Pummeling campuses and research
Bryan Alexander 2023-10-27
(A short post today. I apologize for the low level of blogging. That’s due to an explosion of overwork plus the family challenges I’ve shared.)
One feature of the professional futurist’s work is monitoring the present to check how it bears out one’s forecasts, or how it doesn’t. Either way the futurist has to recalibrate their work, using evidence to inform models.
Today I wanted to share two pieces of evidence from the world having to do with what I’ve been futuring about in terms of academia and the climate crisis. I think each confirms what I anticipated, but am certainly open to other views.
To back up: I started publicly research how higher education and climate might intersect four years ago. Universities on Fire appeared this past March. In those blog posts and that book, not to mention presentations and social media notes, I’ve warned about two possible impacts we need to plan for: increasing physical damage to campuses and challenges to research materials.
ITEM: the New York Times reports on scholars who are seeing their research materials and subjects dwindle as a result of global warming. (gift link) They discuss glaciers, coral reefs, Arctic mammals, tropical birds, Pacific Northwest salmon, subsaharan trees, and Argentine penguins. Read the article carefully, as each researcher offers a different take, as well as varied levels of emotional response.
The people consistently told me how much they missed a more verdant past. The death of trees has, by their own account, reduced people’s well-being both materially and emotionally.
Seeing those dead trees in Africa and the hardships of the local people motivates me to work even harder to take action on climate change, to cut my own emissions, to encourage others to live more sustainably.
I live a car-free life. I eat a plant-rich, meat-free diet, specifically to keep my carbon pollution low. Every kilogram of carbon you avoid helps.
How does this impact researchers? How can they preserve their subjects or find a way to modify their agenda? At an institutional level, how can a university of college best support faculty, staff, and students confronting such challenges?
How did this impact higher education? Physical damage is the obvious answer. It’s hard to get good information so far, yet we can note that that state has one major public university, Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero (Autonomous University of Guerrero) with multiple campuses, including one in Acapulco. Wikipedia estimates it has nearly 26,000 students plus faculty and staff.
Guerrero also has significant archaeological sites, some of which might have been damaged. I haven’t been able to find reports of damage or injuries; hopefully that’s because Otis spared academia.
One datapoint: weather forecasters initially saw Otis as a mild storm, but it underwent rapid intensification a/k/a “explosive intensification,” becoming much more dangerous in a hurry. As Zoë Schlanger put it,
gaining more than 100 miles per hour of wind speed in 24 hours. Suddenly, the tropical storm became a Category 5 hurricane just before reaching Acapulco—home to 1 million people—at 12:25 a.m. local time. And no one saw it coming.
A short 16 hours before Otis made landfall, the National Hurricane Center predicted that it would come ashore as a Category 1 storm. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, both veteran hurricane specialists, called that “one of the biggest and most consequential forecast-model misses of recent years.”
Last note: in my work on climate change it seems that every week offers such stories, along with projections like mine and those whose work I rely on. As a species humanity is wading ever more deeply into the Anthropocene. Higher ed is unavoidably caught up in the process. The question I leave you with is: what do we do about it now?