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The Humanities Respond to Climate Change

ASU Impact Joni Adamson

By Lara Cole

If the past is a harbinger of the future, then the environmental humanities—histories and narratives—may offer answers for current social and environmental challenges.

Adamson holds an ASU Virginia Piper Center Fellowship, which provided support for her to attend the UNESCO-funded World Humanities Conference this summer. She is also a fellow in the PLuS Alliance, a collaboration between ASU, King’s College London, and the University of New South Wales to solve global challenges around health, social justice, sustainability, and technology and innovation.

Her takeaway? “The environmental humanities are quickly expanding on the world stage, which is really good news.”

“The oral traditions of ancient peoples, like the Greeks
and Mayans, illustrate that people have been linking climate, the weather, and human behavior for thousands of years,” says Professor Joni Adamson, director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and professor of environmental humanities in ASU’s Department of English.

These stories often offer advice for avoiding
future disasters.

Adamson leads ASU’s environmental humanities certificate program, a humanities-based approach to exploring the relationship between human culture and the environment and examining the impact of human activities on the planet using literature, film, theater, music, digital arts, and philosophy.

The course equips students to think deeply and write about these issues. “Tomorrow’s leaders need to be able to communicate about environmental issues in creative and imaginative ways,” she says.

Adamson bases her teachings on the “the arts of futurity,” an approach that uses the genre of science fiction/climate fiction (coined “sci-fi/cli-fi”) to train students to be flexible thinkers who can explore alternative solutions to the apocalyptic endings that are common in the genre.

“Humanists have been studying human behavior, motivation, and desires for years,” Adamson says. “Through our work, we want to move towards more plausible, desirable, and livable futures. Managing social transformations and environmental challenges is not only about technical solutions; it is also about imagining creative alternatives.”

Follow Joni Adamson on Twitter @JoniAdamson.

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