Students Study Science, Politics and Economics of Global Warming


Rising temperatures and melting Artic ice have pushed global warming to the forefront of public attention and a group of Saint Mary's College students is spending the month of January focusing on the issue.

The 26 students enrolled in the class "Global Climate Change" are studying the causes and effects of this serious environmental phenomenon for Jan Term, when SMC students choose one subject to study intensively.

Over the four years that he has taught the course, biology Professor Philip Leitner says he has noticed a significant increase in the students" interest in and knowledge of global warming.

"They are more convinced coming in that we need to do something about this problem," Leitner says.

Junior Gaby Dalkin, a health science and business major, says she grew up in an environmentally conscious home where her mother regularly recycled and composted, and is currently installing solar panels on their Arizona house.

Like Dalkin, all of the students have a science background yet the course has an interdisciplinary approach. While the class is looking into how the plant's climate system works from a scientific point of view, it is also examining the political and economic obstacles standing in the way of a solution to global warming.

"I really like teaching this class because you deal with science but you get into other aspects like the politics, economics and ethics," says Leitner. "And it's not just a local or regional issue, but an international one."

Questions the class will tackle include: How can we adapt to climate change? What can we do to reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? What do we owe to future generations?

"I try to get the students to be open and not enforce my opinions," Leitner says.

Mickey Poblete, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, says climate change has been "a far-off concern" for him, but he hopes that understanding it better will motivate him to do something about it.

To gain first-hand knowledge of possible solutions to global warming, the class will visit the University of California at Davis where engineering students are converting sports utility vehicles into more energy efficient, plug-in hybrids. The class will also travel to a wind farm near Fairfield where 90 giant wind turbines generate a non-carbon source of electricity for the Bay Area.

--Debra Holtz
Office of College Communications