Why Are We Studying Environmental Science?

“You do know that from next week onwards you’ll be having environmental science classes?”

Shock. Pure and absolute shock. It is my second semester of college, and all I could think about was whose idea was it to torture university students even further.

In 1993, The Supreme Court mandated that the Union Grant’s Commission develop a syllabus for environmental science, to be taught as a compulsory subject at the University level. This syllabus was developed in 2004 and implemented in 2014 when the UGC asked the University of Delhi to introduce a mandatory course in environmental science for undergraduate students.

And thus began the bane of every student’s existence; environmental studies.

Yes, environmental studies. The only subject that draws a collective sigh from every student around the corner. A subject that when contrasted with maths or science, is considered laughable at best. Even teachers called it an easy subject that would fetch us marks. All throughout school life, students have been pestered by this subject. Whether it was middle school or even high school, in some way or the other it would worm its way into our lives with the same old story; the environment was in danger, it was the human’s fault, we needed sustainable development.

College was supposed to be an area where we chose the subjects we wanted to study. It was supposed to provide us with relief from this over-taught subject. But alas, that did not happen.

Instead for 6 months, we were supposed to study Environmental science. And as I attended my first ENVS class, all I could think about was ‘Why?’. Why were they subjecting us to this torture again?

And in my very first class itself, my teacher told me. And then his teachings did.

Instead of talking about global warming and climate change in vague terms, as my school teachers had done in the past, he reduced the answer to a very realistic and relatable level. To the law of the country. He told us about M.C Mehta’s PIL in 1991 and about how we were contradicting the very law of our country; our constitution.

Article 51A(g) of the Constitution imposes as one of the fundamental duties on every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment,  and to have compassion for the living creatures. With the lack of education in environmental science, it is not possible to uphold the spirit of these Articles and thus environment needed to be introduced in the educational discourse.

And for the first time in our lives, environmental science wasn’t a detached entity that we were being forced to study. It was relatable and connected to our lives, and made sense.

In the two months that I have been studying ENVS, I have uncovered links that were hidden in plain sight but that I could not observe on my own. Yes, my teacher repeats the same things that we had learned in school. But, he provides a deeper understanding of them and places them in the contemporary realm, helping us uncover connections we couldn’t on our own. A valid example of this is how he taught us how the environment is a deeply political issue. How economics, politics, and sociology are deeply entwined within this subject in the most pragmatic ways.

An example of this is the presence of rich, coal and oil-dependent pressure groups that set the narrative in society. They have an agenda against clean fuel use so they manipulate the prevalent discourse and make it seem as if solar power plants etc are too expensive to switch to, however on calculation they are cheaper than using coal plants.

In school as students, we are given information to process and to retain. As university students, however, we have a greater capacity to learn. We are allowed and encouraged to question, critique, analyze, contradict and deepen the scope of our learning.

And thus the reason why we need to study environmental science at the university level is to call out the falsities in the world. I think it is necessary- to be a part of the world, to understand where we are being manipulated and to contribute to the learned generation that will bring these issues in the public glare and use their votes judiciously.

– Rhea Jain – University Times


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