Using literature, art and movies to reduce greenhouse emissions?

Kristin Hogue

“Living sustainably” seems like an intimidating concept. Sustainability and climate change are often tied to direct action and major technological innovation, so we often question how one person can actually help our planet. Kristin Hogue wants to change that misconception — using literature, art and movies.

Hogue is an undergraduate student who was awarded the UC Office of the President’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) Student Fellowship to create an independent project this year to move the university toward its goal of producing zero-net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Hogue is unique among other CNI Fellows in that she is an English major — one of only two fellows studying the humanities across the UC system — whose project focuses on using the humanities to motivate people to change their opinions on environmentalism.

With the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Margaret Ronda, Hogue designed a discussion-based seminar in the English Department that seeks to answer how the humanities shape the way people view scientific issues like climate change and biodiversity loss.

“The humanities really add a personal narrative — an emotion, a feeling, an experience — to scientific facts,” Hogue said. “By humanizing scientific facts, we can create an emotional reaction that influences how people think.”

Through her course, Hogue has empowered her students, all of whom are humanities majors, to live more sustainably and use their skills in the humanities to create change in their communities.

“Kristin has helped her students discover this larger conversation they feel they are a part of,” said Dr. Ronda. “By using their skills in the humanities to interpret scientific research, they are able to solve different dimensions of climate change.”

For their final project, the students will write a letter to the future about their promise to take action on climate change in a partnership with DearTomorrow, a digital archive project that seeks to open up a larger conversation about acting on climate change now.

Hogue’s project has also helped the Office of Sustainability with its broader goals of fully engaging students, faculty and staff at UC Davis to think about environmental issues beyond science and technology but rather as a question of how we should live on Earth.

“The Carbon Neutrality Initiative is about empowering and enabling students to create change with the knowledge and connections they now understand about climate change and sustainability,” Camille Kirk, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, said. “Kristin has really engaged humanities students to do that in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”

Hogue will be speaking about her class at the California Higher Education and Sustainability Conference at UC Santa Barbara in July. This fall, she will be starting the Masters of Arts Program in Climate and Society at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, whose research is at the forefront of climate refugee work. She will return to UC Davis the following year to begin her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies. She has also been awarded the Prytanean Honor Society Susan F. Regan Award in recognition of her scholarship, leadership and community service.

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