This op-ed was originally published in the Globe and Mail, on February 28, 2020.
Last summer, young people around the world took to the streets demanding action on climate change in one of the largest global youth movements in recent history, making it clear that they will no longer allow leaders to ignore the impacts of climate change.
Canada needs to act now if we have any hope of enjoying a sustainable future with an innovative green economy that values environmental stewardship. For educators, that means ensuring green campuses and communities, leading applied research into alternative energies and mitigating the effects of climate change, as well as teaching green skills.
For a future that relies on sustainable fuel and energy alternatives, college and institute applied research is taking us in the right direction. Nunavut Arctic College’s research into solar alternatives to diesel fuel in power generation for northern communities that experience long periods of limited sunlight could provide year-round clean energy. Meanwhile, research at Cégep de Jonquière to help remote regions free themselves of dependency on fossil fuels could offer another tangible solution to polluting energies. And in our cities, applied research projects like Red River College’s testing and prototyping of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles that can survive the cold climate provide green public infrastructure solutions across the country.
We need this innovation and commitment to build a sustainable future, but we also need to ensure that our greener future is equipped with skilled workers. Colleges and institutes are the vital bridge between forward-looking, values-based research and training for the real-world needs of employers. In fact, colleges and institutes across Canada offer more than 350 programs related to natural resources and clean technologies, developed with employers in response to labour market needs. For example, Lethbridge College’s Wind Turbine Technician program provides training for electricians laid off in the oil and gas industry looking to quickly upgrade and redirect their skills to the alternative energy sector. It’s short, flexible learning options like this that will ensure our workforce is resilient and ready to lead in the green economy.
We’ve made progress in Canada, but we have a long way to go. As a country, we can step up by developing a national framework to promote the integration of climate change adaptation and mitigation into postsecondary education. This would ensure all relevant programs reflect environmental concerns in their given fields. It would also leverage the unparalleled ability of colleges and institutes to adapt to community innovation and training needs in order to meet global imperative.
With a framework like this in place, every Canadian will have the opportunity and skills to effect meaningful change.
President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada