GCE & Student Activities Opinion

Aarhus Summer School 2021: Climate Change – Cross-disciplinary challenges and solutions

Wicked problems are issues with many interdependent factors, which make them seem impossible to be solved. Since the factors are often incomplete, in flux, and/or difficult to define, a deep understanding of the stakeholders involved, and innovative solution-oriented approaches are required to solve wicked problems. For instance, climate change is a wicked problem. And that’s exactly why I decided to attend the Summer School offered by the Aarhus University: “Climate Change – Cross-disciplinary challenges and solutions”, which looked at the intricacy of climate change from different research areas and viewpoints. For 2 weeks professors and researchers from different study fields were invited to give talks and lectures, answer questions and stimulate discussion. And the best part: The hygiene concept by the university allowed the summer school to take place in-person in the wonderful city of Aarhus!

We had our first meeting 4 weeks before the beginning of the Summer School to get to know each other, and to clarify who will join the event in-person or online. The structure and setting of the course allowed both, as it was planned to happen in a hybrid format. At first, I was quite sceptical about how this would work out, however the organization and execution was amazing, making the experience great for everyone!

As the participating students came not only from different countries, but also had different backgrounds, a lot of material for preparation was provided before the start of the course. This was accessible via an online platform, which was very easy and convenient to use. The preparation material encompassed daily compulsory reading, one or two scientific articles, to get a basic understanding of the content. In addition to this, more background information was offered via articles, field studies, blog posts etc. This reading was on a voluntary basis and really provided in depth information about the daily topic.

What was even more exceptional than the organization and provision of preparation materials was the expertise and variety of the speakers during the course. For the first four days, the lectures covered the topics of “Climate history and system”, “Food systems and land use”, “Energy systems” and “Biosphere responses”, which were very natural science-related. The lecturers not only designed the talks in an interactive way, but also showed great knowledge in their field by answering all upcoming questions. After the scientific drivers and impacts of climate change were covered, the course content change to a more socio-economic and political perspective on days 5 to 6: “Climate Law” and “Political economy”. For the last days of the course, the group was introduced to the broader fields of ethics, culture and communication and their connection with climate change. Here, the wickedness of the climate change problem really got into the focus. The topics were called “Consumers and communication”, “Ethics of the Anthropocene” and “Cultures of climate” and really stimulated interesting debates.

The daily structure of the school was as follows: We started in the morning at 9 with a three-hour introduction lecture until 12. I would like to highlight that it was not only lecture-centered teaching, but instead interactive and shaped by vivid discussions. After an hour of lunch break, during which you could enjoy specialties in the nearby Latin quarter of Aarhus, we had another hour to ask questions that came up during the lecture. At 2 pm, we started with our afternoon session, which included the work in our groups.

On the first day of the course, we were split up into groups of 4 and had to choose a topic that is currently connected with climate change and sustainability, e.g. food, travel, family etc. The aim of the group work was to create a presentation for the last day of the course (which was also the examination), in which we show how our topic was connected to each of the 9 topics we covered in the lectures. This approach was especially suited, as the discussion in the group in the afternoons really helped us to comprehend the content that was explained in the morning sessions and apply it in a solution-oriented manner.

Between 4 and 5 pm, the daily program ended, and we could use the remaining day to spent time with our study colleagues and students from other summer schools. After one and a half year of not seeing fellow students because of the pandemic, this spare time to get to know people and make new friends made the summer school truly remarkable. Because the university provided international students with the opportunity to live in the student accommodations, you really got the feeling of studying at a university and could forget COVID-19 for some time. The free time was used to discover Aarhus and its vicinity: We went swimming in the harbor, had a campfire at the beach and enjoyed live music in a jazz bar, to name only a few activities.

I very much appreciate the opportunity to have participated in such an exciting and memorable course, especially after such a long time of social distancing and not meeting new people. I want to give a special thank you to the coordinator of the course, Bo Holm Jacobsen, as well as to all guest lecturers who provided their expertise and opinions and to the coordination of the University of Aarhus, that made this summer school possible in a time when the majority of other summer schools were still only in an online format.

This blog post does only scratch the surface of the time I had in Aarhus, and it would take way too much space to tell it in detail. But the best way to retrace this experience is to try it by yourself. So if you are interested in joining the summer school and visit Aarhus, the website of the course provides a lot of information and the registration form. And, in case you have some more time, you could also combine this journey with a trip to other beautiful Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen, Stockholm or Oslo!

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Author: Benedikt Wittmann

My Master studies in GCE started in 2019 after having pursued a Bachelor degree in Energy Technology at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. In my study field, I am passionate about sustainability, especially in the context of energy provision and policy making.
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