Universitair docent Vergelijkende Religiewetenschappen Justine Bakker
Universitair docent Vergelijkende Religiewetenschappen Justine Bakker

Courses on sustainability: “We need new ideas”

Keeping the Earth liveable, that is, in a nutshell, what ‘sustainability’ is all about. But according to four Radboud University lecturers, this is easier said than done. That is why they share how they devote attention to sustainability in their courses and why. As inspiration. “Simply continuing on the old, familiar path is not a viable option.”

It’s important to be aware of this. “Sustainability is a very broad concept,” emphasises Marieke Fransen, Lecturer in Sustainability, Communication, and the Media. “Examining how sustainability is communicated in the media is extremely relevant, especially since nearly all the information we receive on this topic comes to us via the media. My course deals with environmental sustainability, and climate change plays a major role in this. I have two children, and I don't like to think of what their world will look like if we carry on as we are doing now. And yet, initiating change is proving to be very hard. I see this when I look both at my own behaviour and at my research on resistance to change. That’s why I'm happy that, in my role as lecturer, I can talk to students about these topics, and reflect with them on how we can use our knowledge to solve these issues.”

Sustainable society and diversity

At the same time however, sustainability is not only about how people treat the Earth, but also how they treat each other. This is reflected, among other things, in the course on Gender, Conflict and Security. “As far as I'm concerned, there can be no sustainable society without diversity,” explains lecturer Jutta Joachim. “Gender, but also race and social class, often function as barriers in this respect because they impact how someone is perceived, and therefore largely determine who gets what, be it wealth, education or healthcare. Becoming aware of these underlying mechanisms and critically reflecting on them is a first step toward sustainability and change.”

This path, says Marc Davidson, who teaches a course on the Climate Crisis, can also be taken by setting a good example yourself as a lecturer. “Practice what you preach,” is how he puts it. “As an environmental philosopher and economist, I also try to live sustainably and eat vegan as much as possible. I don't fly for my work. Many interesting conferences would require me to take a plane, so I don't go. In my course, I consider the climate crisis with my students from the perspective of different disciplines: physics, ecology, economics, psychology, ethics and politics. I think the most interesting assignment is when the students are challenged to go vegan for a week. That is where they find out how hard it still is to deviate from the social norm.”

The Earth and its resources on loan

All in all, according to lecturer Vincent Meelberg of the Sustainable Creativity course, our world really has to change now. “Sustainability problems require creative solutions,” as he knows. “We need new ideas to address these problems; simply continuing on the old, familiar path is not a viable option. In my course, we look among other things at the role of creativity in resolving sustainability-related issues. We need to become aware that we are only borrowing the planet and its resources from future generations. We have to make sure the world they inherit is and remains liveable.”

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