Culture and Climate Change Series Opens Discussions and Minds

"Laudato Si’," Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter on climate change, was inspired by the canticle written by his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, that “reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”

This year, Gannon University embraced the spirit of the encyclical through an ambitious series of events exploring culture and climate change.

The series brought together representatives from various fields and countries to examine, analyze and debate what many people see as the most pressing issue facing mankind today.

The series was created in the momentum generated by the provocative and well-received “Deadly Medicine” exhibit and the campus events that addressed the Holocaust last year.

Those events were not always planned, said Linda Fleming, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.  “Last fall, faculty were talking about what a great thing it was and how much they wanted to do something like that again.  At the January faculty meeting, we discussed what kind of topics they’d like to see, and climate change stood out.”

The name of the series reflects the multidisciplinary outlook of the year’s events.  While climate change is often perceived as the purview of scientists, Fleming points out it’s broad implications. “Climate change affects people in every way shape and form:  our health, where we live, the food supply. As a result of climate change, we’ll see greater conflict and population movements.  The science is a big part of it, but the impact affects us more generally.”

To this end, a comprehensive range of participants—scientists, as well as humanities scholars, Gannon students and citizens of countries around the world—weighed in on the implications of climate change.

From Notre Dame University, Philip Sakamoto, Ph.D., a former manager of NASA’s Space Science Education program, presented a view of earth from space.  An interdisciplinary faculty panel discussed the phenomenon of climate-change denial.  Brian Richter, chief scientist for the water program at The Nature Conservancy, will present a lecture, “Chasing Water in a Rapidly Changing World” and former U.S. Representative Phil English offered insights into the intersection of science, politics and culture.

Most dramatically, five young adults from the African nation of Rwanda spoke about the Rwandan genocide, which took place at a time of great environmental stress, and how that calamity has shaped their lives.

Gannon University artists have responded with works shown at the Schuster Gallery, classes are taking up the discussion and the momentum generated will carry into the spring semester, when more events are planned, including English Awards Night and the annual Humanities Conference.

Linda Fleming remembered an early planning meeting for the series where, she said, “We looked at the first section of ‘Laudato Sí’ which outlines all the major points. As we put together the series, we realized that we were hitting each of those major points.”

And many more to come.