BA Art History and English Literature

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Climate Change & Culture Wars

Unit code AMER30572
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This module offers an interdisciplinary examination of the modern American environmental movement and the fierce controversies over human-induced climate change.

The groundbreaking publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960s, along with various US environmental disasters, created a turning point in the 1970s in how Americans viewed the natural world and the role of humans in altering it. The resulting high moment of environmental regulation and pro-climate culture is our starting point, which soon gave rise to sustained forces of conservative and corporate backlash. The unit will explore what was at stake in this enduring and inflamed contestation over the environment, which has become yet more intense as scientists warn of ever-greater climate peril. 

We will look at a series of key political events and media debates, alongside American documentary and fiction films, to explore how values and beliefs about the environment have been shaped and contested. The module will address key issues in modern America to do with: neoliberalization versus market regulation; environmentalism and social justice; the influence of corporate money in politics; contemporary US (post?)consumerism; protest movement building; the role of institutions (including universities) in protecting the planet; the culture of climate crisis; experts versus populists.  

Aims

The aims of this unit are:

- to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of how environmentalism and climate change debates have developed and been framed in America since the 1970s

- to develop a complex understanding of the possibilities and constraints in communicating risks about climate change

- to engage with scholarship about climate change debates from a range of fields to produce well-synthesized and well-contextualized arguments

- to introduce students to key  environment-themed primary texts from film and political culture and to develop strong analytical skills to interpret them;

- to develop understanding of the neoliberal turn in America and how it has shaped debates about and responses to climate crisis

Syllabus

Indicative readings:

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962; London: Penguin Classics, 2000)

Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010)

Martin Gilens and Ben Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics 12.3 (2014): 564-81

Andrew Hoffman, How Culture Shapes the Climate Debate (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2015)

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate (New York: Penguin, 2014)

Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell, Greening the Media (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)

Nathaniel Rich, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” New York Times Magazine (1 August 2018), whole issue

 

Indicative films:

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

Silkwood (Mike Nichols, 1983)

The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004)

Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006)

Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)

The Island President (Jon Shenk, 2012)

Cowspiracy (Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, 2014)

Mad Max Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2018)

 

Teaching and learning methods

This class will be taught by 1-hr lecture and 2-hour seminar workshop.

Materials including lecture slides, seminar questions, clips, weblinks, bibliographies, [etc.] will be posted on Blackboard each week.

 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

- demonstrate a thorough familiarity with a range of environment and climate-related debates and cultural texts since the 1970s in America

- show how the heated debates over the environment offer a portal into understanding certain key cultural, economic, and political trends in America since the 1970s

- use and synthesize interdisciplinary scholarly ideas to develop a layered understanding of American environmentalism and conservative backlash;

Intellectual skills

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

- think critically and make critical judgments about modern American environmentalism and  the “climate wars”;

- demonstrate a nuanced understanding of how discourses and policies about the environment are interconnected;

- identify and outline key problems and issues to do with contemporary American politics, society, and economics that are raised by the environmental crises ;

- synthesize and analyse environmentalist and backlash texts, drawing reasoned conclusions

 

Practical skills

- plan and execute independent research on environmental debates in post-1970 America;

- make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course;

- speak and write clearly about conflicting positions on climate change ;

- engage in constructive debates with peers through class discussion and non-assessed formative presentations

 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library, electronic, and online resources;

- deliver non-assessed oral presentations in front of a seminar group;

- produce written work that collects and integrates evidence to test a critical argument;

- demonstrate good teamwork skills by acknowledging the views of others and working constructively with others;

 

Employability skills

Other
This course unit helps equip students with a range of transferable skills: logical thought; good oral and written communication skills; resourcefulness in the ability to gather, analyse and evaluate critical sources; time management skills through the completion of independent and deadline-driven work; oracy skills through class presentations and seminar discussions. This unit fosters employability by encouraging students to identify and understand a range of different viewpoints and/or critical approaches about one of the most current and pressing issues of our time.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Length

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Group presentation

Formative only

15 mins

0%

essay

Both

3,000 words

50%

Unseen exam

Summative

2-hr

50%

 

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Presentation feedback (no assessment weighting)

formative

One on one optional meetings in office

formative

Comments on essay plans (optional)

formative

1-hr essay planning workshop in seminar (Week 5)

formative

Numerical grade and written comments on essay within 15 working days

 

both

 

Recommended reading

See indicative readings under syllabus above

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Eithne Quinn Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Timetable for 2019-20:

Lecture: Fri 11am - 12pm

Seminar 1: Fri 1pm - 3pm

Seminar 2: Fri 3pm - 5pm

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