Climate Crisis 101: Canadian university courses to prepare you for a greener future

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For environmentally conscious students (and which students aren’t these days?), the selection of environmental science courses at Canadian universities is better than ever

It is enough to recall Greta Thunberg’s school climate strike in 2018 to understand how committed young people are to the fight against climate change. Canadian university students those interested in the natural world might consider enrolling in one of the country’s many environmental science programs, 34 of which are accredited by ECO Canada, a non-profit organization aimed at creating a steady pipeline of green professionals.

Whether you’re considering a formal career in conservation, meteorology, or environmental law, or simply want to better understand the intersection between climate and society, here are some innovative undergraduate offerings that will get you thinking greener. .

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Students identify risks, such as variable water quality, then brainstorm creative solutions (courtesy Carleton University)

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ENST 1020: People, Places and Environments

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies

Carleton University

Dr. Sheryl-Ann Simpson loves teaching incoming first years in her survey course, ENST 1020. “As a professor, this is a really exciting opportunity to welcome students to the university, the department, and our field. “, she says. But Simpson’s class also attracts many non-science students, including those majoring in subjects such as engineering, business and journalism. With a focus on social justice and equity, ENST 1020 explores why the economy, environment, and development differ depending on your geographic location. You will explore why countries in the North tend to have more resources, why communities are separated by an urban-rural divide, and why different demographics are subject to different risks. Next, Simpson will encourage you to think of creative solutions.

The course is also climate-focused: you will discover why two people in two different neighborhoods can experience the climate crisis differently, even though it is an urgent problem, worldwide. (For example, as wildfires engulf the western United States, some of California’s wealthier neighborhoods have begun hiring private firefighters to fight fires in their area on their own.) Jacob Lee, a college student in Communication and Media who recently took ENST 1020, says Simpson’s lectures and reading material is not only informative: it also allows students to better understand real-life scenarios. “I think it’s important for people to take at least one environmental course in college to understand what’s going on in the world around us and why,” he says.

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ECON 1220: Introduction to Global Environmental Economic Issues and Policies

Faculty of Arts, Department of Economics

University of Manitoba

On the first day of ECON 1220, Dr. Robert Chernomas likes to ask his class some probing questions: Who do you think has the most power to decide government policy? Who do you think runs the economy? Is it multinational corporations, individuals or interest groups? His students may not realize it, but their answers say a lot about their political leanings and their view of the world in general. “If you want to understand how the world works, you have to be interested in economics,” says Chernomas. Given course material that draws not only from the textbook but also from newspapers and social media, Chernomas students quickly learn that the climate crisis is more complicated than it looks and that the economy is in it. for many.

Students leave her classroom with a new awareness of the world. Newly energized, some are looking for concrete ways to become more politically active. “We have students joining environmental groups and discussing taxes, the environment, inequality and health care with family and friends,” he says. “They have a fresh perspective on the political, economic and cultural world, and are enthusiastic enough to continue the conversation outside the classroom walls.”

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ERSC 2180: Apocalypse Now

School of Environment, Department of Environmental and Resource Sciences

Trent University

Borrowing its title from the epic war of 1979, Trent University’s Apocalypse Now course focuses on the physical drivers of natural disasters such as heat waves, tornadoes and floods. “Think about the major news events of the past year,” says instructor Dr. Jim Buttle. “How many times have you heard of tornadoes in your own area? We are witnessing an intensification of such events. Buttle plans to lecture on hurricanes, droughts and floods, and how they might be affected by global warming. Despite its title, Buttle’s course focuses more on solutions than on doom and gloom: you’ll learn practical approaches to mitigating natural disasters, such as re-mapping floodplains. (Buttle’s expertise is in hydrology: the study of the movement, cycle, and distribution of water, above and below ground.)

People tend to have short memories of natural disasters, Buttle says. In an ERSC 2180 mission, students are asked to track how often a particular event is mentioned in the news to gauge how quickly our collective memories of these cataclysms fade. “Immediately after the event, there’s a lot of coverage, but it doesn’t take long for the perception of risk to diminish,” says Buttle, who recalls the 1998 North American ice storm with every episode of Freezing Rain. He attributes this perception to a desire for normalcy. After a major disruption, he says, “we all want to get back to normal.”

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SCI 3101: The Public Communication of Science

Faculty of Science, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

University of Ottawa

For Dr. Adam Brown of the University of Ottawa, life is a performance and the world is its stage. The international theater artist, dancer and musician channels his passion for the performing arts by teaching science students how to communicate highly technical concepts to non-specialist audiences. Brown, who has appeared on shows such as The nature of things and TVOKids’ find stuff, argues that science professionals are often too technical when speaking to the public. “It’s not a conference,” he said. “People don’t want to be talked down to; they want to be empowered by information.

In an age of climate skepticism and vaccine hesitancy, effective science communication is crucial. Environmental scientists, Brown says, focus too much on the technicalities of the climate crisis — like the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — instead of a more relevant framework, like wellbeing. future generations. To foster experiential learning, Brown’s course, which he describes as a “summer camp for scientists,” features guest lecturers from a variety of sectors, including government, business, education, and journalism. In an assignment, students discuss a scientific topic in a mock interview with a real journalist. “It’s a stimulating activity for the students,” he says. “[They need] be able to think quickly in the hot seat, under pressure.


This article appears in print in the 2022 University Rankings issue of Maclean’s magazine with the title “Climate Crisis 101”.

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