COLUMN: Creating enviro-leaders

Why not introduce one or two mandatory environmental sustainability courses at the post-secondary level?

Global warming and climate change are two phrases that most of us have become quite familiar with in recent years.

A survey released earlier this year by Insightrix Research showed that only two per cent of Canadians refute the concept of climate change. Despite the ubiquity of climate change awareness, we still lack concrete measures that need to be taken by today’s leaders in order to address the pressing issue of climate change. I attribute this lack of action to ignorance.

Though most of us would like to believe that our educated leaders, both in the public and private sectors, are aware of the ramifications of climate change, the truth may be quite contrary to popular belief.

Projects such as the proposed Enbridge pipeline, cuts to research funding at the federal level, and denial that global warming even exists are testaments to the fact that our leaders are failing to address concerns that will affect generations to come.

Ignorance will certainly not vanish overnight. But we can start by changing ourselves, which is the maxim that most of us try to live by.  However, action from the top is also needed.

Educating our leaders will take time, but maybe the solution lies not too far away from a common-sense approach.

It might seem like an obvious and simplistic solution, but why not introduce one or two mandatory environmental sustainability courses at the post-secondary level? These courses would accompany any field that a student chooses to pursue at a Canadian institution.

Doing so would produce future leaders with not just knowledge about environmental concerns, but also how they can apply sustainable practices to their chosen field.

In essence, it would help alleviate the problems of failed sustainability leadership that we see all around us, today. Certainly, a pilot project wouldn’t hurt. It might just be wishful thinking, but it is an idea that could be attempted.

The emerging triple-bottom-line trend in many business organizations is certainly a step in the right direction. However, in order to create widespread support for environmental awareness, we need mandatory courses.

Education will not guarantee environmentally conscious leadership, but it will help. Climate change, as many skeptics would have us believe, is not some sort of fad or trendy topic. Unless we take drastic measures at all levels of society, climate change will continue to remain a pressing issue.

Obviously, not all leaders are the product of universities and neither do all students occupy leadership positions. However, it is reasonable to say that a vast majority of leaders are university educated.

Though many minor and major environmental sustainability programs are offered at universities, mandatory sustainability courses would ensure that all graduates are environmentally aware.  It is time that our scientists and climate change researchers aren’t the only ones advocating for sustainable action.  Business professionals, politicians, and engineers also need to understand the vital importance of sustainability.

We have all seen the melting glaciers and rising sea levels on television. These are not dramatic depictions. Climate change is a harsh truth that must be addressed.

Education has continued to serve as a beacon of light in our society and Canadian universities have produced global leaders. Universities, however, must continue to change with the changing needs of society. We need them to help in addressing the climate change crisis with more vigour and determination.

Awareness and action not only begins at the individual level, but also in the classroom. Changes in the university curriculum alone will not help address the major issue of climate change, but knowledge has the power to effect both short-term and long-term results.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

japreet@live.ca

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