New faculty: Kevin Surprise

New faculty Kevin Surprise was attracted to Mount Holyoke due to its small class sizes and the students’ curiosity. “The students drive the content and the questions that we explore in class,” he said.

In college Kevin Surprise knew he wanted to study human-environment relations, but he wasn’t quite sure which major at Framingham State University that would fall under. On what was quite possibly his very last day to declare a major, he went with geography — the only option that offered a global studies concentration. Luckily, it turned out to be the perfect choice for Surprise. He continued on to earn a Ph.D. in geography from Clark University.

“Geography is a very broad field,” said Surprise. And it’s way more than maps, he added. Geographers split the discipline between physical geography and, Surprise’s focus, human geography. Human geography asks questions about how people use space and contend for territory. Using space can also mean using resources, which is what Surprise studies. His work focuses on the political economies of climate change, and how capitalism, extraction and exploitation keep meaningful solutions out of reach.

Recently, Surprise has been investigating capitalism’s hope for climate salvation through something called solar geoengineering. Solar geoengineering is the idea that we can essentially “turn down” the sun by using reflective chemicals to block a percent of its radiation.

“I find this idea a bit crazy and deeply concerning for a variety of reasons,” Surprise said. For one thing, the idea takes easier, less ethically complicated decisions off the table. For another, this technology could be militarized. The sun, after all, is vital to life on Earth. Ultimately, you need only look at who is financing this effort to see why it’s worth being skeptical, said Surprise. Many of the biggest backers of solar geoengineering are from the finance industry. That’s likely because financial interests are heavily invested in fossil fuels and in market-based solutions, so some are looking to extreme technologies like geoengineering to maintain the status quo for as long as possible.

Surprise was attracted to Mount Holyoke due to its small class sizes and the students’ reputation for being curious. “It’s been really neat to develop a teaching style that relies on student engagement. The students drive the content and the questions that we explore in class,” he said.

Having a lot of interaction with students is crucial when you teach courses like Political Economy of the Environment: Capitalism and Climate Change. “I have a reputation for teaching kind of depressing classes,” he said. Although he tries to interject hope into his lectures, the real hope in his classroom comes from his students. Their engagement and ideas never fail to make him feel a little better about our planet’s future.

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