Seeing the forest for the trees: New minor takes interdisciplinary look at climate crisis

Students revived the Baylor Community Garden as a means to get involved with ecological conservation. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

In 2021, Google searches for “impact of climate change” hit an all-time high, and climate anxiety is becoming more common as many feel helpless in the face of melting glaciers and rising tides.

Dr. Josh King, director of Baylor’s new environmental humanities minor, said engaging with the climate crisis from the lens of the humanities provides an opportunity for hope, not despair.

The minor incorporates courses from a variety of disciplines — history, philosophy, literature, geography, ecology and anthropology. King said students of multiple majors have added the minor this semester, many of them being biology, biochemistry and English majors.

The minor has a simple goal: to balance humanities and science to get a full look at climate change and inspire action. Students revived the Baylor Community Garden as a practical way to engage in ecological conservation. King said action like this must be combined with the reflection that humanities courses provide.

“Environmental justice is basically concerned that all communities should have access to healthy and thriving environments, and that includes not just words but also where we work, where we play, where we live, where we worship,” King said. “And I think it’s really important to combine that action with reflection, so that’s one example of the kind of change of perspective and practice I hope comes out of this.”

King said he has experienced students’ climate anxiety firsthand.

“We had had a class that dealt with literature and climate change, and a student had come talking about some of the issues that were raised in the discussion and in this particular unit,” King said. “It was a good conversation, but about halfway through, [the student] just started to cry and say, ‘This situation just seems so overwhelming and complex. With climate change in particular, what can I do? There’s nothing.’”

Through the lens of the humanities, King said students may find a more hopeful angle with which to regard climate change.

“Hope and alternatives [are] very important for me,” King said.

Dr. Sarah Ford, a professor in Baylor’s English department, teaches a course titled Ecogothic Literature, which looks at how the environment can instill fear in humans — and how humans can in turn impact the environment.

“We all know the power of stories to change people’s minds about things, the power of narrative to help us conceive of something that seems too large and looming for us to even think about,” Ford said. “I want to think about how studying literature can have its small role in helping us think about climate change.”

In Ford’s class, students read “Saving Us” by Katharine Hayhoe, a Christian ecologist at Texas A&M University. Ford said Hayhoe’s approach to the climate crisis in this book is an important read in combating climate inaction.

“I think it’s too easy to just say, ‘It’s coming, and it’s awful. There’s nothing we can do,’” Ford said. “[Hayhoe] says that just makes people do nothing. Instead, we find what little we can do, and we started doing that. And I think that is at the heart of this minor.”