“Sustainability” credit may have fallen off the radar

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Editorial

In her commencement address to the 2011 graduates of Illinois Wesleyan University, University of Michigan Professor Linda Gregerson opened her speech with a comment on her generation’s failure to understand “the myriad ways in which our success as a species has been a calamity for the earth that sustains us.”

Her implication in saying this is that our generation, in contrast, has a greater understanding of our impact on the environment.  But while we may know more than previous generations, our environmental knowledge is far from complete.

During May Term 2010, then junior Kari Grace began researching the environmental savvy of Illinois Wesleyan students by administering an environmental knowledge quiz.

She found that 63 percent of students received scores equivalent to “Ds” and “Fs” and only 23 percent felt prepared to deal with ecological challenges in the future.

She included these results in a proposal to include a sustainability flag requirement in IWU General Education curriculum she submitted to the Curriculum Council in May of 2011.

Considering the sub-par environmental knowledge among the student body, incorporating such a requirement would be beneficial to achieve the well-rounded education IWU strives for.

But since the initial proposal, the sustainability flag seems to have fallen off the radar.  The importance of the flag should not be forgotten.

“The flag that benefits the students now and in the future the most should be selected [for general education],” said senior environmental studies major Alex Kim. “Personally, I find the sustainability flag is quite deserving, as it is now and forever an important factor that affects us all through the inescapable relationship we have with our environment.”

Although it’s nearly impossible to get scientists to reach a consensus on most topics, the importance of solving environmental issues is almost universally acknowledged within the community.

“The research that has been done on climate modeling is substantial and there are multiple independent data sets suggesting that change is happening around the globe,” said Dr. John Bates, an Associate Curator of Birds at the Field Museum.

Doctor Bates elaborated that most scientists have reached the point where they consider climate change models in their plans for the future, something the United Nations is already doing as well.

IWU’s stated Liberal Arts philosophy includes preparing students for the “rapidly changing and complex world,” and it’s becoming increasingly evident that environmental sustainability is part of the changing world.

As climate change and other environmental issues become more pressing, IWU should strive to be at the forefront of fixing them, not left behind letting other institutions lead.

There are already other small liberal arts colleges similar to Illinois Wesleyan that have adopted an environmental education requirement for graduation, including Albion College, Lafayette College and Ithaca College. IWU should be part of that list.

One class on sustainability won’t solve the environmental crisis, but it could dramatically raise campus awareness of these issues. Students with increased knowledge on current environmental issues will be more prepared for a world becoming gradually flooded with them.

But without a required sustainability flag for General Education, most IWU students will be left with little more than stickers over their light-switches to teach them about environmental conservation.

The sustainability flag could help IWU students become more involved in what is widely considered one of our generation’s greatest challenges.  Students who learn about sustainability will be more likely to take an active role in protecting the environment.

“We are stewards of the planet,” Bates said.  “If we could just get enough people to be concerned, I think a lot of the necessary changes could happen without reducing peoples’ standard of living and create a much better world to live in.”