UH Hilo course on climate change challenges students to find solutions

Students learn the scientific concepts behind climate change and then analyze current and future impacts, challenges, and opportunities.

By Anne Rivera.
This story is part of a series on curriculum and projects at UH Hilo focusing on sustainability issues.

Three photos of coral in stages of death.
Photo composite of before, during, and after bleaching at Airport Reef, Tutuila, American Sāmoa. The world’s reefs are in a dramatic state of decline – over 40% of corals have been lost over the last 30 years due to pollution, destructive fishing and climate change. (Image courtesy of R. Vevers, XL Catlin Seaview Survey).

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo offers courses in several fields ranging from geography to marine science to agriculture that inform students about current ecological problems and encourage the budding environmentalists to find sustainable solutions both locally and globally.

Ryan Perroy, aloha shirt, glasses, smiling at camera.
Ryan Perroy

One such course—GEO 301 Global Warming/Climate Change—is taught by Ryan Perroy, a geographer who specializes in land degradation and recovery processes, erosion and invasive species. In the course, Perroy introduces students to basic scientific concepts behind climate change (the greenhouse gas effect, climate-related systems, contemporary atmospheric changes in relation to Earth’s geological history) and then asks his students to take a look at current and future impacts, challenges, and opportunities.

“We start out discussing science—the atmospheric chemistry and how radiation reacts with different gasses, etc—then we move into thinking about impacts and future predictions and social aspects of it,” explains Perroy.

Students in the class become competent in analyzing and interpreting numerical data sets and simple climate models, and also analyze past and present journal articles and reports on global warming and climate change. They also spend time examining local and regional case studies.

Current events and policy changes are addressed and discussed in depth. This gets students fully engaged with such a crucial topic.

“A big topic last year was the Paris accords because it was in the process of being established,” Perroy says.

Now this semester’s class must explore what it means since the United States is on a track to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, even though it’s a multiyear process.

“What does it mean that the head of the EPA doesn’t acknowledge the relationship between rising anthropogenic CO2 levels and global warming?” Perroy asks. “These are the kinds of topics we cover because they are so relevant to the possible directions the climate change conversation can follow.”

Students in the class hail from California, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Sāmoa, and other places across the continental United States and Pacific region.

Perroy describes this unique student body makeup as powerful because many of the students taking the course come from areas experiencing major impacts from climate change. The students are providing their own testimonies of what they are observing in their communities and the places they call home.

“For many of my students, it’s not an abstract thing to them,” says Perroy. “They are already having to deal with it.”

Students are asked not only to analyze climate change on a global level but also to apply the concepts they are learning to their local environment. For students, this means taking a close look at the UH Hilo campus.

“We want to recognize that we are all a part of various systems—and one system we all share is the university system,” says Perroy. “We discuss what we can do and what we are all contributing to make this campus more efficient and more sustainable—definitely one of the things we cover.”

There are many sustainability projects and efforts around UH Hilo campus such as recycling and energy savings plans. GEO 301 tackles the pros and cons to some of these projects, helps students identify possible problems and hopefully create solutions to help the university reach its goal of reducing its ecological impact while increasing efficiency and sustainability.

This article was edited Sept. 8 for clarity to Ryan Perroy’s remarks.


About the author of this story: Anne Rivera (senior, communication) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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