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Q&A with Instructor Christopher Bennett on his approach to teaching climate change

Posted by Connor Dalton on August 23, 2023 in News

Tell me a little bit about yourself

I'm from Toronto originally. I studied at Queen’s University and then the University of Warwick in England. That was where I did my PhD and my training as a political theorist or political philosopher.

I'm here to teach about climate change, sustainability, and business ethics. I come from the more theoretical side of it, but my intellectual journey is one of going from theoretical to more applied work, which is what I'm here to do.

What is your research focus?

My PhD work was on intergenerational justice or intergenerational transfers, and specific problems to do with that. I wrote about the theoretical issues with climate change as my chief case. It’s the way that different generations, people alive long ago and those far ahead of us, relate to one another.

Since then, I have written on more applied questions including climate change denial. I'm trying to understand how free speech should fit in contemporary society with issues like climate change, vaccine hesitancy, vaccine denial, and a whole host of related informational issues. You have these social phenomena that turn on the acceptance or rejection of different facts.

My most recent research is on another subpart of climate change and sustainability. It's about depopulation and population shrinkage—how that can be a response to climate change and a way of reducing our carbon footprint. But also what happens when there are fewer people over time? Looking at how culture can degrade and how communities can fail to transmit intergenerational values and identity.

What is something about you that might surprise people?

I'm a pretty accomplished pianist and I've worked in opera productions. I've actually conducted an opera in my past life—that tends to surprise people! I also hold some coaching licenses from the English Football Association. Now I'm getting very intensely into gardening. I've torn up my whole backyard (pictured below).

What is something you’re proud of accomplishing?

In my previous position, I was part of a team that developed mostly first-year courses. The objective was to equip students with an understanding of sustainability and climate change, as a physical sort of phenomenon that happens, but also a social, political phenomenon. We were trying to overeducate; we wanted students to know enough to surprise themselves and surprise others by it. We wanted them to be conversant in these issues, and I think we did that. People turned up and bought in, enjoyed it and learned from it.

Why did you want to come to Dalhousie?

I have to say I love Halifax. Raising a family in the city, with the access to beaches, that's a big blessing for us. My wife has lots of family here so it is somewhat of a homecoming. I was looking forward to the accessibility of the countryside and the more outdoorsy lifestyle that's so easy here.

Coming to the Faculty of Management, sustainability is a core objective, both as something that they teach and something that the faculty embodies in all sorts of ways. And that's just exciting, right? I get to make a lot of choices and have some influence on what gets taught.

What is something you're excited to share with students?

I have a bunch of simulation exercises I use to help students experience different aspects of the role of ethical principles and decision-making, resource allocation, and resource sharing. I've done them at three institutions in two different countries with different student bodies. They're often technical problems and require some numeracy to figure out solutions. I’m always impressed by the solutions they come up with.