UNE takes on climate change in curriculum and research

Climate change is the single biggest threat to our planet. There’s evidence of it right here in our backyard. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of all of the oceans in the world.

At UNE, work is underway to address climate change, through both curriculum and research. 

Students and faculty are working on nine different climate change research projects with topics ranging from invasive species to implications of sea-level rise, to the impacts on livelihoods and aquaculture in Maine.

“People are beginning to see the climate changing around them,” explained Bethany Woodworth, Ph.D., associate lecturer in UNE’s Department of Environmental Studies and coordinator of the interdisciplinary minor in climate change studies. “Things that we thought would take decades to unfold are actually happening on a much faster timeline. When people see things changing around them and experience them firsthand, they start to believe it more.”

To help students better understand climate change and its impacts, the University of New England is now offering ten courses on the subject and a minor in climate change studies.

“By educating young people about what’s going on, they’ll have the tools and the foundational knowledge that they will need to help be part of the solution,” Woodworth said. “I can see the difference in the 10 years since I started teaching here. The students come in already understanding the basics of climate change. Their question now is not ‘is climate change real and is it happening?’ but ‘what can I do about it?’”

Several years ago, Charles Tilburg, Ph.D., director of the School of Marine Programs, developed a course on the physical basis of climate change, the first UNE course on the topic. Woodworth soon followed by offering a course titled Causes, Consequences, and Solutions.

“It’s intentionally offered in the core curriculum rather than as an environmental studies or science class for our majors,” Woodworth stated. “That’s because all of the students that we’re teaching right now are going to be facing this problem. It’s meant to be for students in any field.”

The minor is also aimed at students in all majors, with courses in eight departments. Students can take Climate Change, Oceans and the Law; Communicating Climate Change; Energy and Climate Change; Climate Change and Society; and others.

“I can’t imagine what things are going to be like in 30 years,” Woodworth said. “Our students are going to have to live with it. They deserve to understand what is happening in the world around them so that they can make good decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Woodworth says the University must also show students it is committed to taking a stand on climate change.

“There’s a variety of different kinds of sustainability initiatives happening at UNE, especially around energy, that the students can get directly involved in,” she stated. “That’s an important way to learn. And I think leading by example is a really important role that institutions can play.”

Bethany Woodworth, coordinator of the interdisciplinary minor in climate change studies
Noah Perlut is researching climate-induced changes in grassland bird migration
Mark Frederich is researching climate-related changes in invasive species
Susan Farady is studying the legal implications of climate change on fisheries management
The installation of solar panels on the Marine Science Center is one of several sustainability initiatives at UNE