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Honors Hosts Global Challenges- Interdisciplinary Answers Event on Climate Change

Nov 21, 2016

Great thanks to the hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, staff, and friends of UW who attended our second Global Challenges—Interdisciplinary Anwers event on November 15. All told, there were nearly 500 of us convened that night for a broad public conversation about climate change and and its entangled politics.

Photo of audience and speakers at 2016 Global Challenges event

This topic was identified by last year's freshman class. Our Interdisciplinary Honors Program encourages students to engage with complex issues of global importance during their time at UW and beyond. The Global Challenges event series invites three distinguished scholars into conversation across disciplines to address a complex problem that keeps our students up at night.

Students identified climate change across our world as their top concern. They wanted to discuss ways to protect the health of our planet, the disproportionate impacts felt by vulnerable populations, and how the stories we tell about climate change often silence critical voices or fail to reach us in ways we can best hear.

To demonstrate one model of complicated cross-disciplinary collaboration, we invited passionate thought leaders from different corners of the University to address these questions. UW is rich in multi-faceted educators, researchers, and practitioners. It would be possible to host a hundred great conversations about climate change with an assortment of speakers — all of them compelling and unique. 

This year's speakers represented very different backgrounds, experiences and intellectual approaches to the subject of climate change, including what is at stake in making knowledge and how that informs action. Jean Dennison (anthropology), Hanson Hosein (communication leadership), and David Battisti (atmospheric sciences) met with students and each other prior to the event to begin exploring the intersections of thier work and ideas as connected with climate change. 

Battisti, Dennison, and Hosein discuss how activism and academia sometimes intersect.

At the start of our event, Dr Lawson invited each speaker to make a statement outlining their own understanding of the entangled politics of climate change and story of how they came to these unique perspectives. Their conversation followed a series of prompts aggregated from hundreds of questions submitted by students and other audience members in pre-event engagement and through the online RSVP process. 

More about the speakers:

Jean Dennison: Assistant Professor, Anthropology  

Professor Dennison is a citizen of the Osage Nation, an educator and researcher who's work focuses on contemporary colonialism and self-determination by the Osage Nation in Oklahoma.

Her recent book: Colonial Entanglements (2012) traces a governmental reform process in which the Osage Nation tangled with dramatically different visions of the Nation's own history and over what it means to be Osage. Prof. Dennison's work explores settler colonialism and indigenous sovereignty as these are entangled with complex politics around energy futures. Prof. Dennison also works with youth on the Osage Nation language program. Prof. Dennison works to decolonize the University by asking us to think about who gets to ask questions, who decides what matters in climate debates and how power plays into decisions about climate change.

David Battisti: Professor, Atmospheric Sciences

Dr. Battisti is a teacher, researcher & policy adviser. He served as co-chair of the Science Steering Committee for the U.S. Program on Climate and directed the UW's Earth Initiative. Prof. Battisti's research interests are in paleoclimate: the mechanisms responsible for the remarkable "abrupt" global climate changes evident throughout the last glacial period. He also works on the impacts of climate change on food production in Mexico, Indonesia and China.

He has taught for the Honors Program in the past and in spring 2017 will be co-teaching HON 220: "Why the Public Accepts or Rejects Science". He has been involved in bringing current climate science knowledge to hearings in Federal courts and is scientific adviser to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (aka Doomsday Seedbank).

Hanson Hosein: Director of UW Communication Leadership Program

Hanson Hosein has three law degrees, he educates through stories, he is a former NBC war correspondent covering the Middle East and a public intellectual. Hanson told us: "I happily gave up my faculty appointment a few years ago to be Director of Communication Leadership and have more freedom to do "reckless" work. I'm a professional who runs a graduate program for professionals at the very scholarly University of Washington, who didn’t finish his undergrad degree and no longer teaches.

Prof. Hanson explores how storytelling can be deployed to tackle today's biggest challenges and wants to change the conversation we are having around human impact on the environment. He experiments in Virtual Reality, social media, visual media, private-public partnerships and engages in NGO action — serving on the board of Climate Solutions. His work begins from stories and inspires us to think creatively about how to communicate science & politics.

Their conversation is impossible to effectively summarize, as each moment represented a great many nuanced, interconnected thoughts.* We believe that everyone involved in the event is carrying those thoughts into thier own conversations, projects, and hopes for the future. 

Please join in our next public Global Challenges — Interdisciplinary Answers conversation in 2017. We won't know the subject until this year's freshmen have told us their worries.

Until then, we'll carry on thinking together about climate change. Join our Facebook Group, take courses, and take action!


Read student reporter Abigail Sloan's coverage of this event in her Nov 16 article published by The Daily HERE

*We can't summarize the talk, but you may downlad or listen online to our audio recording from this event HERE after December 2. 


All photos in this article were taken by UW student Bryan Nakata, courtesty of UAA