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[USR Summit 2022 Post-Event Highlights] From climate despair to climate engagement: multidisciplinary education bringing to climate stabilisation

(Presented by Dr Eban Goodstein, Director, Centre for Environmental Policy, Bard College; Dr Jason Ho, Senior Service Learning Consultant, Centre for Innovative Service Learning, Hong Kong Baptist University; Ms Carla Panyella, Project Coordinator, Centre for Sustainable Development Goals, University of Los Andes/ Moderated by: Dr Eban Goodstein, Director, Centre for Environmental Policy, Bard College)

Moving students from climate despair and anxiety to climate engagement is a critical education project nowadays. Academics from the Americas and Asia shared encouraging experiences in the International USR Summit on having faculty members from all disciplines to be climate educators to inspire students to rewire the world with climate and clean energy solutions.

The International USR Summit 2022, co-organised by the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), was held virtually from 16 to 18 November 2022 with a theme of “Education and Action for a Sustainable Future”.

Dr Eban Goodstein, Director of the Centre for Environmental Policy of Bard College in New York started by sharing his positive insights towards clean energy deployment in a plenary panel on “Educating for Inspiration on Climate: Moving Students (and Faculty) Beyond Climate Despair”.

“We are moving to a new era where cheap solar power will be all over the world, accessible to everyone,” he anticipated. This will solve climate change, clean the air in desperately polluted cities, end energy poverty and provoke solar revolution. “Solar dominance is going to break the back of the political monopoly over oil money that has distorted politics in so many countries throughout the 20th and 21st centuries,” he said. 

While there is profoundly great work ahead, it is critical to move students from climate despair to climate engagement. “Right now, most of our students get the basic science of climate change. They understand that we’re burning fossil fuels and wrapping the planet in a heat trapping a blanket of gas. They understand in general the impacts. They know there’ll be droughts, floods and sea level rise,” he continued, “and it’s very scary. It’s anxiety provoking. It leads to despair because it seems impossible to solve.”

“It has to come from us as educators to inspire and engage our students in the work to rewire the world with climate and clean energy solutions,” he said.

Dr Goodstein believed that climate educators are not necessarily climate experts who typically teach about climate change in their classrooms. While most of the teachers are climate-aware and climate-concerned personally, they are a potential pool of climate educators.

“We have to build a global network of climate educators to support one another, provide each other with models, ideas and resources to be able to reach out to not just the 20 or 30 students who might be studying climate change at our institutions, but the hundreds and thousands of students who can contribute to this transformation,” he added.

Dr Goodstein is also one of the co-Directors of the WorldWide Teach-in on Climate Justice (hereafter referred to as “Teach-in”), a climate education initiative established by the Solve Climate by 2030 project, which is supported by the Open Society University Network. He envisioned students from all disciplines can join the ranks of rising artists, engineers, chemists, business leaders, sociologists, musicians, historians, educators, community organisers and others who will together, transform the world with clean energy, ensure energy justice, and stabilise the climate.

Dr Jason Ho, Senior Service Learning Consultant of the Centre for Innovative Service Learning of Hong Kong Baptist University, acknowledged that issues of climate change and climate justice involve every subject and discipline. He shared his experience in pulling together faculty members of various departments to join the Teach-in initiative. He believed that after gaining teaching experience in the global Teach-in, basically any faculty member could do something to engage students.

“Our students’ responses were very good as well,” Dr Ho recalled, “for those students who are interested in literature, they find out that studying humanities can also contribute to something in relation to building a more sustainable future.”

Dr Goodstein echoed that such a nice surprise was shared by both students and faculty members. He remembered a moment when he reached out to a music professor who had not done anything around climate change to join Teach-in. He hinted to the professor that a number of global movements like the labour movement and civil rights movement have songs to inspire and pull people together. However, the global climate change movement doesn’t have a song. “That really intrigued him and so he spoke for five minutes about the importance of movement songs and the absence of one in the climate change movement,” said Dr Goodstein.

Ms Carla Panyella, Project Coordinator of the Centre for Sustainable Development Goals of University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia shared a similar encouraging experience in joining Teach-in. She recalled that the initiative has given universities in the Latin America and Caribbean region an idea on how universities tackle climate change through education in the region, and some thoughts to improve climate action and education in a transversal and multi-disciplinary way.

“Students are able to understand the urgency of the situations happening at the local level but also affecting the global level. Throughout the conversations, they want to find joint solutions at all levels. This also gives them tools to battle climate despair,” concluded Ms Panyella.

International USR Summit 2022 Plenary Panel: Educating for Inspiration on Climate: Moving Students (and Faculty) Beyond Climate Despair
by Dr Eban Goodstein, Director, Center for Environmental Policy, Bard College; Dr Jason Ho, Senior Service Learning Consultant, Hong Kong Baptist University; Ms Carla Panyella, Project Coordinator, Center for Sustainable Development Goals, University of Los Andes

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