Individuals, businesses and governments alike have been aware for decades of the intense and widespread degradation that humans are causing to the environment through endless cycles of production, consumption and waste.
The idea that human activity is inciting such destruction is not by any means a new revelation, and therefore it begs the question: why the inaction? Why have we not seen more progress in the fight against climate change? Why does the notion of sustainability seem so impossible to achieve?
Despite the trendiness of being environmentally friendly and subsequent green-washing of certain aspects of our college life, there needs to be a more ubiquitous deliberation of such burning questions on Trinity campus. To achieve this, I believe there should be an introduction of a compulsory environmental science module in the undergraduate programme at Trinity. Scientific literature – such as a study conducted in the University of Delhi in 2019 – would support this move as one that would give students a greater amount of interest, knowledge and compassion toward the non-human world.
Climate change, sustainability and environmental science in general are by nature very interdisciplinary and cross-cutting topics, relevant to every degree and module taught at Trinity. As such, the topic appears in a variety of courses at third-level, and it is important to note that dissemination of environmental issues is by no means limited to those who study environmental science.
Upon reflection of the moderatorships and modules available to Trinity students, I found there are a handful of undergraduate degrees which incorporate environmental or sustainability-related subject material into the coursework. There are a myriad of modules which explore sustainability, available to students taking courses in arts, humanities and social sciences as well as in business. The topic is covered in many other faculties and schools as well as through Trinity elective modules.
Despite the trendiness of being environmentally friendly and subsequent green-washing of certain aspects of our college life, there needs to be a more ubiquitous deliberation of such burning questions on Trinity campus
However, despite the promising degree to which the environment is currently covered in courses across Trinity, I believe that it is not sufficient to foster environmental commitment nor enact meaningful change. In order to best support students in their journey of environmental education, changes must be made to the broader Trinity curriculum, in the form of a compulsory module to be taken by all undergraduate students at Trinity, regardless of their degree choices.
Despite the handful of environmentally-focused initiatives promoted on Trinity campus, these projects do not promote a student-wide transition to sustainability. For instance, many such initiatives rely on the assumption that the student has a disposable income and that they can thereby afford more sustainable products, which tend to be more expensive.
Take the TCD Plastic Free Initiative, for example. The movement has successfully raised awareness about the dangers of our reliance on single-use plastics, and this is a very important move in the right direction. However, it also creates a sort of “voting with your dollar” dynamic which excludes those students who might not be able to afford to make sustainable consumption choices. Additionally, despite the move toward sustainability that this initiative and others like it promote, it remains rooted in capitalistic and destructive cycles of production and consumption, and does not really challenge the status quo as is currently needed.
If there were a mandatory course on sustainability, it would give every undergraduate student attending Trinity the opportunity to become more environmentally conscious – even if it is simply in the way they conceptualise their own studies. Such a module would incite a level of awareness and critical environmental thought which I do not believe is possible through the environmental initiatives which have been marketed to the student body in Trinity. Rather than continuing to promote individualistic, economy-driven initiatives, it is high time that Trinity moves on to a more holistic approach to sustainability.
Furthermore, the notion that individuals are responsible for being more sustainable in their personal lifestyles fosters individualism. This is ultimately a negative force in the transition to sustainability, as individualistic consumer-related forms of sustainability limit opportunities for collective involvement and social cohesion amongst the student body around the cause of sustainability.
Despite the handful of environmentally-focused initiatives promoted on Trinity campus, these projects do not promote a student-wide transition to sustainability
Mass education through a compulsory module on issues related to sustainability would work to establish a bottom-up initiative that incites a deeper understanding of the natural world as well as the origins of the environmental crisis. By giving all undergraduates at Trinity this deeper understanding, we can move toward a more productive conversation that supports collective action over individual choices.
Understanding and critical thought on this matter would be far more influential than simple, individual consumer choices – or at least it would provide those students who can afford to invest in more expensive, sustainable products a moral foundation for making such environmentally conscious choices. Without the moral foundation which this module could provide, there may be a lack of authenticity or passion behind such choices.
At the end of the day, sustainability is a moral issue. It is incredibly interdisciplinary, and the foundation and understanding that would be provided by a compulsory environmental module would better encourage the collaboration that is needed for a just transition. Sustainability, climate change, and environmental science critically affect every degree choice at Trinity, and it is time that is reflected in our university’s curriculum.