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Understanding climate justice focus of EUC field course

Understanding climate justice focus of EUC field course

Over the summer, undergraduate student changemakers in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) will hone their knowledge of climate justice issues through a unique experiential education opportunity with Professor P.E. Perkins, an internationally renowned climate justice thought leader.

By Elaine Smith

York undergraduate students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in climate justice issues when Professor P.E. Perkins offers her intensive Climate Justice Field Course (ENVS 4350) in summer 2023. The course has only been offered once previously, in 2017, as a graduate course.

P. E. Perkins
P.E. Perkins

“I am so thrilled to be able to teach this course again,” Perkins said.

Perkins, an ecological economist, is the lead author of a chapter of the sixth assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a chapter titled “Demand, Services and Social Aspects of Migration.” She originally designed the field course as part of Economics for the Anthropocene, a project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada that brought together students from York, McGill and the University of Vermont remotely years before Zoom became widespread. Each year, the incoming class of graduate students was required to take part in a field course, and climate justice was the focus of Perkins’ contribution. Now, she is reviving and revising it to include the most pressing climate justice issues of the day.

“I want to bring home to people how climate change affects marginalized people much more than their wealthier counterparts,” said Perkins. “We will look at what governments can do to balance those impacts and how they can proactively plan to address climate change to make sure energy transitions happen in a fair and equitable way.

“Equity-enhanced policies and climate policies go hand-in-hand. People need to have trust in their government that there will be training for the jobs of the future and that they will thrive. It must be an equitable transition, or it won’t be viable.”

Students in the climate justice course will be expected to read a selection of relevant documents in advance of the course so that they are well-grounded in the essential issues. The course will have an experiential education focus, although students will also be required to produce a paper on a topic of interest.

“Experiential education is a great way to dramatize climate justice and inequities and bring it home to the students,” Perkins said.

Perkins wants to drive home the necessity for a participatory approach to finding workable solutions for climate change.

“I hope the governments are listening, but the solution is political agency for those who are affected,” said Perkins. “I want students to see that it’s important to amplify those voices and bring them into the same room as the people who are making the decisions so that governments become more effective at putting the funds where they are needed.”

In delivering the course, Perkins will build on the model that she found so successful in 2017. Each day had a specific theme, such as defining climate justice, petrol damage, sacrifice zones and governance. Her syllabus included mornings spent doing research and writing and discussing readings, as well as training in practical skills such as media relations, meeting facilitation, conflict resolution and community organizing. Afternoons were occupied with films, panel discussions by experts on topics such as climate refugees and fossil fuel divestment and field trips to communities affected by fossil fuel refining. The course culminated with student presentations about their research.

“This course provides an excellent opportunity for interested students to deepen their knowledge about climate justice so they can contribute in various ways towards an equitable energy transition,” said Perkins.