New Climate Change Studies Minor Prepares Future Leaders

When Greta Thunberg took the stage at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York, she was admired by some as the leader in a new wave of climate activists, and dismissed by others as just a child out of her depth. 

But no matter the pushback, what she made clear was that younger minds will be demanding and driving climate action. Minds equipped with the knowledge, skills, and drive to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Minds that are growing up in a world that was handed to them on a tarnished silver platter. 

With that in mind, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego has taken a bold leap in preparing these minds by offering its students a new climate change studies minor. Debuting this school year, it is designed to help students from any major develop knowledge of climate science, understand the human and social dimensions of climate impacts, and take advantage of opportunities to develop and implement solutions to climate change.

“This minor provides an opportunity for every student in every major across UC San Diego to equip themselves with the tools necessary to combat climate change,” said Sarah-Mae Nelson, a former Scripps Master of Advanced Studies student who helped champion the minor as part of her capstone project.

Nelson worked with faculty across multiple departments at UC San Diego – including Scripps’ Ralph Keeling, Mark Merrifield, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and Jane Teranes, and K. Wayne Yang, Ethnic Studies faculty and Provost of Muir College -  to help create the minor. They bring expertise in climate science, adaptation, policy, and education to the team.

“A lot of climate change education is embedded in STEM fields, but we know that solutions to climate change also need perspectives from the social and human dimensions,” said Teranes, associate director for undergraduate education at Scripps.

Perhaps not surprisingly – given UC San Diego’s mission to understand and protect the planet – only four new courses were created to complete the minor. The rest of the curriculum was in existence, spread across various departments at the university. 

Consisting of 28 units of coursework, the requirements are divided into four sections: Solutions, Understanding the Science, Social and Human Dimensions, and a final Practicum. To complete the minor, students can choose from over 50 courses ranging from political science, ethics, ocean and atmospheric science, chemistry, psychology and business.

True to its interdisciplinary nature, the minor places emphasis on climate solutions, actionable strategies, and practical student internships. An intended hallmark of the curriculum is the practicum requirement, in which students learn about topics such as carbon neutrality initiatives and climate change research on campus.

The minor is designed to complement any major offered on campus, from social and human dimensions to the STEM fields. Engineering students can use the minor to enhance their analytical education, devising new technologies that could help address the climate crisis. Knowing that human climate migration is already underway around the world, students in the social sciences can design strategies for how to better manage the inevitable social justice issues for those who are fleeing their countries. 

“The recent student-led climate strikes, at UC San Diego and in high schools across the country, have shown that young people are demanding action,” said Teranes. “We hope that our new minor can recruit these students to UC San Diego, to learn and work alongside faculty and our community, in order to design and implement the climate solutions we need within the next decade.”

The minor is a first step in a new strategy to further enhance UC San Diego’s position as a leader in solving the world’s most pressing problems. In addition, the newest college on campus, Seventh College, will be centered around the theme “A Changing Planet.” 

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