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UNB offers climate change education for arts students

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Feb 23, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton

The University of New Brunswick (UNB) is the first university in Canada to mandate climate education in the arts.

Donald Wright, professor and chair of political science, and Heather Millar, assistant professor in political science, both from the faculty of arts on the Fredericton campus, are gaining recognition for their trailblazing efforts to make climate change and environmental education mandatory for all bachelor of arts students in Fredericton. Most recently, this included being featured on What on Earth with Laura Lynch on CBC.

“Ten years ago, a student approached me after their final exam asking for a course in climate politics,” said Wright. “That summer, I began to teach myself about climate change and the politics of climate change. After a few years, I gathered enough information to create the introduction course I now offer called the politics of climate change.”

In the politics of climate change, students learn about complex issues such as climate change itself, international treaties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, humanitarian crises and climate change refugees, climate change in the media and climate change denial.

Piloting now, Millar’s first-year course, Arts First: Climate and Environment in Humanities and Social Sciences, will be mandatory for all first-year arts students in Fredericton starting in Winter 2024. This course is paired with ARTS First: Justice in Humanities and Social Sciences, offered in the first term; together they represent the renewal of the first-year arts program.

Millar’s course draws on the theme of climate and environment to build students’ basic research and communication skills, encouraging them to explore what it means to be a part of UNB’s research community. Students examine three key questions: what are the problems we face with regard to climate and the environment; what are possible solutions to these problems; and what action can we take?

“Social science and humanities have the tools to understand some of the challenges we face when it comes to changing our behaviour and our political institutions and the ways fossil fuel industries may resist these changes,” said Millar, “Arts disciplines also have the key to solutions and how we might imagine different futures.”

“The course is designed to use the environment as a jumping off point for students to be able to explore all the different disciplines within the arts that can address the core issues related to climate and the environment,” said Millar.

One of the projects in the course is called a collective action project. As part of this project, students think through a climate issue in a lived way in a group and together either write a short play, deliver a petition to their Member of Parliament, or develop an op-ed for a newspaper article.

“Through the collective action project, it will hopefully give students the opportunity to think through why it’s so hard to organize change, but also the joys of working together collaboratively,” said Millar.

Wright says students appreciate being able to learn about climate change.

“They learn terms and concepts so they can follow and participate in conversations about their future,” said Wright. “I tell all my students that whatever career path they choose, they are going to have to be thinking about climate change because it's going to change everything they do moving forward.”

Students interested in Millar’s courses can contact the office of the dean of arts, at arts@unb.ca. Anyone interested in the politics of climate change course can contact Wright directly at wrightd@unb.ca.