Syllabus – Spring 2022

This course will address writing climate science for society. Climate-change research is complicated because understanding why the climate can change relies on understanding the coupled interactions between air, ocean, land, ice, and life – the earth system itself is complicated. Research spans observations, experiments, theory, and modeling on the local and global scale. Given this complexity we need disciplinary education. However, in relation to climate change as a global issue we are typically motivated to achieve interdisciplinary understanding. Ice and climate science matter to people and the process of explaining something in common terms is a test of one’s depth and breadth of that understanding.

The goal of this course is for students to gain experience writing in a style that speaks to society and on scientific topics that matter to society. Writing is a necessary skill, and improves with practice. In this course you will practice writing and editing in different styles for non-specialists; public writing is accessible, but also rigorous. Learning outcomes include:

  • Inspire critical thinking about the complexities of environmental change
  • Develop skill and confidence as a writer
  • Learn how to be an effective editor and to critique writing constructively, as well as to learn how to incorporate critical feedback on your own writing
  • Reflect on the writing process – from idea generation to the final essay
  • Collaboration with team members both orally and in writing

This course will follow the Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing model that is offered at higher-education institutions across the United States:

Course Organization

Each student in this course will compose five pieces of public writing. Four pieces will undergo a structured process of writing, editing, and revising, these include:   (1) newspaper article, (2) public lecture review, (3) Academic Minute, and (4) Op-Ed. During the last class, each student will read a pitch for funding out loud in class.

In Week 1 the course will be introduced and in Week 10 all students will write their own piece for the same assignment. In Week 2 through Week 9 the class will be split into two groups each week, Group A and Group B, where one group is designated as writers and one group as editors. For each week it is indicated in the meeting plan below whether Group A or Group B will be writers, and members of the other group will be editors. The Instructor pairs writers with editors. All students read or watch the material for each assignment. All students must come to class ready to engage as writers and/or editors, and as if we are all editorial board members advising writers on how to improve their work for publication.

The first one-week-long phase of writing and editing begins after each assignment is introduced, and then written pieces for that assignment will be discussed in class during the week the assignment is listed in the meeting plan. In the following week the writers make additional edits and the final draft must be completed by the next class period. For every assignment that you are a writer, you have two weeks to complete the piece. Each piece of writing will go through the following cycle:

  1. Assignment is given on Thursday in class
  2. First drafts by writers will be read and edited by the assigned editors *Editors copy the instructor when returning the annotated draft to the writer
  3. Annotated drafts by editors will be read and revised by writers
  4. Revised drafts by writers are submitted to the shared drive by 10 am on the Wednesday before the next class – 6 days after the piece was assigned
  5. All students read each piece of writing before class on Thursday, and all pieces of writing are workshopped in class by all students

Final drafts by writers are submitted to the shared drive no later than 10 am on the following Thursday – 14 days after the piece was assigned

Each writer-editor team will determine mutually agreeable deadlines for exchanging drafts each week. Scheduling is important, as sufficient time is required for writing, editing, and revising in order for writers to meet the weekly deadline. No late work is accepted. Please circulate all essays in Word, so that editors can use track changes and add comments. Essays should use 12-point font and 1.5 spacing.

The instructor will grade the revised draft and the final draft.

Everyone in the class reads the assigned reading material for each week. Everyone should come to class prepared to discuss each piece of writing for that week. The main ‘workshopping’ discussion includes each editor leading off discussion of each piece of writing, with all students contributing their own reactions. Writers use this feedback in their final revision.

During class we will discuss the content of the assignments as well as elements of writing style. Students may need to seek additional resources to support their understanding of the reading and the process of their writing – ask if you need help.

Class Meetings / Assignment details
The assignment details listed below for each week relate to the piece that was written and edited during the previous week.

At home: Watch Naomi Oreskes TED talk: “Why we should trust scientists.”( (20 minutes)

Week 1: Introduction to the course / Group editing Introduce how course works; first assignment; discuss and practice editing

Week 2: Newspaper article (A) – 750 words Assigned reports are on the state of scientific understanding around an issue that matters for society. What are the most important outcomes to share?

What changes in Arctic sea ice are occurring, and why does that matter? Arctic Report Card 2021 Focus on these chapters for your writing:

Week 3: Newspaper article (B) – 750 words

What sea level changes may occur along the Washington State coast? The content of your piece is based on this reading: Projected Sea Level Rise for Washington State, Miller et al. (2018)

Your brief must focus on the impacts at a location or for a coastal region. Follow these resources to generate a site-specific sea-level projection:

Week 4: Public lecture review (A) – 700 words The public lecture review should be written as an after-the-event account.

What can the geologic record tell us about stability of polar ice sheets? Dr. Maureen Raymo: (Watch the introduction and end at 52:40)

Week 5: National Public Radio (NPR) ‘The Academic Minute’ (B) – 700-900 words This assignment is to distill a scientific article into a story that will be read out loud in class and in the style of a NPR The Academic Minute:

Melting Mountain Glaciers

        A1) Accelerated global glacier mass loss in the early twenty-first     century. Hugonnet et al. (2021), Nature 592, 726-731 (technical                details are extra)

        A2) Ice velocity and thickness of the world’s glaciers. Millan et al.    (2022), Nature Geoscience 15, 124-129.                 

Additional readings written by guest Dr. Julia Rosen:

  1. Read at least one piece from:

Week 6: NPR The Academic Minute (A) – 700-900 words

Instability of Antarctic Ice

A1) The uncertain future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Pattyn and          Morlighem (2020), Science 367, 1331-1335.

A2) History, mass loss, structure, and dynamic behavior of the Antarctic    Ice Sheet. Bell and Seroussi (2020), Science 367, 1321-1325.

Week 7: Public lecture review (B) – 700 words Under a White Sky  – Elizabeth Kolbert conversation with Eula Biss (44:43)

Additional reading: Excerpt – Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

Week 8: Op-Ed (A) – 800 words – Topic of your choice Read the Op-Eds of a major newspaper to understand this form, and also read: (including to browse the links at the end of the page)

Week 9: Op-Ed (B) – 800 words – Topic of your choice

Week 10: Tweets / Reflection and discussion Three tweets to share with the class: one science related, one on impacts, and on action related

The rest of the class period will be spent reflecting on the quarter