After returning from Morocco early last month, Klara Reisch stood in front of the University of Connecticut Senate Monday in support of a student petition for an environmental literacy general education requirement. She told the Senate about her trip to the city of Marrakesh, the site of the United Nation’s COP22 climate change conference, urging the university to take a lead on environmental education.
In a later conversation with Reisch and two other members of the 12-student team that went to COP22, Margaux Amara and Stephanie Hubli, the significance of such a requirement went beyond the university itself.
“We are behind in terms of a general consensus on engaging people when it comes to issues of climate change,” Amara said, calling the trend irresponsible. “We won’t be leading as a country anymore if we don’t start taking responsibility, especially since other countries are moving forward.”
UConn’s Senate decided Monday to send the student petition to the General Education Oversight Committee for review. In addition, the Senate voted to add a mandate encouraging the committee to strongly consider adding such a course: a mandate that would not have been possible without the presence of students who showed up to support the effort. In fact, the petition would have immediately been pushed to committee if Senate members didn’t mention that students were patiently sitting and waiting across the room.
For Reisch, Amara and Hubli, this was a win because it brings the petition one step closer to becoming a reality, but student support is still needed if the committee is to go forward with adding an environmental literacy requirement to general education.
“If we claim that those things [existing general education requirements] are important, we should say environmental sustainability is important too,” Reisch said. “It’s normalizing it by saying that caring for the environment is a thing you do, like brushing your teeth or eating.”
For Amara, the requirement is a way of reversing ingrained apathy among students toward the environment. She said today’s students think it’s cool not to care, but an environmental literacy course would really expose students, even just briefly in the course of their college education, to issues that play roles in every profession or field.
While Reisch plans to enter healthcare upon graduation, her dedication to environmental advocacy, whether through the speech she made to the University Senate or her role as an EcoHouse Resident Assistant, comes from both the experiences she had in Germany and the environmental threats facing people’s health.
“Air pollution and climate change cause millions of deaths every year,” Reisch said, referencing president-elect Donald Trump’s business-minded and fossil fuel-orientated philosophy. “These health impacts just don’t factor into Trump’s money and business-centered policy.”
Earlier this week, Trump chose an anti-climate change and pro-fossil fuel attorney general to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Americans are undoubtedly worried that such leadership will likely have detrimental impacts on the environment and Reisch argues that such timely and pressing issues should be reason enough to push through an environmental literacy requirement at UConn.
Hubli said that COP22 was well attended by countries other than the United States, especially Europeans.
“America cares about so many other things first,” Hubli said. “It’s ironic that we’re a center for research and knowledge, but we don’t have a requirement for the environment yet.”
Amara pointed out that Europeans tended to talk about climate change as a fact or matter of life: a point of view unlike anything experienced in the U.S. She said that people in America are just not conscious enough about the environment and that an environmental literacy requirement is key in beginning to remedy the problem.
For Amara, Reisch and Hubli, COP22 was a learning experience. Reisch said she began thinking about the fashion industry.
“The U.S. thinks about fashion as disposable,” she said, emphasizing the overconsumption of resources. “Other countries make good quality outfits and don’t buy new clothes often, but Americans buy cheap, low quality clothes very often.”
Overconsumption seemed to be a consistent theme throughout the conference. For Hubli, the meat industry is an especially disturbing example of how the daily habits of Americans are bad for the environment. Cattle, for example, contribute significantly to climate change, yet Americans consume meat without any thought to how this may affect the world around them.
General education is meant give students some background on issues facing the world. The environment should be a critical part in that education, especially as UConn graduates make the decisions of the future.
Hubli wants to make the environment important for everyone. She said other students have often regarded her environmentalism as “hippy” and she wants to normalize environmentally conscious behavior.
Hubli, Reisch and Amara are currently working to write a letter to Trump.
“This is our future,” Reisch said.
Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.