Commentary | Hyde Park: Improving campus sustainability

On Saturday, October 18, McGill hosted the remarkable environmentalist James Speth, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, as guest speaker for the Beatty Memorial Lecture. Dr. Speth’s lecture presentation brought forth innovate ideas on environmental protection, and proposed fundamental changes in the way world economies work and how we conceptualize progress.

It was far from the first presentation on the environment that I had attended, and I had heard all the dire statistics before – irrefutable evidence of the urgency of environmental devastation and climate change. Afterward, I felt hopeful yet pessimistic, more aware but with more questions, inspired and at the same time daunted as to what my part can be in bringing about change.

One particular question began to form in my mind as I left the lecture and biked through McGill campus. What is McGill currently doing and what more can be done to confront the global climate crisis? Also, if the administration respects the expertise and foresight of a prominent environmentalist, educator, and researcher such as Dr. Speth enough to invite him to speak at our University, will it therefore heed his calls for urgent radical action? Will they take on the necessary leadership and make the crisis of the environment a top priority? How exciting it would be if the whole McGill community, all students and staff, collaborated to quickly bring this important issue front and centre getting everyone working collectively on solutions. I ponder how I could get fellow students to be more passionate and active on this issue.

On the day of the federal election, I gave a lecture for a fourth year nutrition course on the topic of food security and community food programs, during which I asked the class of approximately 60 students what they thought could be done to end poverty in Canada. Disappointingly, only two students offered any suggestions while the rest stared blankly. How could it be that a class full of young educated adults had no thoughts on a critical issue facing their country on the day of an election? It seems that the majority of our students are not reflecting on important current issues that affect them and their future. From this experience, I was left feeling skeptical whether higher education institutions such as McGill are really teaching young people to be independent, critical thinkers, and proactive problem solvers, or rather shaping young people to perpetuate the status quo.

For the fifth year in a row, McGill University was named one of the top 25 universities in the world, and was the highest ranking Canadian university. Considering our proven capabilities and many bright minds, can we now become the leading sustainable university in Canada and an international model of environmental sustainability and activism? I believe we can achieve this if our students and staff become more informed and active, and are encouraged and supported to “go green.”

Also, the administration needs to treat the environmental crisis appropriately and push to have this issue at the top of the agenda for every faculty, school, and department. Perhaps we can establish a one or two-week period where all teaching and administrative activities are centred on addressing problems of the environment. This may seem impractical, but as Dr. Speth said, “We need impractical answers.” Without exception, environmental experts are telling us we have reached the final hour and the world is precariously teetering on the point of no return. Let’s continue to improve McGill’s environmental progress – as student groups like Sustainable McGill Project, Gorilla Composting, Organic Campus, Midnight Kitchen, Greening McGill, and others have already done – and strive to lead Canadian universities in sustainability efforts.

Andrea Maldonado is a Master’s candidate in the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition. To get involved, contact sm.project@mcgill.ca, or see organiccampus.blogspot.com or gorilla.mcgill.ca.


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