Artful Things of Climate Change (Syllabus)


As we reach a rough consensus that global warming is happening and that human activity is the primary driver of this warming, the really difficult questions emerge with greater force. These are not scientific questions; they are political, social, and cultural. How do we stall the underlying socioeconomic forces that are causing it to occur? How do we adapt our infrastructure, and our way of life, to perpetually changing, and increasingly more violent, climates? What stresses on government will these changes create, and what forms of governance can we imagine that will be resilient enough not to break under such stresses? Who bears the greatest brunt of these changes, and what ethical demands do they make on the rest of us? And, just as interestingly, how do these changes affect the very way we think of ourselves, and our place in the world? We will address these questions from a literary perspective. This means we will think critically about the ways in which we talk about these questions, paying close attention to how our use of rhetoric can repeat ingrained habits of thought that are not helpful and how writers and creative producers of various types are seeking to find more original ways to speak about this most elusive subject. We will also make use of Venice as a kind of outdoor laboratory in which we can test out some of the ideas we will be developing in the classroom.

The course is divided into four sections: the problem, everyday observations, the anthropocene and Venice, and imagining the future. What we will try to do is think with the readings, and not simply about them. In the process, we will explore the main argument of this course: paying attention to climate change invites us to see our world, especially those parts that are familiar to us, in new ways.

There will also be a required field trip in May. The exact date will be announced shortly. It is a trip to learn about MOSE, a major infrastructure project to protect Venice from flooding.


The Problem

23/2 Welcome

25/2   James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy, “Perceptions of Climate Change,” PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (August 6, 2012): E2415-2423.


1/3 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (excerpts)

3/3 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction 1-22 (chapter 1)


8/3 Kolbert 70-110 (chapters 4-5)

10/3 Reflection Paper 1 Due


15/3 Kolbert 111-172 (chapters 6-7)

17/3 Kolbert 193-216 (chapter 10)


22/3 Kolbert 236-269 (chapter 12-13)

24/3 Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”; midterm check-in




Everyday Observations

5/4 Teju Cole, Open City 3-129 (chapters 1-9)

7/4 Cole 130-159 (chapters 10-12)


12/4 Group 1: Cole 160-246 (chapters 13-20)

14/4 Cole 247-259 (chapter 21); Reflection Paper 2 Due


Anthropocene and Venice

19/4 Group 2: Caroline Fletcher and Jane Da Most, excerpt from The Science of Saving Venice

21/4 Kathy Newman, “Vanishing Venice,” National Geographic (August 2009). <;


26/4 Group 3: John Keahey, excerpt from Venice Against the Sea: A City Beseiged.

28/4 Jedediah Purdy, “Should We Be Suspicious for the Anthropocene?” Aeon Magazine (March 31, 2015) <;


Imagining the Future

3/5 Group 4: “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” <>; “A Call to Look Past the Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique” <>

5/5 Reflection Paper 3 Due; screen excerpts of Soylent Green (1973) and Blade Runner (1982)


10/5 Jane Bennett, “The Force of Things: Steps Toward an Ecology of Matter”

12/5 Film: This Changes Everything, part 1.


17/5 Film: This Changes Everything, part 2.

19/5 Discussion

Final Paper (due date to be determined)


Evaluation Methods

Class participation and co-lead class discussion (30%); three 2-3 page reflection papers (10% each); 7-8 page creative nonfiction paper (40%).

Co-lead class discussion. Depending on class size, I will ask you as individuals or as a group to come up with discussion questions and lead the first part of class discussion.

Regular attendance, appearance on time, attentiveness to what’s happening in class, contributing to discussions, and doing all of the required reading are essential to this course, especially as it will be discussion based. Please be sure to maintain all absences to a minimum and appear on time. Class participation and attendance is REQUIRED as per VIU attendance policy. If you are ill, you must contact me by email.

Since you are all adults, I do not feel comfortable prohibiting the use of computers or other electronic devices in class. However, I want to discourage their use in the strongest manner possible. The latest research in student learning suggest people learn better when they write down their notes rather than type them into a computer (for instance, see Use of such electronic devices can also be distracting for other students, whose attention will inevitable be drawn to whatever is on your screen as opposed to what’s happening in class.

Reflection papers are designed to guide reflection on readings and class discussion.

Reflection Paper 1 (9/17) Explain the science of climate change in your own words, building on what you already know about this subject. What is causing it? What effects is it having on the physical world?


Reflection Paper 2 (10/1) Choose a passage from Open City that you find especially memorable, and that seems relevant to your experiences in Venice. What makes this passage memorable, paying special attention to the way it is written (for example, to language, tone, imagery)? How does it help you to think about the city of Venice?


Reflection Paper 3 (10/15) Choose a place in Venice. Describe it in detail, and explain why you have chosen to write about it. How does thinking about climate change or the anthropocene affect your understanding of this place?


Nonfiction Paper is meant to encourage you to draw together everything we’ve discussed in class, and apply it to a reading of your surroundings. If climate change is everywhere, how does it affect a place you encountered while in Venice? The reflection papers are designed to get you thinking about this question as the course progresses and connect your thinking to the reading. The final assignment is meant to provide you with an occasion for synthesizing your thinking in a formal and extended way. See separate handout for more instructions.

© 2015 Min Hyoung Song