Freshman seminar asks students to envision their future in a changing climate

Morgan Kelly ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

The freshman seminar, “Time Capsules for Climate Change,” asks students to use emerging science to think about the future of humanity under climate change and possible strategies for mitigation. Taught by Rob Socolow, professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering and associated faculty in the Princeton Environmental Institute, the students are writing four essays that will be placed in time capsules to be opened at their graduation in 2021 and at their 10-, 25- and 50-year reunions. The time capsules are being stored in Princeton’s Mudd Library.

For his freshman seminar this year, Robert Socolow is asking his class to think about the future, not just for themselves but for the entire planet.

“Climate change poses a deep question: How much do we care about our collective future?” said Socolow, professor emeritus and senior research scholar in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton and associated faculty in the Princeton Environmental Institute. “The heart of the matter is looking after our civilization.”

The seminar, “Time Capsules for Climate Change,” asks students to write about the future of humanity in the context of a changing climate. The students use emerging science to think quantitatively about the impacts of climate change and possible strategies for mitigation. They are writing four essays that will be placed in time capsules to be opened at the students’ graduation in 2021 and at their 10th, 25th and 50th reunions. The time capsules are being stored in Princeton’s Mudd Library.

Socolow, a leading researcher in technological and policy responses to climate change and co-director of PEI’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative, said he thinks of the capsules as “destiny studies.”

“The 50-year time frame,” he noted, “is the length of these students’ careers. There are a huge range of possible outcomes.”

Princeton’s freshman seminars offer students the opportunity to work closely with leading scholars and a small group of classmates. In comments below, the six students in the course, all first-year students, talk about the time capsules they will enshrine in January and open four times through 2071.

Socolow’s class is designated the Henry David Thoreau Freshman Seminar in Environmental Studies and fulfills a science and technology without lab requirement.