Climate Crisis and the Classroom: Becoming Sustainable Learners

BY: LOUISE EVANS, undergraduate student, University of Glasgow

As Greta Thunberg sails the Atlantic in support of the no-fly movement, we are made increasingly aware of the threat of the ecological breakdown to our planet. However, speaking about the climate crisis becomes a difficult topic to navigate, as it challenges our everyday behaviours, creating feelings of guilt for our less-than-sustainable behaviours. 

And yet, perhaps our classrooms remain one of the most important places in shaping our actions for the future. Anthropology, and the wider social sciences too, are perfectly suited to both lead and study this change. So, as students and educators, how can we best collaborate to protect our environment? Is it time for the everyday Anthropology classroom to become a space focused on finding solutions for the climate crisis?

Primarily, talking about the climate breakdown is the first step to creating the change.

With many of Friday’s school strikes for climate forming on social media, the student body is increasingly in protest to call for action. With this increased visibility of climate change, it’s a topic which feels relevant and can be used as an opening topic for the debate between students and educators. From an Anthropological perspective, a global, internet-based, student-lead movement sparks huge intrigue for academic discussion. And in talking about the current threat in the everyday, it can encourage solutions and research questions which address the issue.  

But given the timeliness of climate change, a real shift needs to take place in the way we think about research to reduce the carbon footprint of Academia.

A good first step is encouraging each other to reduce our air miles and looking for local research opportunities closer to home. Many are drawn to the social sciences by the appeal of travel- exploring histories and theories by visiting them first hand. However, these very practices hugely increase average carbon consumption levels. Instead of the University promoting short stays in tropical research paradises, we must commit to, and encourage students to, choosing research opportunities which have lower impact on the environment.

But, more broadly speaking, the topic of sustainable research must be one asked before any research is undertaken. How will this research offset the carbon footprint it takes to research it? How can I make this research more sustainable? In asking ourselves these questions, we are shaping our research design to become a sustainable one. The research questions can remain the same, but this added dimension of questions are the ones the planet needs to be asked. Within this research design, these questions could lead to the creation of stronger local community-university connections as students look closer to home for opportunities. Locally-based research opportunities can be just as rewarding as ones further afield; providing the same enriching experience and connection to studies.

Research in the era of the ecological breakdown is essential to understanding and protecting it. But within this, there is vast space for the University to shift towards sustainable research methods and in opening this discussion, it becomes a way for existing inequalities to be addressed and alleviated. Centring climate protection in our own research is a crucial step to actively protecting the environment. Making this change within the University is a way to create change on an institutional level, whilst also educating a generation of students to think and act sustainably. In making the issue a meaningful point of concern in lessons, we can begin to take responsibility for our own carbon footprint during our studies. We must become responsible for creating a sustainable classroom together and engaging in practices which are sustainable for the long term.

Louise Evans is in her final year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow, studying Geography. She volunteered with the University of Toronto Mississauga Zero Waste society on her year abroad in Canada and she is a member of the Students for Global Health organisation in Glasgow. 

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