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What role should universities play in teaching about climate change?
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What role should universities play in teaching about climate change?

What role should universities take in teaching about the climate crisis?


Students at Concordia University have been asked to help decide the school’s role as a climate educator. 

Tuesday, they will vote in a referendum on whether the school should commit to teaching all undergraduate students about sustainability and the climate crisis by 2030. 

The vote is taking place at the same time as the Concordia Student Union (CSU) by-election. 

According to “Waste Not, Want Not,” a student-led initiative at Concordia promoting waste reduction, about 8.5 per cent of the university’s students graduate having studied issues related to sustainability or climate change.

According to the initiative, this compares to a 37.5 percent average for institutions across all of the country.

The commitment requested by the vote is similar to one taken by Université Laval 12 years ago, in which university departments include topics on climate change in ways that are relevant to the subjects they teach.

Keroles Riad, co-leading the referendum campaign along with Faye Sun (CSU’s sustainability coordinator) and Christopher Vaccarella (President of Concordia’s political science student association), said that people feel helpless when they don’t know how to help.

Riad also runs “Waste Not, Want Not” and wrote a first-person article for CBC News earlier this year about his work with the initiative.

Riad said it took Université Laval about 10 years to implement the curriculum changes, which is why the aim is for Concordia to do so by 2030. 

Keroles Riad is leading the campaign for Concordia University’s referendum question. This asks students whether they want to study climate science and sustainability in all departments. (Submitted by Keroles Riad

He said that while it may seem far for students, it is a date that will be able to encourage other universities to vote. He compared it with the fossil-fuel divestment movement. Under pressure from students, several universities have pledged to divest from direct investments in fossil fuel companies.

Concordia will be in 2019 made the promise to divest entirely from coal, oil and gas by 2025.

Not about creating anxiety, but finding solutions

Riad claims that most of the students at Concordia learning about sustainability and climate change have studied in programs such geography, engineering, or other programs related to science or social justice.

Riad studied engineering, eventually completing a PhD, and said the way some of his teachers included sustainability in the subject matter “helped me be more conscious on the issue.”

He stated that the goal is to not only teach students the negative aspects of life, but also how careers can help improve them. 

Riad said, “There’s a lot out there because people generally have an awareness that there’s an issue. But I think what the educational system is failing to deliver it is tools to solve the problem.”

Students from high school in Montreal marched down Parc Avenue as part a global day of protest against climate changes in March 2019. The banner, “1.5 to Stay Alive,” refers to the maximum temperature that scientists believe the world can rise before the end of the century in order to avoid the worst effects. (Louise Gravel/Radio-Canada)

Saturday, diplomats of 200 countries struck an agreementTo intensify efforts to combat climate change at the United National Global Summit on Climate Change, COP26. The goal is to keep global warming below 1.5 C degrees and to phase out the use coal as an energy source. 

Beyond that threshold, scientists say the risks of major climate disasters such as water shortages and deadly heat waves increases immensely.

The world has warmed to 1.1 C degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and scientists are concerned that it could heat up to 1.5 C faster than expected. 

Riad agrees that it may seem late to make a commitment for students to learn about the current crisis in nearly ten years.

He said, “But at the end the day, every step is helpful.” “Even if we don’t make 1.5 C degrees — which, it’s already looking like that’s quite hopeless — two degrees is better than three degrees,” Riad said. 

“At the moment, I don’t believe it’s going any better, however, at least we can reduce some of what can happen or is already happening.”


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