Expos 20.252: What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change?


  • Professor: Eliza Holmes
  • Term: Fall
  • Days: T, Th
  • Time: 4:30-5:45PM
  • School: Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Course ID: 116353

An intensive seminar that aims to improve each student's ability to discover and reason about evidence through the medium of essays. Each section focuses on a particular theme or topic, described on the Expos Website. All sections give students practice in formulating questions, analyzing both primary and secondary sources and properly acknowledging them, supporting arguments with strong and detailed evidence, and shaping clear, lively essays. All sections emphasize revision.

This class will explore how to write, think, and talk about the complexities of global climate change. We are living in a moment where the reality of massive, human-made global climate change has become unavoidable. In the face of our changing plane--the loss of ordinary seasons, bugs, expected weather, known landmarks--language can seem hard to find. While fires burn in California and coastlines disappear, artists, politicians, business owners, and citizens seem to still be casting about for a way to comprehend and talk about the changes that are already taking place, and the ones that are coming. How can we write about a world in flux? How does the effect of environmental disaster change depending on our class, or race, or gender, or location? How do we create narratives about environmental loss? 

In unit one, we will investigate how different experts describe the current effects of the climate crisis. We will read the newest IPCC report on the climate crisis, and use it to analyze a series of green or eco advertisements in light of this scientific and international understanding of the crisis. In the second unit, we will turn to competing stories about the origins of the climate crisis. Some scientists and historians claim that the Anthropocene, a name for this geological era of human-made change, begins with the start of agriculture or the beginning of the nuclear age; others place the beginning in the rise of the plantation system in the Americas. Reading poetry by Tommy Pico, fiction by Karen Tai Yamashita, and watching the film Daughters of the Dust, alongside selections from the scientific journal Nature and excerpts from work by ecofeminist Donna Haraway, we will compare how each starting point tells a different story about the cause, and the continuing effects, of climate change. In unit three, we will turn to the future, asking why so many of our climate crisis narratives imagine the end of the world and asking what it means to imagine the future in the moment of crisis. Final research papers will evaluate visions of the future, with such examples as seed-saving projects, Octavia Butler’s novel The Parable of the Sower, the student-lead climate change movement “Fridays for the Future,” and the Green New Deal.


Notes: Students must pass one term of Expository Writing 20 to meet the College's Expository Writing requirement.