Craig Santos Perez is a poet and a professor at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. His first semester there ­- a decade ago – began during an extreme heat wave. Later in the term, storms and flash floods battered the campus.

“I could see the look of concern on my students’ faces, where they had never witnessed this kind of weather before,” he says. “And so, I knew at that point, I couldn’t just teach the classics of poetry, or themes like love and death, but I also had to teach climate change.”

So Santos Perez developed a class on eco-poetry that he now offers every year.

Students learn about issues related to climate change, such as ocean warming, species extinction, and wildfires. They read poems inspired by these topics, and they write poems of their own.

“Poetry and literature in general has the power to show how climate change is impacting the human experience,” Santos Perez says.

He says engaging with the topic in this way helps students feel a deeper connection to the people and places affected by climate change. It can empower them to express their own feelings about the changes they’re witnessing.

And he says it may even encourage them to join the environmental and climate justice movement.

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Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media