Under pressure from student-led activism, lecturers in Oxford and other universities across the country will be turning over their usual timetables next week to devote teaching time to climate change.
The plans are a way of raising awareness before the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.
Oxford University will be taking part in a national climate change awareness campaign initiated by the Campaign Against Climate Change, backed by the national University and College Union, over 50 top academics, 5 Oxford JCRs and OUSU’s Environment and Ethics Committee.
A series of lectures, talks and debates will be taking place throughout 8th week on the subject, including a debate: “Is the University Doing Enough in the face of Climate Catastrophe”, a talk by eminent philosopher, John Broome on “The Ethics of Climate Change” and a lecture to be given by the head of Oxford’s Climate Dynamics department, Myles Allen.
Much of the week’s activity, however, will be focused on the 1st December, when lecturers from a number of departments around the University will turn over the content of their ordinary lectures to climate change.
Although negotiations are ongoing between Oxford Education against climate change, a pressure group of mostly undergraduate students, and departments across the University, lecturers in Physics, Earth Sciences, PPE and Philosophy have already committed to give over teaching time to the cause.
The Physics department has pledged to dedicate the last ten minutes of every lecture given in 8th week to discussion of climate change, while the Earth Sciences department has given a similar pledge.
Sophie Rimington-Pounder, a second year Physics student said, “I think it’s a good idea – it promotes a crucial aspect to today’s science, as long as it is more relevant to the scientific aspect of climate change and not completely politically charged.”
However, a Physics student from Magdalen was less supportive: “I think raising awareness is a good thing, but I’d be disappointed if it takes time away from actually teaching my course. I’m not sure whether talking for ten minutes to a group of people who don’t really want to be there is the best way of promoting any cause, even a worthwhile one.”
Political Theory and Utilitarianism lecturers have also agreed to devote time to the subject on the 1st and throughout the week, and various PPE lectures on the 1st are being modified with climate change in mind.
Mike Webb, a second year PPE student from Balliol will be attending the Political Theory lecture and argues that climate change poses many questions for the political theorist about the role of government. “Some of the world’s most eminent political philosophers, such as Michael Sandal, John Broome and Amartya Sen, are thinking and writing about these questions, so I for one am looking forward to hearing what Stuart White, the lecturer, has to say on the subject.”
Other departments involved include the International Development Department, which held a series of evening lectures this week including “Climate change refugees: What’s all the fuss about?” and will also be turning over its timetable on Tuesday 1st.
Jake Colman, a 3rd year Physics student at St. Peter’s involved in pressuring departments to take action explained the initiative, “These actions mark the beginning of a long-term campaign both to activate students in the struggle against climate change and to challenge the current conception of education as something decided upon from above…with Climate Change already thought to be killing about 300,000 people a year and rising fast, we currently face a threat to humanity itself. [The UN Climate Conference in] Copenhagen will not provide the answers we need. The solution doesn’t simply lie with our leaders, who are driven by economic and political interest – it lies with us.”
Another Oxford student involved, Amy Gilligan argued, “So far the responses to the impending catastrophe of climate change that are visible in the UK’s educational institutions are feeble. In subjects like Physics, Economics and Geography isolated courses on climate change are taught, but we lack the integration at every level, with every subject and at every age group that is necessary for the kind of widespread consciousness that we need.”
The week’s national activities will culminate in students around the country joining “The Wave” in London – set to be the largest climate change demonstration hitherto staged in the capital.