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The politics of climate change

For years, scientists, politicians, and other stakeholders have debated the existence of climate change and its impact on the environment. But the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy appears to have been a tipping point in the national conversation.

“Now, climate change is on the radar screen,” said Joan Fitzgerald, the interim dean of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “The debate isn’t whether or not climate change is happening—it is—but where you put your policy emphasis and where you spend your money.”

Joan Fitzgerald, interim dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs

Fitzgerald and Northeastern professor Matthias Ruth of the College of Engineering and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities are co-teaching this spring’s Open Classroom series, “Climate Change. Challenges. Solutions.”

The course—which will be free and open to the public and take an interdisciplinary look at climate change—will run from Jan. 9 to April 17 and will be held on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Village F. A variety of distinguished speakers from both the university and across the nation will join the weekly discussions.

“Given the fact that some people are still debating whether climate change is happening or not, it’s important to take stock of the current science and research, then showcase all the things that we know and what we can do about it,” said Ruth, the co-editor of a new journal, Urban Climate. “It’s a great opportunity for us to engage the public and engage other researchers around this issue.”

Fitzgerald, whose book Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development addresses climate change in American cities, noted that the series would begin with a discussion that frames the issue from both a scientific and ethical standpoint. As the semester progresses, the focus will turn to mitigating the effects of climate change and redesigning landscapes and urban areas to prevent future harm to the planet while also preparing for the irreversible consequences of changing weather patterns.

Matthias Ruth, a professor with appointments in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and the College of Engineering

“We want to put the issues we discuss in a broad policy context so we can empower people to do things differently in upcoming elections or in their everyday life,” Ruth explained.

Douglas Foy, the former president of the Conservation Law Foundation and a prominent advocate for climate change, will lead several of the semester’s sessions. He served in former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial administration as the state’s first secretary of commonwealth development, overseeing the state’s transportation, housing, energy, and environmental agencies.

“We’re really delighted to have Doug involved in this,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll be a big asset to our weekly discussions, complementing the public speakers we’re bringing in.”