UofA Climate Change Series

Sky Islands is hosting a five week-long series of speakers and activities open to the public that are related to the current impacts of climate change on our environment, economy, and society, as well as addressing the ways in which we can mitigate and prevent these impacts from escalating.

In week one, Dr. Jeremy Weiss, a climate and geospatial extension scientist from the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment, spoke about the science behind climate change, including the role that human activities play in enhancing and accelerating the greenhouse effect, as well as presenting data explaining the impact of climate change on the Southwest and Tucson in particular. In attendance this week were Jonathan Rothschild, the mayor of Tucson, as well as representatives from TEP and local climate change lobby groups. Following the presentation, the students were treated to a performance and workshop by renowned local physical comedian, actor, and playwright Wolfe Bowart, who engaged the students about the issue of climate change utilizing the art of physical theatre.

In week two, Dr. Elise Gornish, a Cooperative Extension Specialist at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, spoke passionately and enthusiastically about the effects of climate change on the ecosystems of the world, and of the Southwest in particular, as well as the ways in which we all can work to mitigate the harmful effects and preserve our unique ecosystem’s stability. Following the presentation, students broke out into groups that either unpacked and assessed the presentation or worked with Wolfe Bowart on using physical theater to handle the range and depth of emotions that many people feel when they hear or learn about climate change.

In the third week, UofA professor and Director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (as well as the former Assistant Director of the National Climate Assessment under the Obama administration) Kathy Jacobs outlined the effects of climate change on the water supply and the water cycle, as well as myriad strategies and examples of how to mitigate the effects of climate change at home and abroad through the use of practical adaptation methods. The presentation inspired the students with a message of hope and a realistic depiction of how to actually adapt to a changing climate. Following the presentation, Wolfe Bowart provided examples of how any object can become a puppet or character, and then engaged the student groups with a challenging activity where various found objects had to be turned into characters relating to the themes of the climate change series, which were then written into a series of vignettes about the issues regarding climate change that have been addressed so far and presented to the school.

In week four, Gregg Garfin, a UofA professor of climate, natural resources, and policy, Director of the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, and Deputy Director for Science Translation and Outreach in the Institute of the Environment, spoke about the various ways in which the Southwest can adapt to the changing climate ahead, such as in the areas of water use, changing fire regimes, increased and prolonged droughts, as well as greater intensity storms. Following the presentation, Wolfe Bowart led the student groups through an activity where they created characters and short plays involving the topic of the presentation, and then asked the groups to perform their scenes.

For week five, professor Don Falk, also of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the UofA delegate to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, delivered an energetic, witty, and informative talk about the effect of climate change on fire regimes in the West, as well as how principles and practices of restorative ecology could be applied in a changing climate. Following the presentation, Wolfe Bowart led the students in an exercise where they had to take random photos and use them to create characters that related to the topic of the speaker series, and then pair up and write a dialogue between them. Also in attendance was Dr. Aurelia Mouzet of the UofA French Department and her improv group Talk-it-Out, which returned to Sky Islands to lead the students in a series of improv skits designed around the topics of the last five weeks’ presentations.