Syllabus – Winter 2021

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) policy brief, (2) public lecture review, (3) scientific article distillation, 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.

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

Week 2: Objective policy brief (A) – 800 words An objective policy brief will provide context and key takeaways of scientific results that are important to decision making. The brief does not have to make policy recommendations, but may influence policy.

What sea level changes may occur along the Washington State coast? The content of your brief 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 3: Objective policy brief (B) – 800 words What changes in Arctic sea ice are occurring, and how are people living in the Arctic affected?

  1. Arctic Report Card 2020

Focus on these chapters:

  • Headlines & Executive Summary (p. 2-6)
  • A 15-year Retrospective (p. 6-11)
  • Surface Air Temperature (p. 21-27) & Sea Ice (p. 44-53)

Arctic Report Card 2019

Focus on these chapters:

  • Executive Summary (p. 2-4)
  • Voices from the Front Lines of a Changing Bering Sea (p. 88-94)

Additional readings written by guest Erica Dingham:

  1. ‘Communicating Climate Change: Arctic Indigenous Peoples as Harbingers of Environmental Change’, Arctic Yearbook 2013

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 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

        B1) Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise      from 1961 to 2016. Zemp et al. (2019), Nature 568, 382-386.

         B2) Asia’s shrinking glaciers protect large populations from drought             stress. Pritchard (2019), Nature 569, 649-654.

Week 6: NPR The Academic Minute (A) – 700 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.

Additional readings written by guest Dr. Julia Rosen:

  1. Read at least one piece from:

Week 7: Public lecture review (B) – 700 words

On the fate of the Earth  – Elizabeth Kolbert  (lecture starts at 9:15)

Additional reading:

Prologue and Chapter 1 – The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History 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: Pitch to the Bezos Earth Fund / Reflection and discussion

Compose and deliver in class a ~3-minute pitch to the Bezos Earth Fund: What new work (specifically or thematically) should be supported in order to advance ice and climate science toward understanding how ice and climate changes impact society?

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