When I was first applying to universities, the only school I wanted to go to was UCSB, and it was because of its environmental studies program. At the time, I believed it was the best school for the subject, and even now, it constantly ranks relatively high among universities, based on global rankings.
UCSB was one of the first schools to ever have an environmental studies department, and it’s been a leader within the environmental field ever since. Based on the department’s website, the program has over 7,300 alumni and more than 850 students enrolled. It also states that the department was established 49 years ago as a response to the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I instead went to community college. While there, I realized I wanted to go into environmental law. When I finally transferred to UCSB with the intent to minor in environmental studies, I, to my surprise, found that the department didn’t offer a minor. Instead, the department tries to create well-rounded stewards who will be able to deal with environmental issues in a broad range of disciplines.
The department is arranged so that students of the major have a core focus in environmental studies, but are also able to obtain a secondary focus from any other field of study. So, if a student wanted to become a lobbyist for environmental issues for example, that student would be able to get a secondary focus in political science to help with this goal.
I find this ideology respectable, but the lack of a minor seems a bit puzzling, especially in the modern era. Environmental issues can’t be solved by the few anymore; they’re issues that can only be solved by an educated population.
It’s at the point that whole countries would need to take action to try and minimize the problem. Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 82 percent of greenhouse gases are caused by carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA states that “human activities are altering the carbon cycle,” which are primarily caused by “transportation” and “electricity,” which still heavily relies on fossil fuels to create energy. This reliance on fossil fuel can only be solved if the citizens of a country actively altered their perception on the issue.
I’ve talked to other students about this issue, and to my surprise, many held a similar opinion on the matter. One student was Jazmin Medina, a third year sociology major. In an interview with TBL, Medina stated that when she transferred to UCSB from her community college, she was hoping that the school would offer a minor in the subject.
“I want to get more informed about environmental issues,” said Medina. “It’s currently one of the biggest issues of our generation … If the school offered a minor, I would do it immediately,” Medina went on to say.
Although this ideology of the department is respectable, perhaps in the modern era, the department needs to broaden its goal beyond creating “environmental stewards.” If the department created a minor, it would allow for students of other majors to pick up environmental studies as their secondary focus. Although it’s not the same plan, it holds the same goal: to create environmental leaders.
Jeff Kuyper is an alumnus from UCSB who majored in environmental studies. He was one of the original founders of the Los Padres ForestWatch non-profit organization. The organization’s goal is to restore and protect the forest condition of the Los Padres National Forest. He’s an example of how UCSB can create great leaders who will champion environmental issues.
Other good examples of these kinds of leader can be found in the organization. Graciela Cabello is the director of youth and community engagement for the organization. Unlike Kuyper, Cabello majored in business administration while in college, but she still has a passion for protecting our public lands. She’s also an example of individuals who study other subjects yet still have a passion for solving these environmental issues.
Perhaps now is the time that UCSB help creates leaders in other disciplines who are environmentally informed.
If there’s demand from students and students who desire to become stewards, UCSB has a duty to its students to offer a minor.
If the department were to create a minor, they could model it in a similar manner to UCLA’s environmental systems and society minor. UCLA has a minimum requirement of eight lower division units, and a minimum of 20 upper-division units in order to receive the minor. This is one of UCLA’s seven minors, the others being atmospheric and oceanic sciences; environmental engineering; earth and environmental science; conservation biology; environmental health; and geography/environmental studies.
If UCSB were to create a minor for environmental studies, it would hold to the same philosophy as the major, this idea of creating great leaders. So perhaps what UCSB could do is hold the same standard for the lower-division units, but once students started working on their upper-division units that’s when the focus could come into play. There could be different focuses within the minor; one could focus on public policy and the others focusing on a specific science within the field.
Furthermore, introducing a minor for environmental studies would also be a great way to celebrate the department’s 50 year anniversary.
If the younger generation has a desire to resolve the issue, then the people who can empower the younger generation ought to support that desire. As the department states, “responsible stewardship of our environment will require leaders that understand and respect human values and goals, and the relationship between natural and human communities.”