I teach a course on sustainability challenges. Students work in groups to help community partners with projects relating to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The students come from many different areas of study and collaborate on developing meaningful projects. According to a recent report by Cole et al (2022) working with diverse teams is vital to net zero carbon.
Often if we think of net zero, the idea that no greenhouse gas emissions are released, or if they are they are offset by capturing them elsewhere, as being a scientific problem. As a result, people will think of multidisciplinary science teams. However, Cole and her co-authors argue that developing landscapes to achieve net zero requires considering ethics, culture, social systems, diversity, and landscape functions. They suggest that the arts and humanities need to join both social and natural sciences in order to develop meaningful and complementary plans and policies for net zero landscape management.
The authors observe that current approaches contradict each other and threaten human well being, cultural landscape knowledge, and results in loss of the benefits of biodiversity. To achieve net zero they acknowledge that scientific modelling and knowledge is of course required but landscape functions need to be situated within the social context.
To do this, the authors make three recommendations, all of which bode well for the experience students gain in my course. First, we need transdisciplinary teams to work on these issues. The authors focus on landscape management but I don’t think landscapes are unique on this front. Second, we need to recognize that there is no one size fits all. The right solution and ecosystem needs to be determined for each place. And third, there needs to be increased local decision making. These last two mean that there will need to be many teams and many leaders. As a result, the students in my classes who pursue many different fields and areas of study all have the potential to contribute to transformative change.
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