One of the most important aspects of teaching climate change is engaging in ways to mitigate the effects of it. THIS PROJECT WILL NOT STOP CLIMATE CHANGE! We are not trying to solve the world’s problems in one fell swoop, rather, have a positive impact right here, right now.

Due to the rotating nature of the classes and different group demands, this “final project” may be implemented at any time throughout the semester. Rather than starting a project on our own, it would be in the class’s best interest to fall in on a group that already exists. Kalamazoo has several groups that engage in environmental awareness and climate change mitigation efforts. Choose from list here: http://www.kalamazooenvironmentalcouncil.org/memberorganizations
The class as a whole will select which organization to pair with and begin work on a community project. This will require weekly progress reports from each student about their task, outside class time for the project, and may require “cold-calling” or emailing businesses and people for funds.

If the group selected does not have a project or no projects are in the works by any organization, then we will use a default community service project. The default community service project has several components. First, each student will conduct a weekly trash audit of their household, identifying how much waste is generated, how much can be recycled, composted, or must be thrown out. Second, students will talk with their landlords about the recycling programs at their units. Kalamazoo County and Republic Services have partnered together mandating any unit in Kalamazoo County that wants a recycling bin can have one at no extra charge, they simply must contact Republic Services. For apartment complexes, however, if the recycling bins have been abused in the past, Republic Services can take them away and only re-issue them upon proof of compliance. Each student will determine their property’s status in the recycling program and coordinate with their landlord to see what can be done about participating in the recycling program. Third, students will need to organize several clean-up events around the community (one per literature circle). Coordination and planning will be required between groups throughout the semester to line-up volunteers (if needed) and class scheduling.

Regardless of final project selected, there will be a final reflection paper. This paper will be a presentation of what you have learned throughout the semester. You will reflect on your journey learning about climate change, how sociological/criminological theory can help explain climate change and its effects (or inability to do so), and what skills/competencies you learned or developed in class. This reflection should encompass aspects of each unit, the final project, and your personal thoughts/feelings. It will be longer than the daily reflection documents but it does not need to be a book. There are no page limits or requirements; take as long as you need but remember that succinct writing is a good skill to have! I would expect that four to five pages single spaced, twelve point font, one inch margins would be enough.

Grading

Students should not fret about grading schemes and rigorous rubrics in this class. It is heavy on writing, however, most of the writing assignments are in class reflections, discussions, or one-page write-ups the day before class. Therefore, the grading of daily assignments will be:
  • Check plus for exceptional participation, insight, and thought provoking questions.
  • Check for students who demonstrated knowledge of the readings and participated genuinely
  • Check minus for students that will ill-prepared for discussion and class
  • Incomplete for students who did not attend class.
For the creative writing, place based, letter to the editors, and final paper write-up, specific guidelines will be given in class.

Skills and Competencies

Here is a brief list of the skills/competencies that should be learned and demonstrated throughout the semester in your writings, discussions, and behaviors.

Media and Content Literacy: in the era of fake news and the 24/7 bombardment of propaganda, it is imperative that students learn how to recognize junk science quickly as well as deconstruct media that hides the realities of climate change. In the education unit, students will critically analyze arguments by the Heartland Institute, a group that engages in climate change denial information dissemination. Students will also analyze advertising campaigns by various corporations.

Creativity and Imagination: climate change is a rational problem, with rational solutions, and a rational apparatus to mitigate the effects of climate change as well as adapt to the new conditions. However, people generally don’t view climate change rationally, rather, it is an attack on personal, self/group defining, and political values. In order to debate a rational problem irrationally, it will require some imagination and creativity. This is to test our ability to escape the mechanical and functionalist view of “X” causes “Y.” In other words, we need to be more like Doc Brown and “think fourth dimensionally!”

Theoretical Application: science, both social and physical, have tremendous amounts of data on the impacts of climate change, gaps in the literature, and some theoretical frameworks to explain behaviors. Therefore, students must know how to accurately use theory, evidence, and methods to form a rational, logical position regarding climate change and its social impacts.

Leadership: this will come out of the community service project and each student will display some aspects of leadership, whether it’s writing emails or organizing a clean-up day. Using my military training as a basis for leadership definitions, leadership has three attributes: purpose, direction, and motivation. Purposive action should be informed by theory, direction of action should be informed by methods and evidence, and motivation should be informed by our self-reflection on direct as well as indirect impacts of climate change.


Class Schedule

This is a tentative outline of the course events this semester. This can be modified as the class progresses due to pacing issues, inclement weather, sickness, conferences, or demands by the climate change organization we choose to work with.

Week 1 (Aug. 27- Aug. 31)
Introduction to Course and Syllabus; assign literature circles and World Climate Blocks
Assignment #1: Five impacts of CC, five areas of research on CC, five feelings/thoughts
Week 2 (Sept. 3-7)
Begin Reading Six Degrees: Chapter 1 and Introduction; Chapters 2-3
Assignment #2: Briefly summarize the main arguments in each chapter. How will this effect sociology and society? What are your personal reflections on the reading? Can be stream of consciousness writing. Have two discussion questions.
Assignment #3: Briefly summarize the main arguments in each chapter. How will this effect sociology and society? What are your personal reflections on the reading? Can be stream of consciousness writing. Have two discussion questions.
Week 3 (Sept. 10-14)
Finish reading Six Degrees: Chapters 4-5; Chapter 6, full discussion of book
Assignment #4: Briefly summarize the main arguments in each chapter. How will this effect sociology and society? What are your personal reflections on the reading? Can be stream of consciousness writing. Have two discussion questions.
Assignment #5: What are your thoughts on this book in its entirety? Was it a worthwhile read? Did you learn anything new? Is the information startling? How did you react when reading it? Would this influence CC deniers? Would you recommend it to others?
Week 4 (Sept. 17-21)
Religion Unit Begins. Read: See Assignment #9! Start working on it today!
“God’s First Temples” and “Hetch Hetchy Valley” by John Muir
“The Natural Environment as a Spiritual Resource” by Ferguson and Tamburello 2015
“Narrating Climate Change as Rite of Passage” by Menning 2016
Assignment #6: Select one of the readings and write a reaction to it (if Muir is selected write on both essays). What is the author’s summarized argument? Why make a connection between nature and religion? Is this an appealing point of inquiry? What are your personal reflections on the reading?
Continue Religious Readings:
“Does Religion Promote Environmental Sustainability?” by Koehrsen 2015
“Indigenous Communities” by Race, Mathew, Campbell, and Hampton 2016
“Indigenous Communities and the UN” by Ford, Maillet, Pouliot, Meredith, Cavanaugh 2016
Assignment #7: Select one reading and write a reaction. What is the author’s summarized argument? Why make a connection between nature and religion? Is this an appealing point of inquiry? What are your personal reflections on the reading?
Week 5 (Sept. 24-28)
Watch: “A Will for the Woods” documentary. http://www.awillforthewoods.com/#home
Assignment #8: write a reaction to the documentary in class. Death is part of the “religious” apparatus. How might our funeral rituals change due to climate change? Are “green” cemeteries appealing? Are there other alternatives in terms of burial?
Finish Religion Unit
Assignment #9: Creative Writing Assignment! You can start working on this when we begin the unit. Write a cli-fi short story. It doesn’t have to win a Newberry Award! Must have the five key elements of a story: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. Use these three core parts of the short story: require the character to make a choice; show that choice by actions; actions must have consequences (see www.phillipbrewer.net). Drought and water scarcity will be the greatest direct impacts on the United States in the coming decades. Imagine how these may impact the role of religion in society.
Some possible ideas for short story:
Could new religions emphasizing nature connections emerge?
Could old school “fire and brimstone” religions reappear?
What about the flagellants, witch-hunts, shamans, etc.
World religions drive peace and climate change accords
All-out religious wars
Transformation of places of worship as millions of refugees relocate
Places of worship and their role as social service provider changes
Bring what you have written to this final class. Literature circles will share what they have done, any improvements that could be made, and notes taken for re-writes. If students want, they can share their short stories to the whole class. I will write one at the same time as well and will offer it to the class for critiques. Students will have forty-eight hours to make changes and submit final short story to e-learning.
Week 6 (Oct. 1-5)
Education Unit Begins. Read:
“Politicization of Science” by Schmid-Petri 2017
“Framing Climate Change” by Bolsen, Kingsland, and Palm 2018
“Hope and Fear in Education Sustainability” by Dahlbeck 2014
Assignment #10: Select one article and write your reaction to it. Summarize the main argument. How does this apply to climate change? How can this be used in education, classroom discussions?
Climate Change Literacy: For the next week, we will read and evaluate climate change skeptics literature from the Heartland Institute “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, 2nd Edition” 2016. Read: Introduction through Chapter 3.
Assignment #11: There are several short critiques made in each chapter. Select one and investigate the claim. Is the heartland Institute correct in their presentation of the climate change facts? Is their argument logical or does it follow the fallacies of logic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies)? How do the authors in “Why Scientists Disagree” present their evidence? Is it sufficient to overturn existing facts? Write a brief summary of the argument you selected, write a brief summary of the climate change evidence that your selection is critiquing. Use some of the ideas/theories from previous readings to explain the presence of these counter-facts. This should not exceed two pages, single spaced.
Week 7 (Oct. 8-12)
Climate Change Literacy. Finish “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” 2016. Chapters 4 – Conclusion.
Assignment #12: There are several short critiques made in each chapter. Select one and investigate the claim. Is the heartland Institute correct in their presentation of the climate change facts? Is their argument logical or does it follow the fallacies of logic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies)? How do the authors in “Why Scientists Disagree” present their evidence? Is it sufficient to overturn existing facts? Write a brief summary of the argument you selected, write a brief summary of the climate change evidence that your selection is critiquing. Use some of the ideas/theories from previous readings to explain the presence of these counter-facts. This should not exceed two pages, single spaced.
Place Based Writing Assignment. The University does a lot to help protect wilderness areas, engage in eco-research, and offer solutions to environmental problems. Yet, many of these green spaces are overlooked. At WMU, there are several protected areas that we can visit and write about. For this class, we will meet at Asylum Lake Preserve and engage in place-based writing.
Assignment #13: For the entire class period, write with rich description the area you are viewing. Document the colors of the leaves, the types of trees, how their branches extend, the types of grasses, the dryness of the area, the foot paths and traffic patterns, the people that are present, the types of animals around, signs of other animals not seen (foxholes, deer tracks, scat), describe the smells in the area, describe the sounds of the animals, wind, traffic, people. Describe what you are feeling as you look around, put yourself in the context! Get as much sensory data as possible so that you could write a description that when someone else read it they could transport themselves there. For your homework, imagine what that area will be like in 2050 considering the effects of climate change we have discussed in class (especially Six Degrees). Keep in mind the very neo-liberal political economy of Michigan and the US and how that will affect WMU funding and expenditures. Your follow-up writing should be as detailed as possible, like your initial write-up. Both pieces are due in the next class.
Week 8 (Oct. 15-19)
Family Unit Begins. Start reading Clade by James Bradley. Read “Solstice,” Monsson,” and “Clade.”
Assignment #14: What themes emerged from the chapter? What macro-level forces occurred in these readings? How was climate change influencing them? What, if any, sociological or criminological theory can be used to explain the characters’ behaviors? What personal reflections did you have on the readings?
Continue Readings. “Breaking and Entering,” “Boiling the Frog,” and “The Keeper of Bees.”
Assignment #15: What themes emerged from the chapter? What macro-level forces occurred in these readings? How was climate change influencing them? What, if any, sociological or criminological theory can be used to explain the characters’ behaviors? What personal reflections did you have on the readings?
Week 9 (Oct. 22-26)
Continue with Clade. Read “A Journal of the Plague Year” and “Echo.”
Assignment #16: What themes emerged from the chapter? What macro-level forces occurred in these readings? How was climate change influencing them? What, if any, sociological or criminological theory can be used to explain the characters’ behaviors? What personal reflections did you have on the readings?
Finish Clade. Read “1420 MHz” and “The Shimmer.”
Assignment #17: Reflect on the book as a whole. Was this a good read to demonstrate obstacles that families may face in the very near future? What was missing if it wasn’t effective? How were you able to utilize sociological and criminological theory to explain what was happening? Was the influence of climate change demonstrated well? Was it consistent with the science that we have read so far in class? How did it make you feel throughout the novel? Did it address or exacerbate some of your own worries about the future? How can some of these problems be resolved?
Week 10 (Oct. 29 – Nov. 2)
Begin World Climate Simulation (https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/world-climate/)
Students will be broken into six groups for maximum diversity in the simulation (probably by literature circles).
Assignment #18: Once each group is assigned a nation block, each student will select their own country in that block to do a brief write-up on their current conditions. Utilize WorldBank and IMF data to get current estimates of: industrialization, literacy/education, GDP growth, type of government, current issues/struggles, climate change obstacles to confront. Go over the prompts and what countries are “expected” to do.
Continue World Climate Simulation
Get through all rounds of negotiations.
Assignment #19: What did we learn? Is it possible to negotiate climate change and meet everyone’s needs? Were climate change adaptations agreed upon in time to avert catastrophe? Is world government a viable solution to climate change? How does inequality influence or distort the negotiations process? Do you have hope for the future with this format? How can it be improved?
Week 11 (Nov. 5-9)
Green-State-Corporate Crime. Read
“ToP and ToD” by Hooks and Smith 2004
“The Meaning of Green” by Lynch and Stretsky 2003
“Against Green Criminology” by Halsey 2004
Assignment #20: Select one article to discuss. Summarize the author’s thesis and main argument. What role does the state play in the article you selected? How does the state engage in criminal activities? Can a state be a criminal actor or just people within it? Is there value in a green criminological perspective and theoretical frameworks? Why?
Green-State-Corporate Crimes. Read
“Energy Crimes in Colorado” by Opsal and O’Conner Shelley 2014
“Crime in Coal Industry: ToP” by Long et al. 2012
“Green Crime and the Economy” by Ruggiero and South 2013
Assignment #21: Select one article to discuss. Summarize the author’s thesis and main argument. What role does the state play in the article you selected? Is there a conflict of interest between state and corporate interests? If so, how? Should the state intervene? If so, how? What reactions and thoughts did you have reading the articles?
Week 12 (Nov. 12-15)
Economy: Final Unit. Begin reading selected chapters in Ecological Rift. Chapters 1-3.
Assignment #22: select one chapter and critique it. What is the author’s main argument? Is it theoretically informed? Is there sufficient evidence to validate the author’s argument? What theories are being used to explain the phenomenon?
Continue selected readings: Chapters 9-11
Assignment #23: select one chapter and critique it. What is the author’s main argument? Is it theoretically informed? Is there sufficient evidence to validate the author’s argument? What theories are being used to explain the phenomenon?
Week 13 (Nov. 19-23) No Class, Thanksgiving Break

Week 14 (Nov. 26-30)
Finish selected readings: Chapters 16-18
Assignment #24: select one chapter and critique it. What is the author’s main argument? Is it theoretically informed? Is there sufficient evidence to validate the author’s argument? What theories are being used to explain the phenomenon?
Action on Economy and Politics
Write a letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette. Keep your letter under 500 words and the focus should be on climate change and public action. This should be a persuasive piece of writing, one that does not only rely on data and figures but also appeals to the heart. Literature circles will discuss what was written. As a class, we will select the best five to edit and shape into a group voice. We will then submit these letters on behalf of the class.
Week 15 (Dec. 3-7) and Week 16 (Dec. 10-14)
These two weeks are one week of class and finals week. This time is reserved for our community service project. If the class decides to work with an outside group, these days will be scattered throughout the semester to accommodate that cooperation. If we use the default community service project, these two weeks will be used to execute that planning.
Assignment #25: Reflect on this class as a whole. Was it worth your time? Did you learn anything about climate change and society? Did it challenge any held beliefs? Did the writing assignments unlock any creativity or sociological imagination? How might this class be further developed to facilitate the skills and competencies? Refer to original prompt for further guidance.


Hip-Pocket Training
In case discussions end quickly or we get ahead and need to fill in a day, here are some back-up readings to be conducted in class with informal discussions and no writing assignments.
“The Audit” - https://eco-fiction.com/read/the-audit/
“Into the Storm,” “LOSD and Fount,” - https://climateimagination.asu.edu/everything-change/
“How Close to the Savage Soul” https://eco-fiction.com/read/how-close-to-savage-the-soul/