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Carbon and Climate

Lucas extols the Liberal Artsiness of his environmental studies class.

Lucas extols the Liberal Artsiness of his environmental studies class.


Can I rant about a class I’m taking?

It’s Carbon and Climate, the course I mentioned in my last post.

I’m really, really loving it.

As a recap:

I hope to go into sustainable engineering one day. Specifically renewable energy, or means of mitigating / reducing anthropogenic emissions. So I’ve had my eye on C&C for a while, and I’m really excited to finally be taking it.

A big reason for this is because it checks a box I’ve been meaning to check off ever since I decided to apply to Carleton: it utilizes the Arb. Once I found out that courses / labs can sometimes take place in the campus’ very own arboretum, I’ve been intent on experiencing such an innovative approach to learning. Now I’m finally getting to!

In fact, the majority of the labs in this class are directly tied to the Arb, and in really exciting, practically beneficial ways.

Getting to learn outside is a wonder both because it’s an excellent opportunity for hands-on experience and also because being outside is just really nice, and an especially great way to keep a clear head. So learning about the Arb, and how to help it, is pretty much a dream come true. It’s truly life-affirming to be doing work that feels this important, so I feel weirdly emotional about and grateful for this class.

As someone who’s pretty darn anxious about what’s happening in our environment today, I’ve been itching to do real, tangible work on the subject. This course takes me a significant step closer to doing that. It’s definitely exposed me to the most immediate, concrete lab work I’ve done at Carleton yet. Particularly exciting is the class’ final lab project. We split into groups to research various aspects of enhanced silicate weathering, a promising means of atmospheric carbon sequestration, and report back to our professor Dan. He plans on building on what we learn as he embarks on his own academic project in the Arboretum itself!

I just can’t tell you how exciting it is to be that directly tied to such important research. Ahh!!

Professor Dan Maxbauer leads his Carbon and Climate students through a lab activity in the Arboretum.
When the “lab” you’re working in is an 800-acre arboretum, you know you’ve lucked out.

Another thing I love about the class is how interdisciplinary it is.

It already helps me check off another entry on my list of departments I want to engage with before graduating (Environmental Studies), but I can name quite a few disciplines the course has invoked thus far. These include: environmental studies, of course, but also physics, statistics, chemistry, biology, geology, philosophy, public policy, computer science, and even more that I’m probably forgetting to name.

For example, discussions about the Earth’s energy balance and about generalized blackbody radiation, are fairly familiar to me as a physics major. Discussions about redox reactions and ocean acidification remind me that I gotta start taking some chemistry classes here soon. Working with STELLA software to get my first tastes of climate modeling has given me (pleasant) flashbacks to my A&I (Society in Silico) while also getting me excited for Intro CS, whenever I manage to take that. And with respect to public policy and philosophy, our assigned readings can range anywhere from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to excerpts from Marcia Bjornerud‘s Timefulness. Not knowing whether my homework is going to take me to a highly technical report intended for direct use by policy makers or a beautifully written and thought-provoking treatise on the philosophical concept of geologic time has been a real treat.

I’m particularly fond of this approach because studying one thing (carbon and climate) in multiple ways (from the perspective of a scientist, a politician, a philosopher, a historian) yields deep knowledge of the subject and great practice at keeping one’s mind flexible. It’s certainly been a challenge for me having to suddenly think about so many different topics, especially since I haven’t worked with many in a long time, if at all – how does that chemistry concept work again? Is there political precedent to this? Wait, what do all of these geology terms hecking mean???

As challenging as it’s been for me, though, I’m not discouraged, even though I anticipated coming into this class feeling much more assured just because I care about the subject so gosh darn much. I guess it’s because I care about it so much, and because I can tell I’m learning so much, even if in some ways I’m playing catch-up relative to some of my classmates, that I still feel so great about this. People often say that you come to Carleton to learn how to learn, and tackling this in such an interdisciplinary manner is a great example of doing just that.

Furthermore, I always want to know as much about any given subject from as many different angles as I can.

Especially for a topic as crucial and wide-reaching as climate change, I think it’s essential to understand the matter from as many perspectives as possible, be those scientific, political, cultural, or historical. Whenever I’m introduced to something new, I’ll automatically ask myself the same kinds of questions: What would a physics major think about this? How about a businessperson? A priest? A kid? So the approach this class has taken has been very satisfying and intuitive for me, even if the many different specific bodies of knowledge it invokes have proven a bit unwieldy at times.

In order to enact the drastic, widespread change needed in order to curtail global warming, we all need to be ready and able to work with each other and draw upon our unique respective strengths and backgrounds. Carbon and Climate has done an exhilarating and admirable job at preparing me and my fellow classmates to do just that, and the clear thought that’s been put into the diversity of readings and activities we’re engaging with has rendered this the single course that’s most lived up to my excitement about Carleton and the liberal arts, in many respects. It’s simply so awesome and so fulfilling to be learning this way.

So. Yeah. To Dan: Thank you!

And to anyone reading this: Take this class!!


When he wrote this, Lucas was distancing through the beginning of his junior year, bringing with him a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and hopes everyone is okay back there. Lucas saw himself majoring in Physics, while hoping to explore Cinema and Media StudiesChemistryEconomicsMathematics, StatisticsComputer Science, and pretty much every other department at Carleton as well. He misses everyone and sends his love. Meet the other bloggers!