September 22, 2019 | 77° F

Professor advocates environmental action

Photo by Wendy Chiapiakeo |

David Ehrenfeld, a University professor, speaks about the community’s role in climate change.

The climate is crashing fast and universities are being blindsided, said David Ehrenfeld, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences professor, to an audience of around 220 people in the Cook Campus Center during the “Executive Dean’s Distinguished Lecture.”

Ehrenfeld stressed the importance of the University’s role in the environmental crisis yesterday with a plan during his event, “Reinventing the University for the 21st Century.”

Ehrenfeld said universities should not shut their eyes to the upcoming environmental emergency.

“Full-scale denial of that change entails great risks,” Ehrenfeld said. “Once great schools will find themselves left behind in a world that no longer exists.”

Ehrenfeld said people should be alarmed that oil reserves are quickly disappearing with no tangible solution in sight.

If the entire volume of the earth was oil and if every last drop was extracted — assuming the growth rate of 7.4 percent a year — then there would be no oil left in 342 years, Ehrenfeld said.

“Of course only a tiny part of the earth is made of oil, and we expect that somehow technology will make the cheap oil last forever,” he said.

Ehrenfeld said the rise of oil costs is putting airlines out of business, limiting international business relations and contributing to the economic crisis-affecting students.

Ehrenfeld said importing products will soon become too expensive to handle, and students should get accustomed to working hands-on in this new era. The dean proposed to integrate practical courses into the University curriculum to foster this movement, with potential classes including personal finance, agricultural care and computer troubleshooting.

Jim Applegate, a retired professor of ecology, said the proposal is good in theory, but the courses may be difficult to integrate into the curriculum.

“You have a good idea of what everybody should be exposed to,” Applegate said. “But then what are we going to strike out of the rest of the curriculum? That’s not an easy thing to do.”

Daniel Van Abs, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Human Ecology, said the proposed system of hands-on experience in courses would not work in the modern world.

“These kinds of opportunities that he’s talking about would be great additional opportunities if the students were here on campus all the time,” Van Abs said.

Christopher Smith, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said these courses could benefit the University’s reputation in the educational community.      

“It would draw a lot of people to come into Rutgers,” Smith said. “It would boost our standings. Students would definitely enjoy it. I know I would.”

Van Abs said he believes teaching children early on will help them in their future and will probably be more effective.

“If students were given hands-on experience in middle school and high school as I was, then they come into college expecting these opportunities instead of having them be a revelation,” he said.

By Lisa Berkman

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