by David Hosansky
In a 1999 column for the UCAR Quarterly, Michael Glantz asked readers, "Is it time for the academic community to consider whether students would benefit from an academic program that focuses on climate affairs—a program, like marine affairs, that encourages scientific study and the application of that science to address societal needs?"
The answer in 2005 is yes, if the creation of NCAR's Center for Capacity Building is any indication. With Glantz as its founding director, the new CCB plans to foster climate affairs curricula, especially at undergraduate levels, and to raise awareness worldwide about the impacts of climate and weather on society. Glantz wants to "educate educators and train trainers" about the potential benefits of using climate-related knowledge in decision making.
"You've got professors at one end who are already interested in weather and climate issues and teaching about them, and professors at the other end who aren't interested," Glantz explains. "My focus is on the middle. They may be curious about climate, but they don't know much about it or how it relates to their other interests."
The CCB is one of three entities within the Societal-Environmental Research and Education Laboratory, established last year as part of NCAR's reorganization. The other two parts of SERE are the Advanced Study Program and the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (formerly the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, of which Glantz is a former director). The new center pulls together existing funding and a half-dozen staff from other parts of SERE.
A political scientist, Glantz has investigated the societal impacts of weather and climate since joining NCAR as a postdoc in 1974. At CCB, he will pour much of his energy into refining and promoting his vision of climate affairs as a multidisciplinary course of study that explores the sensitive interplay among climate, people, and the environment. The purpose, says Glantz, is to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for diverse roles in government, industry, and education.
The climate affairs approach is catching on. Columbia University launched a master's program last year on the topic after a number of meetings with Glantz. In addition, the University of Malaya has just opened a center for climate affairs, and other institutions—including the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok and the Chinese Meteorological Administration—are considering developing climate affairs activities.
Glantz says the concept of climate affairs can be used as a template for related courses, such as water, weather, or coastal urban affairs, that examine climate, society, and natural resources. China's Xinjiang University, for example, has established an International Center for Desert Affairs, thanks to CCB's Qian Ye and Colorado State University professor Wei Gao (formerly of ESIG).
CCB will also focus on "inreach activities"—working with scientists across NCAR and UCAR who are researching topics with societal implications.
Glantz describes himself as a "minimalist" who doesn't measure success by the number of degree programs created. Depending on the particular institution, climate affairs could be incorporated through a multidisciplinary seminar, a certificate program, or an undergraduate minor. The real goal, he says, is "to create awareness about the value of including climate and climate-related issues in courses. Climate and weather affect everything. By learning about climate affairs, these students will be better citizens."