Category: housekeeping

Talking about Climate Change and Game of Thrones

 

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This morning Brittany Patterson of ClimateWire published a great article in which our class (and our moments of despair) is featured: Can ‘Game of Thrones’ get people to talk about climate change?

I’d honestly be eager to hear your thoughts in response to this question. We’ve taken on similar questions in class, but this is more immediate: how can making connections between trending pop culture (like Game of Thrones — 8 million people watched the Season 5 premiere three weeks ago) aid discussion about climate change issues and themes?

If I teach this class again, I’ll find a way to include Game of Thrones and the larger discussion it’s provoking:

The parallels between the television drama and both the political and scientific discussions related to climate change are striking, said Manjana Milkoreit, a research fellow at Arizona State University. Milkoreit conducted an analysis of how the television show is being used by a handful of “scientists, science communicators and geeks” to break through the hard-to-explain science to engage Americans about the dangers of rising global temperatures.

Captain Obvious Alert

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-DanyToday Reuters released what is supposed to be the first part of a string of articles by Kyle Plantz, who interviewed me a few weeks ago about our class. Suffice to say that if I knew the article was going to be about Game of Thrones I would have been super-pumped, as it is literally the only TV show I like other than Antiques Roadshow.

But here we are at the end of the piece:

But Ted Howell, who teaches a climate fiction class at Temple University in Philadelphia, said film-goers may be getting the wrong idea about what climate change looks like.

“Some people think (climate change) is going to be this massive tidal wave or giant snowstorm, but it’s actually slower than that,” he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

I jest, but Kyle’s piece is really excellent and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Selections from Red Mars

KRS trilogy 1992-1996 first British editionsI promised to post a PDF with selections from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars for those who are interested in checking out the book. Here’s the PDF: Red Mars.

I’ve taught this selection as a standalone reading before, so it works as introduction to the book. Here’s a reading guide in the event that you want to get started:

Red Mars is a book about the colonization of Mars. In the year 2026, 100 people leave Earth for Mars on the spaceship Ares. Many of the people aboard are either Russian or American, for the mission has been funded and organized by these two countries. Once the “First Hundred,” as they are known, leave Earth, they remain in touch with mission control and the governments (and companies) who have funded their trip; the folks on Earth are ostensibly “in charge,” but because the First Hundred are millions of miles away Earth has few ways of exercising control.

Here are some characters you need to know about:

Nadia (Chernyshevski) – Engineer and contractor responsible for building the first settlement on Mars, which is soon called “Underhill.” The section we are reading is written from Nadia’s point of view.

Ann (Clayborne) – American geologist who comes to study the surface and geological history of Mars.

Sax (Saxifrage Russell) – American physicist known for his detachment and sharp, analytic mind.

John (Boone) – American astronaut. He was the first human to step foot on Mars during an earlier space mission, and as a result is the most famous person on Earth and on Mars.

Maya (Toitovna) – Russian astronaut and politician. She is the leader of the Russian contingent.

Frank (Chalmers) – American astronaut and politician. He is the leader of the American contingent.

Arkady (Bogdanov) – Russian astronaut whose main role as member of the First Hundred is to design simulations that test and provide practice for the First Hundred’s attempt to land their ship on Mars. On their way to Mars, Arkady pointed out that they no longer needed to follow instructions from Earth, and could make their own decisions about the future of Mars.

Audit

I’ve taken a plethora of English classes over the course of my college career, but definitely none quite like this one. I honestly had no idea what to expect once I registered for this class, other than the fact that we would be doing a great deal of reading, but I can genuinely say I was not expecting it to be focused on climate change and apocalypse scenarios. With that being said, I definitely enjoy the topics read and discussed for the most part. At times the amount of science incorporated with these issues can be somewhat overwhelming and confusing, but other than that I find the readings and class discussions that follow to be informative and entertaining. I took a sustainable environment course last year and I feel that the class itself generally sparked my interest in the topic of climate change, so when I heard that this class would be specifically reading into that it definitely got my attention.

As for the blogging aspect of the class, this is something I’ve never done for a course. I believe at times it can be a little intimidating, but overall I find it to be very helpful for sorting out my own opinions and feelings towards each book along with seeing if someone else in the class agrees or disagrees with me. I find blogging about the required texts and books is something that has deemed itself very effective for this class. It is a way for the students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions in class to do so via blog entry. I feel that it is also able to successfully engage every student equally. Even though I read all of my peer’s posts every week, I find myself forgetting to comment, so that is something I need to work on.

Audit

I didn’t know what to expect from an elective English course, but I can guarantee you that I did not expect it to be this “science-y.” It’s not necessarily a bad thing as I’ve been exposed to some fictional works that have been interesting and entertaining, works that I definitely would not have come across on my own which is pretty cool *cough cough* Parable of the Sower *cough cough*. I would’ve loved to have a book or two less to read for the class itself, but this is an English class and I understand that the amount of reading should be more than average.

The posting aspect of this class has such good intentions, but it’s definitely troublesome. I know my opinions are not nearly as strong and my knowledge not as vast as some others’ in the class which makes it hard to contribute equally. I think this disadvantage is often overlooked because, I’m sure, it would be expected that the class equally contribute and participate. That being said, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of commenting on other peoples’ posts and reviews. At least, I’ve done what I think I’m capable of without making myself look like a complete fool. To be honest though, I’d prefer a couple of write-ups that were sent directly to the professor; but I think my feelings about this could be due to the fact that there are a couple of really opinionated students who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions, which isn’t a problem (that’s the point of college, to share different opinions and hear differing perspectives). The only issue I’ve come across is that I don’t personally feel comfortable enough with these topics of climate change and even works of literature to share my perspective. Simply put, I don’t think I bring anything valuable to the virtual table. I’m not ashamed to say that. After all, I signed up for this class so that I could learn.

Overall, the blog posts are a fine idea but they’re not for everybody. I think having required comments is smart though because it makes sure that everybody gets a little bit involved in the course.

Audit

I really like the blogging aspect of this course. I think it gives students the chance to say how they feel in a more casual way. Even though it’s public and can be a little intimidating, I still prefer this to writing actual papers for each book. I think that this is a much more interactive way to see what everyone else is thinking about the books we’ve read and see what alternate themes people picked up on while reading. I’ve never done blogging that is as extensive as this for a class, where we review each book we’ve read; it’s usually a lot less posting. But I like posting the reviews for each book because it gives me a chance to sort out how I feel about it before coming to class.

I think I’d prefer if we had mandatory reviews about the books we’re reading, and anything else we post or comment on could be extra credit. I’m not always searching the web for climate fiction news and when I did look, there wasn’t much that I could find that I thought was interesting and I didn’t want to post something just to fill a quota. I don’t think that that aspect of blogging is for everyone. People don’t always feel comfortable commenting on someone else’s post and like I mentioned, finding an article can be difficult. Hopefully I can find some interesting articles to post before the semester is over!

My Audit-_-

Originally, I did not like the requirement of posting online. I am bad with managing my time, so I have always hated when an instructor incorporated “online Participation” as part of the grade. However, I will admit this blog kind of grew on me. First, it has challenged me to force myself into managing my personal time better. Also, it has forced me to go in depth about my analysis. I have been able to watch my opinions get stronger, to realize why I do or do not like something! Another thing I have not realized until now, is that because this is not a formal paper, I have been able to develop my own voice/style. I like that we have the freedom to go in any direction with our analysis and connections.

I try to stay off most social media, so I don’t have a FB, Instagram, twitter, etc. So I’m definitely not used to posting things up, navigating, re-visiting, and commenting. I feel like that is something that I should be better at… responding and interacting with the other bloggers. But that’s a failing of my own, I like the website, how it’s set up, and how we get graded. Also, how we discuss the blog in class, that brings it back to the traditional form of learning (at least for me), and emphasizes important aspects of the book.

 

Audit

I think the blog aspect of this class is rather interesting. I have never been in an English Class quite like it, so it has taken some time to get used to. I am also not a blogger, so the whole entire process is brand new to me, but I cannot say that I haven’t enjoyed it. I do like the idea that we have an open forum for discussing the books, and that everyone gets a fair chance to express their views, especially because we always seem to run out of time in class. I think this is an excellent experiment, but with that being said, I would find myself rather unhappy if this were the way that all English classes were to be run from here on out. I have enjoyed this experience, but I don’t know that I would enter into it again. I also find writing reviews to be much harder than critical analyses, despite the fact that they are essentially the same. Putting the “review” spin on a book makes it harder for me to focus on the key issues that I would like to discuss, I am also not really accustomed to this writing style so it has taken some time for me to get adjusted to it.

As far as participation goes, I would love to be a more active participant in the blog, but just fully understanding how it works has taken me the whole first half of the semester. And now that I really do understand it better, I would be curious to see how much more active I can be. Also, I try to post stories from the popular media, but quite frankly I find them to be few and far between. I am not entirely sure that this is something which we haven’t discussed, but I do not find it easy to find even one story a week worth posting. I do not think it is impossible, but I would rather not clog up the blog with loads of nonsense.

I think that if I could do anything differently, and this is something I am frequently asked to think about being an education major, I think that I would perhaps offer a variety of assignments, rather than relying so heavily on the blog. It leaves students who are not comfortable with this form of work constantly worrying about their next post and whether or not it will be acceptable. I would like to maybe have some in class work that counts, because while having open discussion is one of my favorite forums for learning, I would like to actually do something that could perhaps help boost my grade if I am lacking in other areas (aka blog participation).

Finally, I do think that this blog is a good idea, and I hope that it does accomplish its purpose of spreading the word about climate change, but I think that at the end of the day, I would rather be without it.

Audit

The blog was a little intimating to me at first, as were the book reviews that were required of us. I was unsure of where to start with the first review, it was incredibly hard to write for some reason, and to know that they would be “public” was daunting. Thankfully, they got easier with practice. I find myself better able to express myself in writing, when I have the opportunity to reflect on the books, and craft a blog around that. The easy part for me was finding relevant information on the topics, since stories about “climate change” are quite widespread in the media these days (and I’m on the computer a lot at work). I actually started a “draft message” in my email, where I would save articles that I found pertinent to our class, with intentions of posting them when I had a chance. Naturally, some would get post beforehand!

This was the first time I used a blog as the primary method of communication for class. The good part is that everything is very accessible and in one spot for news, book reviews and other important information. I didn’t have to shift through papers to find out readings for the next week. I also found myself excited to share information that I found, hoping it would be interesting to the rest of the class, as well as, becoming enlightened by reading the other students posts/reviews. Though, I will make more of a concerted effort to be involved in “online conversations,” sometimes it gets difficult if I have limited time to post. I would also like to be notified of when someone posts on our articles, or book reviews. It would, I think, present good fairly instant discourse, instead of maybe never even realizing someone shared or differed from your own view.

I have had a positive experience with the blog so far, as I find it helpful to the class in numerous ways, and its ease of use. I’m undecided if I am comfortable with the “wider public” being able to read our posts, but I do think it helps for publicity of the class, university and subject matter. Making it more public would also aid in additional dialog on the posts. Overall, I think it is a great medium for this class and wish more would follow this format.

Audit

I’m not sure if my participation on the blog would show it, but I actually write a decent amount. This blog is a different beast from what I am normally used to however. I write fiction, specifically scripts for comics and movies, having little to no experience with a blog or reviews besides the odd school assignment. I am accustomed to people reading the thoughts and dialogue of my characters, but not the actual voice inside of my head.

 
So far I actually have enjoyed writing on a blog and have been thinking of starting my own when I have enough of my scripts finished ahead of time to share them. It is a good way to constantly update an audience on the thoughts and writing of an individual or a group. I tend to enjoy writing on a blog more than other types of class assignments because it gives me the freedom to write as if I was speaking and I do not have to adhere to standard writing for term papers or essays. The informality of the writing on the blog also makes it more accessible to post my thoughts and not be judged about how my writing sounds and who may be reading it. I have really enjoyed the majority of the books that we have read so far this semester, I was not aware that climate fiction would be able to house so many different types of stories and I am looking forward to the books in the back half of the semester.

 
Keeping up with a blog however is a lot more consistent work and thought than the two or three papers I have been assigned for every other class throughout college. It requires me to constantly be analyzing what is already being put on the blog in addition to the other student’s articles so I do not repeat anything. I find having to comment on other peoples blog posts to be my least favorite aspect of the blog because I usually do not have anything to say other than nice writing and that’s a great point. That is definitely the thing I need to pick up through the rest of the semester. Overall the blog has been entertaining and thought provoking which is usually completely absent from most college classes.

Audit

For a class with such a heavy reading load, blogging like this seems to be the most effective method of making everyone read and analyze all of the texts without bashing us all over the head with a brutal all-inclusive final exam. Personally, I find these more lax and critical short reviews to be an appropriate medium for this class. Since cli-fi is a burgeoning genre that is picking up traction, it is good to get our reviews out there (specifically on Amazon as well) to let the public know about this genre and its works. This is particularly useful for works such as Squarzoni’s which are not very well-known works of literature yet.

Right now, I have 9 posts on the blog and have posted a few comments on others’ posts as well. Personally, I find this to be a satisfactory amount, and it is above the minimum. In the second half of the semester, my goal is to read on comment on some other students’ short reviews to try to build up more discussion of the literature outside of class.

My one gripe about the blog is the same that some others have stated: there is very little interaction from people outside of our class. In fact, the only people outside our class who have posted on the blog are these strange spam bots who post some hilariously nonsense in almost-English. While it may be too late now, moving the blog to a traditional WordPress site that is not through Temple may allow for our blog to receive much more outside traction. For instance, in my one history class, we have a blog that isn’t through Temple that receives thousands of hits every month from people all around the world, and students from France, England, and even some Asian countries are always posting on it. Maybe Temple could open up our blog, or maybe there is some way to move it to a traditional WordPress site. This class has really gotten me interested in this subgenre and I really would like to see how casual people who are not studying this subject would react to our blog posts.

Audit

Discourse is the best part of what we do in literature classes, in my opinion, and yet it’s usually limited to inside the classroom. The blog breaks the walls, and I like it for that reason—one. It also feels a lot less formal, like a message board that I might join for fun, and I like it for that reason, too. I like that it makes our discourse public, as well—because why should we horde these ideas?—three.

I wish I could say that it actually invites the public into our discourse, though. Comments from people who are not in our class should be enabled. Personally, I’m studying to be a creative writer, most of my story ideas are sci-fi, and some include apocalyptic scenarios; there is some overlap in readership between my kind of niche and cli-fi fans; and the time to start establishing an audience is now, but I currently have no internet presence and not enough finished material to start a blog of my own that could really compete for the spotlight.  Meanwhile, this cli-fi course blog is an opportunity.  More comments on the blog will lead to more page views, certainly, especially if we’re talking about comments from the likes of Dan Bloom and maybe even Barbara Kingsolver.  The University should be very open to this kind of publicity.

Anyway, I still only have seven posts, when I should have at least eight by this point according to the syllabus. Maybe this feels too informal for absent-minded me. But that’s my fault.

Our in-class discussions keep raising points in my mind that are somehow tangential to the actual focus of the course. This course gets me thinking, in other words, which is what I like. A course blog is the perfect forum for the sidebar discussions that I’m sometimes inspired to have. Course blogs should be commonplace. So far this semester, I’ve posted two links to related outside media, in addition to my reviews.

What I haven’t done, though, is comment on posts made by my classmates, you all. I’m sorry about that. I will make a point to do so, going forward.

I did comment on a post of yours, Ted, but it was in response to an article whose author, I sensed, was anti-science. The article made me madder than I realized and my comment was more caustic than I’d intended. (My aunt had just died at the time, and I was feeling negative through and through, I guess.) When I revisited the blog a couple days later to delete it before anyone could witness me raving so undignified-like, I found that you’d already deleted it. Good moderating!

Audit

Personally, I love blogging. It’s a great way for me to get my thoughts in order about something I’ve just watched, read, or listened and if no one even bothers to read what I wrote I still feel like I have a clearer understanding. That being said, it’s a great way to layout a class because I believe it’s an excellent tool for people to get their thoughts organized.

The books in the class have definitely been varied, and as I expected a good deal of them can be a chore to get through. There are some weeks where I’m just not down with the whole cli-fi topic, but sometimes the books do pull through as just being well written and interesting besides all the climate stuff. For example, Forty Signs of Rain is so far just an intriguing book in how procedural it feels, climate aside.

I do just need to get my ass in gear with other posts. I find it hard to motivate myself to find articles about climate change and other topics related to that when I have other things I know I have to or would rather be doing. The semester isn’t over yet, however, so I have a lot more work to do before I get that final grade and kiss Temple University good bye.

Audit: Blogging with Anxiety

Personally, I find the blogging aspect of this class to make things far more daunting than in other classes where the only audience for my writing is the professor. Simply the fact that our work is publicly exposed, (even if most of that exposure is mostly limited to participants in the class,) means that I am always extra careful about what I post, not just in terms of content, but also in the level of quality I attempt to maintain. The major drawback of this is that I am much more timid about posting than I would be about writing in some more private manner. Posting under a pseudonym has helped alleviate a bit of this anxiety for me, but I still feel obligated to maintain a certain composure. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing, but it does make me limit how much I post.

One thing I wish I did more of is sharing articles on the blog. I read many articles on my own time, but I seldom post about what I am reading. While I have maintained the minimum amount of posts required thus far, I cannot shake the feeling that when I do post, it is mainly for the sake of my class grade. If I were less anxious, I would probably enjoy sharing my voice more, but my hesitations drain a lot of the pleasure from the process.

I should also mention that I find the commenting function of the blog itself to be a little weak. I am not talking about the volume or quality of comments, but rather the commenting system itself. As far as I am aware, there is no real notification system for receiving comments beyond the feed of most recent comments on the side of the webpage. It is a shame that this function is so sparse, because I think if it were easier to see and react to comments, there might be more lively discussion on the blog.

Audit

I actually like blogging. As time goes on and I’m reading it’s a great way to communicate your thoughts and perspective. We do have a lot of readings but it’s relative to the topic and, at least for me, it allows me to reflect much better than the standard way of writing. The class experience is diverse in thought and feeling which for a evening course, you tend to have all dry and weary eyed people.

As far as the readings themselves, I think they are different in perspective but a common theme of humanity on the brink of disaster, hope, faith. I think if you pose questions for people to comment on about the books, there might be more interaction and thoughts shared.

 

Great concept!

Audit

I feel as though I’ve gotten a lot out of blogging so far. At this point, I have posted three short reviews and both of my expert reviews. I’ve left several comments and posted a few news articles that I have found relating to the books we have read and the subject of climate change in general. I’ve learned a lot about climate change just from researching potential articles to post on the blog. I feel that some good discussions have been generated in the comments of many posts. I like that the writing on the blog is somewhat informal; I feel as though it allows me more space to share my thoughts and opinions. Other class blogs that I have participated in did not allow this, and few discussions were generated. It’s also exciting that so many people that are not involved in our class are reading our blog and talking about it. I wish that perhaps more feedback for our reviews could be posted by our peers. I see a lot of people commenting on articles, but very few on our long assignments. Since I know that many of us are very opinionated about the books we have been reading, I feel as though this could generate more discussion and help us all to think more deeply about the topics we have been reading about. I also wish that the public could comment on our posts, such as the other cli-fi class at Oregon. Their thoughts, especially since their reading material is different than ours, could offer some good insight.

Audit

So to be completely and totally honest, I’m not really a “blogger”. I like complete direction with assignments. Clear cut directions, and a designated outcome. I’m not good at writing whatever as long as it’s relevant, so when I found out the biggest part of our class was going to be blogging, I was nervous and not excited to say the least. With those expectations starting out, I’m actually really surprised with how well and how easy it was to actually write blog posts. Granted, my first one was a train-wreck and I had to read a couple of my classmates to really get the feel for it, I think I’ve kind of got the blog thing down. It’s definitely different than any other blogs I’ve done, most of those were either for my internship, which was just a weekly summary of what I did or it was a question with lots and lots of back up questions telling me exactly what to do. Going forward, Maybe put a general thing you want to know for each blog post, a central idea you want to focus on. I think that would help people like me who need something to go off of ad still cater to those people who just write freely. One thing I saw in someone else’s was that commenting on other people’s blogs should be a a mandatory thing, I think it’s good to encourage that but forcing them to do it will probably just generate some half-assed responses. All in all I think the blogs are working great, we have a lot of really good ideas coming from people and they generate some awesome class discussions.

“Clif-Fi Guy”

Over on his Clif-Fi Report website, Dan Bloom has shared a brief history of how, in his words

an unaffiliated, independent climate activist and PR operative in a non-alligned country used his PR moxie to bring a five-letter genre term to worldwide attention, for better or worse, come what may….and all with a sense of humor and a certain playfulness with language, while never taking himself or this world too seriously..although Cli Fi Guy is very serious…and very much of this world…and determined……

Go on over a give it a read — and leave a comment!

Slavery & Fossil Fuels – Chris Hayes: “The New Abolitionism”

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The secondary reading for tomorrow’s class in Chris Hayes’ essay “The New Abolitionism.” In this piece, Hayes makes an audacious but ultimately illuminating comparison between the abolitionist movement in the 19th century and what today’s climate change activists face today:

Because the abolitionists were ultimately successful, it’s all too easy to lose sight of just how radical their demand was at the time: that some of the wealthiest people in the country would have to give up their wealth. That liquidation of private wealth is the only precedent for what today’s climate justice movement is rightly demanding: that trillions of dollars of fossil fuel stay in the ground. It is an audacious demand, and those making it should be clear-eyed about just what they’re asking. They should also recognize that, like the abolitionists of yore, their task may be as much instigation and disruption as it is persuasion. There is no way around conflict with this much money on the line, no available solution that makes everyone happy. No use trying to persuade people otherwise.

Note how carefully Hayes makes his point here and throughout the essay: he’s not comparing fossil fuel companies to slave owners; he’s using the example to demonstrate how radical the demands made by climate justice activists truly are — and he’s encouraging them to make precisely these demands in the name of justice — based on what’s right and wrong — not on what’s convenient or easy to digest.

I’m really looking forward to discussing this essay and Squarzoni’s Climate Changed in class with you tomorrow night.

(Photo: “Oil Pump Jack” in West Texas. By Paul Lowry on Flickr).