Blog and opinion
7 May 2018 • Joris Gresnigt
Changing the content of our education
Since 1950, the happiness levels in the Western world have hardly changed. Our consumption has exploded. The concomitant destruction of our planet, on which we depend, has also exploded. Despite all the sustainable innovations, CO2 emissions have never increased so rapidly as in 2017. Rates of suicide, obesity, addiction, depression and burn-out have also exploded. Simple facts.
Nonetheless, we do not act on these facts. Politicians are not working on reducing consumption or tackling the mechanisms that are destroying us. Study after study shows that possessions do not make people happy. The need for possessions actually causes dissatisfaction and always leads to a hunger for more. And yet … And yet, we continue to fly, ski, multiply, buy buy buy, and we continue to eat meat. We are destroying the planet, and we are not any happier. Is this pure selfishness? Pure stupidity? Or is something else going on?
I believe that the underlying problem is cultural and evolutionary. Growing up in a society of abundance and promises for more and more. Constantly pursued by advertisements, instant gratification and pleasure as the ultimate goal we simply do not know any better. We do not want to know, and we cannot understand that a radical change is needed in our lifestyle. With so many incentives to continue down the path of consumerism, our brain, in terms of evolution, is not able to counteract this. Get what you can when you can was a great survival strategy over the last few hundred thousand years. This is hard-wired in our brain.
But we need the opposite. It should be easy to live more healthily, to consume less, to be happier. Leaving individuals to choose good options while they are being bombarded with negative incentives simply does not work.
So what do we need to make this easier? Let’s first remove some of the negative incentives and replace them with positive ones starting at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. This means that we have to re-think what we teach and teach different attitudes and skills.
In terms of content, I believe that it would mean a change in all of our faculties. For business faculties it would mean a shift from optimising profit and economic growth to the Doughnut model. A shift from profit driven accounting to also learning about commodities accounting and questioning whether marketing for more consumption is okay. For technology, it would mean green coding, being critical about CO2 machines such as blockchain, and how we embed privacy. For the legal branch, it would involve giving animals and ecosystems rights and what the consequences for polluters are, etc. I see it as the responsibility of every lecturer to see how to embed sustainability in his/her subject.
Apart from the content, it’s also about self-development, attitude and behaviour. Are we producing students to be pieces of puzzles that seamlessly fit into this sick society? Or are we trying to encourage them to become the puzzle makers that will create a better society? If we want to do the latter, self-knowledge, critical thinking, empathy and resilience are essential. And yes, they may still opt to work for Shell or Coca Cola, but they have then have a wider world view that they can convey.
Does this all sound too radical? What is really radical is hiding your head in the sand to avoid seeing the red flags, which is what we are doing now. Let’s change.
Joris Gresnigt is a lecturer at the HBO-ICT, and among his many other activities, he tries to include sustainability in the curriculum. He worked as the CSR project leader for the Government in the IT sector.