Why Environmental Sustainability Classes Should Be Required in the UC System

I wear my excitement to be a University of California student about the same way the Belltower rings at 7 AM to wake me up for my morning classes every day: loud, proud, and almost to the point where it is cringe-worthy. A year ago, I received the news that I was going to be a student at the University of California, Riverside, followed by the adventures of choosing a major, getting involved with student government, and trying to understand how I can make $30 worth of Dining Dollars last for the remaining six weeks of the quarter.

One of my favorite parts of being a University of California student is the focus on social justice issues built within the content of what we learn. My introductory class to macroeconomics created conversations about the impact of Social Security and the Baby Boomer generation, the pharmaceutical industry and its monopolies, and the history of college tuition within the United States. "Politics of the Underdeveloped World", a course that I took in the fall, created dialogue regarding totalitarian states such as North Korea and the intersectionality of issues between the regime and social conditions, as well as free speech and controlled content. As a student, I feel genuinely more informed about the issues than what I did as a high school student.

Among one of our more progressive initiatives was mandating that students within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) take an Ethnic Studies class as a graduation requirement, in order to encourage better understandings between cultures. The courses, which range from Chicano Studies to Native American Studies in Comparative Perspective, are an intentional effort in facilitating dialogue between groups, understanding the intersectionality of issues that different races face, and innovating peacemaking solutions for generations to come. As students are exposed to the history that public high school classes conveniently forgot, they are given a new perspective to take for their professional endeavors.

However, there is more that we can do to prepare our students for professional excellence.

Ethnic studies courses break students out of their comfort zone to understand the cultural complexities behind each race, but environmental sustainability courses force students of all backgrounds to understand the complexities that our human activity has done to the earth and its resources. Both are necessary not only for choosing the right career with companies that value both the people and the environment, but for being citizens of an interconnected, globalized world.

A required environmental studies course is especially relevant for students within the University of California system, as California is home to a variety of different environments with their own unique set of circumstances and issues that should be understood. From our agricultural production to the sight of natural nightmares such as earthquakes, the current drought, and sites like the Salton Sea, it is clear that the attitude of sustainability has been lost over time and is recently being rekindled. Our environments are so extreme that one could go to the beach in the morning, ski on the mountains at night, and come back to the Los Angeles cities at night for a party. Without a solid understanding of the current issues our state faces, we are preparing students to perpetuate the same unsustainable practices that we spend taxpayer money towards preventing.

It can be argued that an environmental sustainability course would not be applicable to all majors, which is a notion that I firmly reject. We need all minds to be geared towards sustainability, to use their passions and skills to end the systematic degradation of the little blue dot we call home. We need artists to inspire action within their different mediums as much as we need engineers to craft sustainable public transportation. We need journalists to bring attention to the reality of the climate change epidemic just as much as we need public health providers to cure those who have been affected by the physical effects of the heating of the earth's atmosphere. When the earth suffers, we all suffer, thus we all must develop a keen sense of awareness about the scientific truths behind environmental issues, the intersectionality between social justice and sustainability, and the way in which we could all be changemakers in our community.

We should not use our limited time on earth to be put to waste. We should not use our fortunate circumstances in being students at a world-renown public learning institution to merely waste it by living our lives in blissful ignorance about the unsustainable habits that our university, community, state, and nation are creating. Change runs through our veins, and now it is time for it to be poured out to the suffering parts of the earth to save what sustains us all.