January 25, 2011 | Megan Taylor
Students in the DCM course “Global Crisis” have spent the month of January grappling with global climate change, water and food scarcity, mineral depletion, pollution, habitat loss, species extinction and human population growth.
“This is not a chuckle class,” said physics and astronomy professor Steven Steenwyk, who teaches "Global Crisis." “It’s a sober one.”
Steenwyk (who also taught “Global Crisis” last Interim) added, “I am deeply concerned about where human impacts are taking our planet ... . This class can be depressing, …but it’s important for students to be aware of these issues.”
Steenwyk recently told his students that the global population has increased from 2.3 billion in 1955 to almost 7 billion in 2011. Concurrently, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased 37 percent since pre-industrial revolution--with half of the total since 1979.
“Every U.S. citizen accounts for 21 pounds of carbon emission each week and five metric tons of carbon each year, which has major implications,” Steenwyk said. “If we do not find a way out of these problems, we will have used all of the world’s oil in the blink of human history… We will be driven to find other ways to survive without fossil fuels.”
Such dismal statistics and topics have some students troubled. Samuel Yakubu, a sophomore in the class, said he feels overwhelmed. “I didn’t know much of this. It’s pretty scary,” he said.
Daily discussions, lectures, films and readings have all contributed to Steenwyk’s goal of creating informed citizens. Students have read Lester Brown’s book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization and watched An Inconvenient Truth, The End of Suburbia and Exponential Growth.
Sophomore Matt Bedner said, “I never knew the impact that environmental issues have in less-developed countries.”
Josh Ostrowski, a freshman, echoed, “There are a few things I have found really startling, like how quickly we are depleting resources.”
And freshman Karis Roper, is concerned about diminishing global resources: “I have become much more aware of water. I didn’t think about the fact that it is depleting before [taking this class],” she said.
Beyond the issues of the planet and humanity, students are charged to integrate the themes of “Developing a Christian Mind” (DCM) to coursework. The final essay assignment asks students to connect the DCM topics of creation, fall, redemption and vocation to the global problems they have learned about.
Students are also prompted to indicate significant and sacrificial changes they could make in their own lifestyles to promote the preservation of the planet and its people.
“We do talk about solutions,” Steenwyk said. “There are all kinds of changes in practice that can be made.”
Ostrowski said, “I never thought much about recycling, but now I want to do more of it.” Bedner agreed, “I want to reduce carbon emissions in the future.”
Steenwyk also encourages his students to engage with the Calvin community in efforts to discuss global crisis issues. He is part of a group organizing public lectures on the ethics of climate change with support from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. Two lectures about climate change were featured last fall, with two more scheduled this spring, February 10 and March 3.
“I do have a vested interest in this topic. I have a deep reverence for creation overall, which prompted me to go into science,” Steenwyk said. “If you do not have a reverence [for creation] which we are called to have towards the earth, just the self interest alone ought to make one realize we need the creation to function for our own good.”
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