Environmental Studies & English 4120 -- Fall 2021

Cultural Studies and Climate Change

Greta Thunberg at the Climate Action Summit in New York, 2019

Now is a time of dire emergency for the Earth, a time when drastic and dramatic measures must be taken so that our planet remains habitable. The emergency of the global COVID pandemic has been a kind of fire drill for the climate crisis, emphasizing the the importance of science, the relatedness of all human communities, and the necessity of collaboration and changing behavior.

A cultural studies approach to understanding the climate crisis can foster a deeper understanding of the human social systems that cause global heating and possibilities for meaningful action.

Cultural studies draws on cultural, political, and economic theory to analyze discourse, culture, and behavior with a view toward voice and democratic participation. Cultural studies includes critical examination of the production and flow of culture in national and international capitalism, the naturalization and reproduction of inequality, as well as political resistance and the rise of traditional and new social movements.

This course brings together tools from the humanities, social sciences, and the sciences to consider: the global impact, history, politics, and ethics of global warming; imagined representations of warming in the future and their relevance to the present; and, ways to mobilize people to address climate change via social movements.

Geologists now identify our geological epoch as the Anthropocene, a time when our planet is dominated by humanity.  But that domination is not equal among all people. A cultural studies perspective might more specifically say we are living in the Capitalocene; as Jason Moore describes:

The Anthropocene makes for an easy story. Easy, because it does not challenge the naturalized inequalities, alienation, and violence inscribed in modernity’s strategic relations of power and production. It is an easy story to tell because it does not ask us to think about these relations at all. The mosaic of human activity in the web of life is reduced to an abstract Humanity: a homogeneous acting unit. Inequality, commodification, imperialism, patriarchy, racial formations, and much more, have been largely removed from consideration. ... Are we really living in the Anthropocene, with its return to a curiously Eurocentric vista of humanity, and its reliance on well-worn notions of resource- and technological-determinism? Or are we living in the Capitalocene, the historical era shaped by relations privileging the endless accumulation of capital? (Capitalocene)

The Anthropocene is not only dominated by the rise of global capitalism, but also the history of invasion, genocide, slavery, colonialism, and ongoing inequality and exploitation. As Kathryn Yusoff puts in A Billon Black Anthropocenes or None.

The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialisms have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence. The Anthropocene as a politically infused geology and scientific/popular discourse is just now noticing the extinction it has chosen to continually overlook in the making of its modernity and freedom.

Course Success

Since the class is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing any classes will affect your learning. Missing 3 classes or more will lower your grade and missing 5 classes may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning!

Students in this course are expected to keep up with current events regarding the course theme. I urge you to take advantage of the WMU library making the NY Times available to WMU students for free. The Guardian is also a good news source, especially on climate issues, and can also be accessed for free.

Much of the writing for this course will be in a public voice and with public reach. The course is intended to develop your ideas, your capacity to share ideas, your commitment to preserving life on earth, and your capacity to make a difference. Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

This course will also follow WMU COVID-19 Vacine Policy. WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being.

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are before and after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.



Lynas, Mark. Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency (2020)

Parenti, Christian. Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011).

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West (2018).

Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Ministry of the Future. (2020)

Robinson, Mary. Climate Justice: Hope, Resilence, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future aka A Man-Made Problem with a Feminist Solution(2018)

Engler, Mark & Paul. This is an Uprising: How Non-Violent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century. (2017)

Additional reading and viewing linked to this syllabus and/or provided by the professor. Students tell me that many of the books for this class are available at z-lib.org.

Major Assignments

Class Participation (20%)

Points of Concern in a Public Voice (Due: Sep 15) (15%)

Developing World Blog Post (Due: Oct 4) (10%)

Community Involvement Project (Due: Dec 8) (10%)

Saving the World Strategy Paper (Due: Nov 15) (15%)

Climate Justice Teaching (Due: Nov 22) (10%)

Final Exam (20%)

Electronic Syllabus

Wed Sep 1: Introductions

Wed Sep 8: Our Climate Future

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2. Join our class phone message system, Remind by sending this message, "@k7efda2" to this number "81010" using your cell phone (your cell phone number will remain private, you can also send the message to 5863590468).

3. Read: Our Final Warning, Foreward, Chapters 1 & 2.

4. Write: Based on the reading, make a list of three topics that especially concern you - include 5-10 bullet points about each topic.

Mon Sep 13: Our Climate Future, Cont'd

1. Read: Chapter 3, 4, & 5.

2. Write: Based on the reading make another list of three topics that especially concern you - include 5-10 bullet points about each topic.

Wed Sep 15: Our Climate Future, Cont'd

1. Read: Chapter 6 & "The Endgame."

2. Due: Points of Concern in a Public Voice

Mon Sep 20: Africa, Asia & Latin America 

1. Read: Tropic of Chaos Chapters 1-3.

2. Key terms: catastrophic convergence, threat multiplier, Global South vs Global North, colonialism, capitalism, Cold War and Global South, Neoliberalism, failed states, technical adaptation, political adaptation, adaptation vs. armed lifeboat, counterinsurgency, climate fascism...

3. Optional: Age of Consequences.

Wed Sep 22: Africa, Asia, & Latin America Cont'd

1. Read: Tropic of Chaos Chapters 4-8, and War and Warming in Afghanistan (NYT,Sept 1, 2021).

Mon Sep 27: Africa, Asia, & Latin America Cont'd

1. Read Tropic of Chaos Chapters 9-14.

2. Start developing ideas for your Developing World Blog Post.

Wed Sep 29: Africa, Asia, & Latin America Cont'd

1. Read: Finish Tropic of Chaos

Mon Oct 4: Climate Refugees

1. Read: Exit West Chapters 1-7.

2. Due: Developing World Blog Post.

Wed Oct 6: Community Involvement Panel

1. Read: Exit West Chapters 8-9.

2. Due: Developing World Blog Post responses to classmates.

Mon Oct 11: Climate Refugees Cont'd

1. Read: Finish Exit West.

2. Write an email to the professor and the class describing how you plan to undertake the Community Involvement Project

3. Optional: Watch Human Flow.

Wed Oct 13: Imagining the Future

1. Read: The Ministry for the Future Chapters 1-8.

refugee button

Mon Oct 18: Imagining the Future Cont'd

1. Read: The Ministry for the Future Chapters 9-38.

Oct 20-22: Fall Break

Mon Oct 25: Imagining the Future Cont'd

1. Read: The Ministry for the Future Chapters 39-68.

Wed Oct 27: Imagining the Future Cont'd

1. Read: The Ministry for the Future Cont'd Chapters 69-78.

Mon Nov 1: Imagining the Future Cont'd

1. Read: The Ministry for the Future Chapters 79-End.

Wed Nov 3: Strategies For Saving the Future

1. Write: A several page start on the Stategies for Saving the Future Paper.

Mon Nov 8: Climate Action & Justice

1. Read: Climate Justice Prologue to Chapter 7.

Wed Nov 10: Climate Action & Justice Cont'd

1. Read: Climate Justice Chapter 8-10.

Mon Nov 15: Issues of Climate Justice

1. Research your group's issue of climate justice to prepare for Climate Justice Teaching.

2. Due: Strategies for Saving the Future Paper

Vanessa Nakate on COP 26

Wed Nov 17: Climate Justice

Group 1: Climate Justice and Animals

Group 2: Climate Justice and Displaced Workers   

Mon Nov 22:Climate Justice Cont'd

Group 3: Climate Justice & Education    

Group 4: Holding Polluters Responsible 

Wed Nov 24-25: Thanksgiving Break

Mon Nov 29: Social Movements

1. Watch: Eyes on the Prize, Part 4, No Easy Walk

2. Read: This is an Uprising Introduction and Chapters 1-4. 

3. Optional: 198 Methods of Non-Violent Direct Action and King's Letter From the Birmingham Jail

Wed Dec 1: Social Movements Cont'd

Read: This is an Uprising Chapters of your choosing, 4-10.

Mon Dec 6: Social Movements Cont'd

Read: This is an Uprising Groups present on each chapter, 4-10. Describe 1) historical events examined in the chapter, 2) key terms, and 3) conclusions the Englers draw about the significance for social organizing.

Wed Dec 8: Social Movements Cont'd

Read: Chapter 1 from How to Blow Up a Pipeline What does Malm learn from past struggles? What are his key arguments for his position?

Due: Last day to submit Community Involvement Project

Dec. 13-16 Finals Week

Thurs Dec 16 2:45-4:45: Final Exam