Many of us have seen Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary outlining the impending doom of the planet, and have hopefully heard something about global warming. But, what is it to actually study the phenomenon of climate change and other environmental issues? Well, I hope to share some insight on what it is to think, act, learn, and feel as an environment student at McGill.
To confirm some stereotypes you may have about environment students, I ride my scooter to school every morning and pride myself in the relatively low amount of gas my convenient and hip mode of transportation consumes, as well as the minimal amount of carbon emissions it produces. Moreover, I’ve switched to vegetarianism after my first two years studying in the McGill School of Environment (MSE) ingrained the negative impacts of the meat industry into my head until I could no longer ignore them. Yet, these aren’t the only influences that studying Environment at McGill has had on me.
The MSE accommodates students on two separate campuses: the bustling downtown campus and the quieter, more serene Macdonald Campus, affectionately coined “Mac,” located in Sainte-Anne de Bellevue. U2 environment student Emily Coffey describes the relatively suburban campus as a “close community where teachers are more likely to get to know you.”
In addition, students can trek just forty-five minutes east of Montreal to immerse themselves in Quebec’s most pristine natural settings as they make the lush forests and the peaceful lakes and mountains their classroom.
Some environment classes focus on the mechanics of environmental problems such as climate change and overfishing, while others discuss practical ways in which we can solve these issues.
In Environmental Management 1, Professor Holly Dressel, who’s best known for co-authoring two books with David Suzuki, sheds light onto what it’s like to actually work as an environmental activist. As Dressel has contributed significantly to the advancement of the environmental movement in Canada and around the world, her experience provides students with an accurate account of what it is to work in this field. She mentioned having values and work undermined, priorities disregarded, and her voice silenced by more powerful actors, such as industry and government, in her tireless endeavor to push her beliefs forward and preserve what we have left of our beloved planet.
This is one of the toughest parts of being a student of environmental science. While the concepts and the applications we study in class feel so logical, it baffles us how the industries pursuing new markets, and profit and governments prioritizing the economy to gain leverage in the political context, undercut efforts to preserve our environment. The dominance of economic interests in today’s society suggests that effecting environmental change will require not only practical solutions to ecological problems, but also a deeper shift in society away from materialistic and consumptive lifestyles.
In the introductory class Society, Environment and Sustainability, Professor Madhav Badami says he seeks not only to equip his students with the “knowledge and skills needed to understand and address” these issues, but also to show “how change is in fact possible, that change is being made in small and significant ways, including in circumstances far less favorable than our own, or else students are left despondent.” While Badami recognizes hope as a crucial element of an environment student’s education and intellectual development, he emphasizes that “hope, on its own, is not a plan.”
Each day, environment students seek to comprehend the local and global environmental issues facing humanity today. We work hard to understand why we are currently facing this ecological crisis, and even harder to find ways to alleviate it. Despite the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead, we environment students develop a heightened connection to our planet. We consider it our personal responsibility to make up for the damage we have done, all the while maintaining hope that, someday, every other member of the global community will do the same.