WILKES-BARRE — The teacher at the head of the long rectangular table asked the others around the table why the Earth’s resources are not distributed equally.
Government, Africa’s geography, came the answers.
Then the teacher, Andrew Miller, a Wilkes University political science associate professor, gave his students something to think about.
“This is going to sound mildly politically incorrect,” he said. “Our poor people are fat. That’s the first time that’s happened in the history of the world.”
The topics in the class encompassed food and climate, from resources to pollution to climate change to how lava soil grows the world’s best coffee. Nearly a dozen of the students in the class were Wilkes undergraduates, but several of their classmates were old enough to be their parents or perhaps young grandparents.
The class held Tuesday afternoon at the Jewish Community Center in Wilkes-Barre was the sixth in a series of seven to discuss important contemporary issues.
The students and adult learners were participating in Great Decisions, a nationwide public affairs discussion program. Started in 1955, Great Decisions provides participants with the readings on topics in international issues and governments. It is a program of the Foreign Policy Association, whose mission is “to serve as a catalyst for developing awareness, understanding, and informed opinion on U.S. foreign policy and global issues.,” according to the FPA website.
This year is the first time Wilkes is hosting the class with the JCC. The topics the group has discussed since the class began in January include defense, Israel and the United States, Turkey, Islamic Awakening, energy independence and food and climate. Today’s discussion, the seventh and final, is on China.
“It’s been quite a great experience being in a class with older students,” said Whitney Dartnell, a 21-year-old senior from Great Meadows, N.J. “A lot of the issues we talked about were from a time they lived through, things you don’t read about in history books or see on TV,” said Dartnell, a psychology major.
Tom Sarnoski of Wilkes-Barre, one of those adults, was a government major at King’s College and worked for 37 years for the Defense Department. He signed up for the class as an adult education student after seeing an ad.
“With my experience and education, I thought it would be interesting to interact with younger students,” Sarnoski said.
Miller also asked students if they felt the Earth was infinite or finite and how that affected their views on environmental policy. He and the students talked about the difficulty of cleaning up pollution when it’s not just in one country and about climate change.
The class members’ consensus on climate change seemed to be that it’s a natural part of the Earth’s climate cycles, though greenhouse gases are exacerbating global warming.
“From what I’ve read, it’s cyclical,” said student Colin Troup.
Mary Daly of Kingston, another adult student, remarked how unusual the consensus was.
“This is one of the most reasonable discussions on climate change,” Daly said with a smile.
But Sarnoski did question blaming man-made pollution for climate change.
“Volcanoes are erupting all over the world,” he said.
“Yet volcanoes produce the best soil for agriculture,” said undergraduate Pete Tuzzo.
Later, Miller talked about how some of the best coffee in the world is grown in lava soil.