Science courses lack environmental focus

Science courses lack environmental focus

Even as the Earth records one record-breaking level of rising temperatures after another, Wake Forest has not instituted a course requirement on sustainability or environmental science.

  For this reason, among others, the Office of Sustainability has taken on the Magnolias Curriculum Project. The Magnolias Project helps professors integrate sustainability into their curriculums, regardless of their departments and areas of expertise.

“Faculty don’t want to be told what to talk about or what to do. It has to come from them,” said DeDee Johnston, chief sustainability officer at Wake Forest.

When the last Ice Age occurred approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, Earth’s average temperature was only 5° C cooler than it is today. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA,) the temperature of Earth has increased 1.33° C over the last century. The past 39 years have contributed to more than half of the overall increase of Earth’s average surface temperature.

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One of the reasons for this drastic increase is a rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which creates a blanket effect where the reflective heat from the sun has no outlets to escape. As a result, Earth’s average surface temperature rises.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) carbon dioxide made up 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Carbon dioxide is naturally found in Earth’s carbon cycle; however, most of it comes from human activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industrial processes.

It is through sustainability and eco-friendly practices that we can help minimize the problem, according to climate experts. The Office of Sustainability is currently attempting to spread awareness to students, faculty and staff on ways to protect the environment.

However, at Wake Forest, the only types of courses that qualify for the math and natural science divisional requirement are biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics. Courses in sustainability and environmental science are noticeably absent.

“Is environmental science even a class?” asked Jessica Miele, a senior minoring in chemistry and biology.

“I find it a bit strange that I’m a science minor and have never taken an environmental science class,” she said. “We definitely talked about the environment occasionally, but it was never the main focus of the course.”

Although Miele has never taken a sustainability or environmental science course, some of her faculty have integrated the environment into her courses. This could be thanks to the Magnolias Curriculum Project.

“Twenty out of 30 faculty divisions are using sustainable teaching,” Johnston said. “I love getting to see [faculty] pull the theme of sustainability out of things they love.”

Currently, there are 49 courses offered at Wake Forest that have assimilated a unit or general focus of sustainability into the class syllabus.

For example, Professor Qiaona Yu, who teaches fourth-year Chinese, integrated a sustainability project worth eight percent of her students’ grade.

While many courses create specific units about sustainability through the Magnolias Curriculum Project, there is still a shortage of full courses at the undergraduate level.

There is no sustainability minor or major, and environmental science only offers a minor.

“We are working with the registrar to try and make an environmental science major as well. Hopefully it will come out soon,” Johnston said.

“Change happens when people come together with a shared set of values,” she added. “I want to connect to dots and nurture that value.”

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