The climate choice

By Abby Rhodes
September 27, 2011

The central question students seek to answer in Dr. Jeanie Bukowski’s international studies course on the politics of global climate change is whether an effective international agreement on the issue is possible. In the midst of their scholarly pursuit this week, the students enjoyed a rare opportunity to speak in-person with one of the world’s leading climate scientists.

Dr. Donald Wuebbles, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sat down with Bukowski’s students on Sept. 26 to discuss his vast experience developing and using mathematical models of the chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere to calculate their impacts on climate. Wuebbles was a convening lead author on the first two international assessments of climate change conducted by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and he has written more than 400 scientific articles.

“Dr. Wuebbles brings expertise and experience that goes far beyond the course and is thus able to broaden students’ knowledge on all aspects of the science of climate change,” Bukowski said. “His role as an international leader in climate change assessment, particularly on the IPCC, is especially relevant to the students’ learning experience in this class.”

Bukowski, whose expertise is in transboundary water resource issues and related water policy, developed the course with Dr. Sherri Morris, associate professor of biology. Morris spoke to the students during their first two class periods about the hard science behind climate change. From there, the students began to explore the collective goods problem and the political disagreements over the climate change policy. By the end of the semester, the class will be prepared to conduct a simulation of a global climate change negotiation in which each student will play the role of a national leader.

Nicole Rathert ’11 is taking the course to gain unbiased information about climate change, knowledge that will help her teach others beyond Bradley.

“Climate change is controversial in politics and media, but not in the science community,” said Rathert, who is planning a career in education. “This course and the opportunity to speak with Dr. Wuebbles has given me the confidence to speak to my classroom competently about the issue, rather than hedge it because it seems controversial.”

In a presentation to the wider Bradley community, Wuebbles also shared his research on what climate change could mean for Illinois. In short, he said the region is due for more frequent major precipitation and storm events, wetter winters and springs, drier summers and, by the end of the 21st century, a Illinois that feels more like Texas.

“The debate over climate change exists only in the media,” Wuebbles said. “In the science community, there is absolutely no disagreement about the fact that our climate is changing. It will impact you, your children and your grandchildren. Our choices today will determine how significant that impact is.”

Wuebbles believes there is hope for an effective international agreement to mitigate humans’ detrimental impact on climate change. His perspective and rigorous research will surly be cited by Rathert and her classmates as they seek their own negotiation later this semester.