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Physical, Biological, and Human Dimensions of Global Change

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Session Description: 

Overview :
July 29th through August 18th, 1990, the Aspen Global Change Institute held its first summer session for scientists and environmental educators. Thirty-eight participants from three countries assembled for the interactive sessions. AGCI provided a forum for understanding the range and complexity of earth systems and the role of human activity in relation to natural systems. One goal of the first summer session was to provide an environment where scientists and educators with different specialties could come together and learn from each other across disciplines. Participants included teachers, biologists, atmospheric chemists, climatologists, solar physicists, glaciologists, ecologists, and a range of social scientists.

Often specialists do not have the time to develop a deeper understanding of other subjects that relate to their own work. When attempting to understand major earth systems such as the atmosphere, the oceans, biodiversity, and human impacts on these systems, a common language of understanding must be built between specialists. Participants expressed strong support for this approach.

"The place to start is to take stock of the earth. What do we know, what must we learn more about, and how do we act so as to chart a course for the 21st century that leads to sustainable future?"
– AGCI Director John Katzenberger

The summer session was kicked off by Windstar co-founder and President John Denver. Rick Chappell of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center announced plans for an educational program whereby students would be engaged in a series of environmental measurements that will support earth scientists in verifying measurements taken from satellites and aircraft. This "Ground Truth" program concept became one of the most exciting ideas discussed by the participating scientists and educators over the three week period.

One component of the AGCI summer session was to establish a task group made up of scientists and educators with the job of defining appropriate outreach materials and programs. This Education Committee met as part of the Educators Summit during the third week of the conference. Topics discussed included:

1. Overview of earth science/global change issues summarized from the first two weeks of the program
2. The status of science education
3. How we learn
4. Ideas for the future of science education
5. Effecting change with new educational models
6. The role of AGCI in educational materials development

The task group identified a list of written materials that could be generated from the summer session, including a reader to be used as an undergraduate course book. Interactive computer/videodisc technologies were presented during week three and were considered as a powerful new tool in rekindling science education and in particular the science of global change. The group felt the importance of pursuing the development of the Ground Truth project which will require the development of curriculum materials, teacher training, and pilot testing of the concept in 1991. There was also a strong consensus on the importance of dialogue sessions with industry where the challenge of global change issues can be explored and incorporated in the development of models for the 21st century.

Ultimately, it was agreed upon that the information put forward by the Aspen Global Change Institute was should serve as a guidepost to sound decision-making at national and international levels. Planetary management of global change factors is an inevitable requirement of the next century.

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Atmospheric Composition
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Climate Variability and Change (including Climate Modeling)
  • Human Contributions & Responses
  • Water Cycle