The environment is collapsing - can higher education save it?
Source: Plymouth University

The year is 2018. Icebergs are melting, threatening to release frozen and potentially fatal diseases. Rising ocean levels are starting to sink entire islands. Humans are producing enough waste to circle the earth 24 times every year.

On top of this, there are now more microplastics in the ocean than stars in our galaxy. Acid rain is quickly eroding historic limestone monuments that have survived centuries, and high pollution levels are now the world’s fourth-biggest killer.

Although this sounds like the opening to a fictitious apocalyptic world caused by human greed and a glaring lack of foresight, it is the stark reality of today’s world.

Source: Shutterstock

Every day, millions of people are engaging in this behaviour, suffocating the environment to the point of no return.

From our obsession with fast fashion, to our throw-away attitude to single use plastic and our cognitive dissonance blinding us from the implications of our daily destructive decisions, it’s us – and us alone – who are causing the apocalyptic situation that should be reserved for films and novels.

And as if the reality of environmental disaster isn’t dire enough, predictions for how it will worsen over the coming years drives the urgency of this situation home. It’s estimated that sea levels will rise a further 20-50cm by 2100 due to greenhouse gasses causing temperatures to rise, according to the Centre of Science Education.

On top of creating activity that changes environmental processes, our actions are also strangling the natural world in a direct manner. With a truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute, and ‘plastic islands’ spanning the size of Texas, the devasting affects consumption has on the planet is blatantly obvious.

The situation is so extreme that entire waves of plastic are washing up on beaches, revealed in this video recorded in the Dominican Republic. When fishing nets, water bottles and takeaway boxes become entangled with the ocean’s seaweed, the effects of human consumption are no longer ignorable.

If this isn’t shocking enough, our floating dumping sites are coming back to affect us from the inside out. With more plastic on the ocean’s surface than prey within its waters, birds mistakenly attempt to digest the material, and since it can be found up to 11km deep, oceanic life is bound to ingest it, too. When these animals fall on our plates, so does their toxic inner substance.

And the problem with plastic? It’s designed to be durable, waterproof and resilient, so once it’s in our food chain, our oceans and ourselves, there’s little chance of us getting rid of it.

As previously mentioned, a phenomenon called ‘cognitive dissonance’ enables this self-destructive behaviour. A misalignment of our actions and their consequences facilitates society to operate in a clearly unsustainable manner with little concern of the implications.

The only way to shift this attitude is through education. Unless young people are educated in environmental issues and understand the relationship between their consumption and our world, they’ll grow up in a very different environment to the one we see now, leaving it in an even worse state for generations to come.

While the general population is waking up to the realities of our environmental disillusion, those with an academic background in the environmental sciences drive global efforts the change the popular attitude and create a better future.

For this reason, among many, the University of Plymouth School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences is committed to educating the best young minds to tackle global challenges.

The school offers a range of undergraduate courses to prepare passionate learners to make an impact in the field, including the BSc (Hons) Environmental Management and Sustainability, BSc (Hons) Environmental Science and BSc (Hons) Environmental Science with Foundation Year.

All the courses are created with an interdisciplinary industry focus to ensure graduates have applicable knowledge and skills, applying these to build a brighter future and lead widespread change.

Source: Plymouth University

Combining disciplines in environmental science, geography, biology, environmental law, economics and marine subject disciplines, students have the broad perspective and critical thinking skills needed to inspire global movements.

“Being an environmental scientist, there is a lot of work to do; luckily I chose to further my studies at Plymouth University,” said BSc (Hons) Environmental Science student, Nim Kwan Cheung. “Not only are they teaching me how to be a professional environmental scientist in a practical way but also how to shape myself into a better person.”

Postgraduate students looking to deepen their expertise in the environmental sciences also have the opportunity to study at the University of Plymouth through the MSc Environmental Consultancy or the MSc in Sustainable Environmental Management.

These programmes educate and inspire graduate students in the environmental sciences, instilling them with specialised skills that allow them to make a meaningful impact in the field.

“The main reason I chose to study Environmental Science at Plymouth was the high amount of contact time and the significant amount of practical elements on the course, especially the second year field trip to Malaysia, together with the enthusiasm and passion of the lecturers,” said Steph Rooke MSc Environmental Consultancy graduate.

“I think the Master’s degree supplemented my undergraduate course extremely well and helped to bridge the gap between my studies and the real world of the waste management industry.”

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