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Climate Change Symposium seeks to promote collaboration across disciplines

Eugene is at the center of a legal battle that has been called “the biggest court case on the planet,” said University of Oregon Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center director, Mary Wood, at seventh annual UO Climate Change Research Symposium on April 25.

The lawsuit, brought by 21 young plaintiffs and represented by the Eugene-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, claims that the U.S. government is denying people’s constitutional right to life and liberty by not doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

In November 2016, Eugene-based U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the case could proceed to trial. In March, a federal appeals court rejected an attempt by the Trump administration to halt the lawsuit. The trial date is now set for Oct. 29, 2018.

Until now, the effort to persuade the U.S. government to address climate change has been led by activists and scientists, not lawyers. But Wood says people have realized that making the U.S. government take meaningful action is going to require a widespread interdisciplinary approach.

“One discipline alone can’t save the planet’s life systems,” Wood told the Emerald via email. “It’s going to take a huge effort using assembled talent.”

The research symposium sought to assemble the wide range of people researching climate change at UO and catalyze conversations about their work, according to UO Political Science professor Ronald Mitchell, who organized the event. The day-long symposium took place in the Museum of Natural and Cultural History surrounded by the “H2O Today” exhibit. The event featured lectures and panel discussions by faculty and graduate researchers from an array of departments such as environmental studies, economics and sociology.

“Finding even one day in a year to really sit around and talk to people about their work is challenging,” Mitchell said. “This is the most interdisciplinary problem in the world, and if we don’t make an effort to understand what the economists and lawyers and landscape architects are doing, we’re not going to solve the problem.”

The event drew representatives from the climate change advocacy group “350 Eugene” as well as UO faculty who aren’t doing climate change research but are simply interested in learning how they can better incorporate climate change information into their teaching.

Education studies professor Sarah Stapleton told the Emerald that K-12 teachers struggle to find the confidence to talk to young students about climate change. K-12 teachers in the U.S. are often reluctant to talk about topics outside of the subjects they teach, according to Stapleton. That makes talking about climate change in the classroom difficult because it’s so interdisciplinary. She says the politicized nature of climate change has also added to teachers’ reluctance to talk about the issue.

Events like the research symposium help Stapleton understand how she can best prepare future educators to address topics concerning climate change.

As a part of the UO CCRG’s goal to spur interdisciplinary collaboration, the group created a page on its website to help UO faculty incorporate climate change information into their teaching. It features facts, YouTube videos and teaching exercises oriented toward getting faculty in all university departments talking to students about climate.

“It’s just inspiring for me to hear all these people from different fields attacking the issue in different ways,” Stapleton said. “It’s really helpful for me.”

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Max Egener

Max Egener

Max Egener is an Arts & Culture writer for the Daily Emerald. He covers documentaries, food and science and is currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism.