A Climate Change Manifesto for University Education

Lead for the Planet: Five Practices for Confronting Climate Change is the first book to be released from our new trade imprint, Aevo UTP. Written by climate change educator, Rae André, the book guides concerned citizens and business leaders to take on the climate crisis by detailing five key practices for effective sustainability leadership.

André has written a mini blog series to help us explore how Team Humanity can best address the climate crisis. In her final post, André outlines a climate change manifesto for university education that can equip students with the best possible knowledge for tackling climate change.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

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Part 3 – A Climate Change Manifesto for University Education

Are universities offering their students the climate change education that they need? Young people will be dealing with climate impacts for the rest of their lives, and there is a lot they need to know. My experience suggests that change in university curricula on climate and energy will be motivated primarily from the bottom up, that is, from students and their professors rather than from departments and the university itself.

Certainly, in business schools, which are my bailiwick, entrenched practices prevent the best possible education for concerned students. Research that distinguishes strong sustainability (sustainability for the planet) from weak sustainability (sustainability for companies alone) suggests that most business schools teach from the weak sustainability perspective (Landrum & Ohsowski, 2017, 2018). They rely on the so-called business case for sustainability, which is to green business only if it improves profitability. These days it is obvious that this approach will not save the planet from pollution, resource depletion, and global warming.

Meanwhile, teachers and students want the best possible education about these incredibly important phenomena. To help you assess your university’s educational offerings on climate and energy, here is a checklist of essential approaches. I introduce many of these topics in my book, Lead for the Planet: Five Practices for Confronting Climate Change, which is written to advance green leadership and action by inspiring conversations and learning. It helps both lay readers and academics to grasp the big picture and assess what to do.

Students should come away from their university education with an understanding of:

1) the Oil Age that began in the nineteenth century, and, in general, how energy sources influence human history

2) the influence of fossil fuel companies on the business sector and government

3) the emerging power of green energy and how it can be accelerated

4) the basics of climate change science, including the effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on global warming, and projections of these influences into the future

5) the importance of finding the truth and contextualizing science politically

6) how social science can guide decision-making about wicked problems like climate change

7) how professors and their departments view climate science and stakeholder analysis, especially the roles of business and government in addressing climate change

8) whether responsibility is put on students as individuals to find these topics in their university’s curriculum, or whether their university itself takes the initiative to design this material into their educational experience (for example, in a series of required courses)

9) the importance of looking beyond the titles of university sustainability programs to assess what they teach about climate change and energy evolution (for instance, do they teach from a strong sustainability paradigm or a weak sustainability paradigm?)

10) initiatives for green living on campus and in the local community

My own view is that responsible universities should inject the climate change issue across their curricula. Professors and students may need to hold them accountable to go beyond simplistic thinking (“We cover this in courses on business strategy”) and greenwashing (“We are recycling in our cafeterias”) to examine the big picture of climate science,  stakeholder power, and global leadership. The time is now.

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Interested in finding out more about Lead for the Planet by Rae Rae André? Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

Click here to order your copy of the book.

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Aevo UTP

Aevo UTP books delve into the major issues facing today’s world. Written by leading experts and intended for the intellectually curious, these books tackle a range of topics including the climate crisis, urban development, mental health, and popular science.

Click here to view the full list of Aevo UTP titles.