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The Crucial Role of Educators in Combating the Climate Crisis
By IEF Member Rafael Amaral Shayani PhD, Professor of Electrical Engineering at University of Brasilia, Brazil
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions hit a new record in 2018, according to the UN Meteorological Agency (WMO) report for COP25, with the energy sector being one of the major emitters of GHGs. This situation raises reflections on the importance of university education in engineering and the role of professors in reversing this situation.
It seems that concern about the climate crisis has yet to be mobilized throughout society. This crisis is one of great global proportions that can lead to important changes in temperature, and therefore, life on the planet. Nevertheless, GHG emissions continue to increase, as if the problem is far away and no immediate action is needed.
The behavior of people who consider only short-term actions, without glimpsing at the effects in the medium or long terms, has been portrayed in several literature classics. For example, in HG Wells' (1866-1946) “War of the Worlds”, when newspapers report that Martians have attacked the Earth, the population continues its daily routine, believing that the problem will automatically be solved by Earth's gravity which is greater than that on Mars. Then the emergency occurs and affects everyone’s lives. Likewise, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) illustrates in "The Metamorphosis" the train of thought of a person who is suddenly metamorphosed into a cockroach. His biggest concern is being late for work, ignoring a huge and more important event that will affect his entire life.
The Paris Agreement, signed at COP21 in 2015, draws our attention to the importance of integrated, holistic, and balanced non-market approaches; it also underlines the importance of capacity-building to combat climate change. This is aligned with educator’s goals that are to build the capacity of students! However, strong technical knowledge is not enough to reverse the climate crisis! Students need to develop a holistic and humanistic vision that is critical, reflective, creative, cooperative, and ethical; that contemplates innovative and entrepreneurial performance; that recognizes societal problems; that adopts multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary points of view; that considers global, political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, safety, and health aspects; and that is committed to social responsibility and sustainable development. Such qualities for students are cited in the new National Curriculum Guidelines for Brazilian Engineering Courses, updated in 2019, which calls for innovation in the teaching approach.
The question is: how can students be motivated to apply their vast technical background to solve major problems in today’s society? The solution lies in deeply touching the student's innermost self, empowering them, and emphasizing their ability to solve social problems, thereby focusing on the human being, not just on technological development. We are not looking for the cheapest way to generate energy (which is often fossil fuels), but we want to generate energy in harmony with the environment! Teachers and professors can contextualize their classes by considering the UN Sustainable Development Goals so that students can learn how technical content studied in the classroom can be applied to everyday problems so as to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, generate clean energy, reduce climate change, preserve life, and promote peace and justice, as well as other goals of the 2030 Agenda. Such an approach will be a source of motivation for many students!
The crucial role of every educator, related to the development of students, can be summarized in the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921): “Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great importance, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind”. Such is the role of a true educator: to inspire students to act for the benefit of humanity.
Last updated 16 December 2019