How will climate change impact tertiary education asks Joss Winn (via Stephen Downes). It's a topical question today as University College, Cork, my alma mater and occasional employer is badly flooded. Student accomodations have been evacuated, lectures cancelled for a week, and it is still raining hard.
It's impossible to tie this specific event to global warming. Cork (in Irish, Corcaigh, loosely translates as 'Marsh') is a city of rivers and bridges. This is, perhaps, just a regular 50 year of 100 year flood event, the damage multiplied by the modern habit of putting buildings on floodplains. That said, it is typical of the kind of climate event we are likely to see a lot of through the century as we face increases in temperature of between two and six degrees.
There are obvious first order effects of global warming on Tertiary Education. Physical damage and disruption like UCC is suffering can be put right, if it is infrequent. In warmer scenarios, some institutions may simply have to close or relocate. In the first world, we'll be able to afford this, as the change will unfold slowly through the century.
Our curricula will change. The world will need Geoengineers to try and fix it, Civil Engineers to run the massive coastal defence projects, Agronomists to manage transition of our agriculture as breadbaskets move north, and a new breed of Diplomat to wring their hands over the growing belt of Somalia style failed states as low latitude countries crumble in the heat.
In the first world, we'll be fine. There'll be wet carpets and cut budgets, certainly. There will be hand wringing editorials in the THE and The Chronicle. But our Universities came out of the apocalypse of the early 20th century better than ever, as the brave new world of 1945 needed graduates, and lots of them, to rebuild. A world bombed, beggared, widowed and orphaned found the money, and went on to give us a half century of remarkable economic transformation.
Without global warming, another half century would bring us a world population peaking at around 10 billion. Economic growth would put most of those living in relative comfort. Countries like India and China which, in 1945 sat close to famine would, in 2045 have middle income populations who could afford and expect a University education. The Great Universities of India, China and Indonesia will be vast. They will use technologies as force multipliers in ways our cosseted first world pedagogues will balk at. The scale will dwarf the old academic aristocracies of the Oxbridge and the Ivy League, reduced to an elitist sideshow, like first class travel in the Ryanair Age. The graduates they turn out, by the billion, are the true future of Tertiary Education.
Unless they are boiled alive. Severe global warming scenarios will hit these countries hardest. Much of the history of the century will hinge on whether these countries can take the heat and continue to deliver their people from poverty, or whether they will crumble back into war and famine on a scale that our experiences in Somalia, Afghanistan and Central Africa have only begun to prepare us. That is the central question.
(Image, Gluckman Gallery, UCC, upon the floodwaters.Photo: Tim O'Donovan)