Podcast: Climate optimism or fatalism: Teaching climate change in today’s university (Part 1 and 2)

Teaching Matters is delighted to launch a podcast to accompany and complement the Teaching Matters blog, adding another space for conversations and debates around learning and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. The podcast invites students and staff to engage in topical conversations, which are recorded and edited as podcast episodes. In general, the podcast topics will align with the Teaching Matters’ mini-series, but will also aim to capture other important discussions across the University around learning and teaching.

In the first three episodes, University of Edinburgh staff and students debate how sustainability and environmental concerns are being tackled in today’s university. They discuss emotionally-charged issues around climate change, asking if they are facing climate optimism or climate fatalism in the classroom.

The first two episodes, which are released today, capture a student-led discussion. MSc Environmental Sustainability student, Polly Wells, is our guest host, who welcomes fellow students Ryan Gilmour (MSc Electrical Engineering), Ellie Ashton (Religious Studies, first year) and Emily Bankert (Technology and Liberal Arts in Science, on exchange from the Netherlands) to the conversation.

From L-R: Polly Wells (guest host), Ellie Ashton, Emily Bankert, and Ryan Gilmour. Photo credit: S Thomas.

In the first episode, Polly invites discussion on what inspired our guests to become involved in matters of sustainability at University level. She sparks debate around how learning and teaching can complement or antagonise ‘armchair activism’, and asks if sustainability should be a specialist subject or woven throughout all university curricula…

The second episode continues this conversation, and addresses further issues on inspiring climate optimism in the classroom, use of social media, embedding sustainability teaching in each School, teachers’ and students’ roles in tackling climate change, teaching empathy, and cross/inter-disciplinary learning…

Finally, in the third episode, which is released next Wednesday (now available here), Polly welcomes three University of Edinburgh staff members: Dr Velda McCune, Dr Emily Creamer and Dr Hannah Chalmers. Polly asks her guests what inspired them to teach about climate change issues and their most effective ways of teaching these concerns, as well as inviting debate about the merits and challenges of interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Happy listening!

Teaching Matters podcast credits:

Guest host: Polly Wells (School of GeoSciences)
Director and Editor: Jenny Scoles and Sarah Thomas (IAD)
Advisor: Meg McGrath (Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability)
Producers: University of Edinburgh’s Communication and Marketing Media team.

Polly Wells

Polly Wells is an Environmental Sustainability MSc student at the university. Her interests in sustainability and climate change have evolved in recent years to consider the vital role public engagement plays in sustainable development. In pursuing this interest, Polly and a few friends have started their own podcast about environmental issues and sustainable solutions called Change, the conversation. Check out @changetheconver on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to be the first to know when episodes are released (coming March 2019).

Ryan Gilmour

Ryan Gilmour is an electrical engineering student in the School of Engineering, with a passion for renewable energy, teaching and developing solutions for the 1 billion people without electricity access. In his spare time he gets involved with humanitarian and sustainable development through Engineering for Change, and also leads a local scout troop.

Emily Bankert

Emily is a final year exchange student in Technology and Liberal Arts and Science (ATLAS) majoring in Environmental Resource Management. She got involved in SHRUB, Edinburgh’s zero waste hub where she is active in the food sharing network. Taking her study a step further, she also became part of Extinction Rebellion (XR), a rapidly spreading global climate justice movement, that demands the government to be more transparent about the climate emergency, set more ambitious net zero carbon targets and establish a citizens assembly to oversee the government on climate action.

You can learn more about Extinction Rebellion (XR) here, and an upcoming event at University of Edinburgh here.

Ellie Ashton

Ellie Ashton is a first year Religious Studies student at the University of Edinburgh. She has been interested in sustainable development since a young age but has found particular enthusiasm for ‘slow’ eco friendly fashion, and the intersection of religion and environmentalism. At the moment, she is considering the role of social media in activism, and how to make the perfect cup of tea.


  1. Terrific stuff – great range of students with inspiring ideas. I will share with my own Politics and International Relatipms students

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