3. Prioritizing Education, Research, and Public Engagement

3.1 Climate Change and Sustainability in the Curriculum

The world faces not only a climate change crisis but also threats to sustainability on all fronts. Thus, it is essential that colleges and universities formally acknowledge these transcendent problems and reorient academic programs to be relevant to the challenges all future graduates will face. Higher education has an obligation to lead in creating a healthy, just, and sustainable society.

It is essential that campus climate action plans address the curricular component of this problem by making climate change and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students. Curriculum changes should involve all students given the critical nature of the climate and sustainability challenges we face and the urgent need for future professionals, leaders and citizens in all disciplines to be engaged and part of the solution to these problems.

To assist colleges and universities to do this, the ACUPCC is preparing Education for Climate Neutrality and Sustainability: Academic Guidance for ACUPCC Institutions (April 2009), a guide which can be used by all schools irrespective of their involvement with the ACUPCC. This chapter is draws heavily from the ACUPCC guide.

This guide recommends action and change in three areas:

Content of Learning – What do we want students to learn?
An excellent set of content recommendations for sustainability education was contained in the Essex Report, a 1995 document presented to President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. In that report, education leaders recommended teaching and learning experiences that enable students to understand:

To that list of educational outcomes can be added specific knowledge and understanding about global climate change:

The Context of Learning -- What are the avenues available to academics for educating students about sustainability?
There are a variety of opportunities to introduce and address sustainability and climate change in the academic context. Some of these opportunities are course and program-specific while others infuse eco-literacy across the curriculum and in other student learning opportunities. These opportunities include:

The Process of Education -- What are the pedagogical methods for teaching systems thinking and the interdisciplinary concepts of climate change and sustainability?
Possible pedagogical methods include:

A variety of strategies can be used to develop the capacity to launch and undertake these changes:

Here are some other specific ideas for greening academics:

For campus examples and more discussion, see the ACUPCC's Academics page and the Curriculum section of AASHE's Resource Center.

3.2 Climate Change and Sustainability Research

Another avenue for addressing climate change on campus is research. ACUPCC institutions agree to develop climate action plans that expand research and other activities that will address climate change. Other schools may want to expand research in this area as well.

Refocusing research on campus is a tall order since faculty research is driven by not only institutional priorities but also by the research interests of existing faculty (and they know their research interests and generally don’t take kindly to others telling them what they should be interested in) and the availability of research dollars. Fortunately, identifying new faculty with an interest in climate change-related research is probably going to get easier now that awareness of and concern about the climate change problem is becoming the norm in the U.S. Also, with the new Obama Administration it is clear that climate change is going to be dealt with seriously. Thus, even in the context of the current economic meltdown and unprecedented federal budget deficits, it is likely that much more money will be available for research in this critically important area.

Here are some possibilities for increasing on-campus research on climate change, drawn from the ACUPCC Implementation Guide and elsewhere:

For campus examples, see the Research section of AASHE's Resource Center.

3.3 Public Engagement on Climate Change

Here are some possibilities for increasing your school’s public engagement on climate change, as drawn from the ACUPCC Implementation Guide and elsewhere:

And don’t forget:

Conferences and meetings can be carbon-free by locating them convenient to public transit, maximizing the use of teleconferencing, reducing on-site energy use and carbon emitting behavior, and then purchasing carbon offsets for remaining GHG emissions. See TerraPass’ Event and Conference Carbon Footprint Calculator for an easy way to calculate these emissions.

Many sustainable event planning manuals are available on-line. For examples, see:

There are many such manuals though the latter one from Monash University in Australia is somewhat unique in encouraging vegetarian food. See the "Food Service and Food Choices" section for information on the significance of livestock production and diet in causing GHG emissions.

Niles Barnes