With the advent of climate change and an impending global food crisis, the word ‘sustainability’ is on everyone’s mind. We have one Earth with limited resources and space, and over 7 billion people to feed and care for. Our long-term survival as a species then depends on the effective and responsible management of the world’s natural assets.
However, figuring out how we do that can be a tricky business – there are plenty of complex issues that can only be resolved with novel approaches. And that’s where environmental science steps in, primarily concerned with whether our activities are sustainable and, more importantly, how can we make them sustainable. With all this considered, the field of environmental science is becoming an evermore important sector for graduates looking to make a difference.
According to the World Bank, the world has to increase its food production by at least 50 percent to feed nine billion people by 2050. It also warns that climate change could reduce crop yields by over 25 percent. Environmental scientists consider all these issues and more, often serving as highly paid consultants to the farming industry or going into the agricultural business themselves.
But the field of environment casts a wide net – also venturing into conservation, tourism, and pollution. Environmental scientists are concerned about how development affects everything from forests to beaches to coral reefs, convinced that these stunning vistas are treasures to be preserved. They might explore the effects of oil and gas exploration, including “fracking”, on both the surrounding environment and the quality of human life. In these roles, they often join or serve as advisors to environmental groups, and lobby for legislative and policy changes.
Aside from activism, environment graduates may also opt for lucrative careers in the corporate sectors, overseeing an organization’s sustainability programs. Their job would be to identify and resolve environmental problems within the organization, and ensure all departments comply with environmental legislation.
For example, they might work to ensure that office buildings are ‘green’ – in other words, they use less electricity, produce less waste and pollution, and are using resources like water efficiently. As more and more businesses embrace ‘green’ policies as part of their corporate identity, these sort of roles are set to grow by leaps and bounds.
Graduates may also work in government agencies that oversee and implement environment regulations on industry. They may also provide advice to city and town councils on urban planning, making sure that development improves or preserves quality of life, and contributes to fighting climate change.
But no matter what environment students aspire to do, the field is extremely promising as a whole. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.” With rising opportunities in the field, it’s then a question of which environmental school to be pick.
The best environmental schools will look to emphasize critical thinking and hands-on, practical training as well as feature state-of-the-art science facilities. They’re generally and unsurprisingly situated in North America – a continent at the forefront of technological advancement.
With all this to take into account, here are some of the leading environmental science schools in North America, offering high quality education opportunities in this growing and exciting field:
THE CLAYTON H. RIDDELL FACULTY OF ENVIRONMENT, EARTH, AND RESOURCES – UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA – WINNIPEG, CANADA
The Riddell Faculty combines world-class research excellence with outstanding hands-on learning in dynamic classes, cutting-edge laboratories, and in the field, both nationally and internationally. Students learn about the environment from atomic to global scales and can focus on geography (human and physical), environmental science and studies, geology and geophysics.
Manitoba’s interdisciplinary structure allows students to view real-world issues and problems to become highly qualified individuals ready to take their place in their chosen professions. Graduate Masters and PhD programs match students with leading world-recognized researchers. The University of Manitoba is the province’s premier research institution.
Located in Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba offers international students one of the best student experiences Canada has to offer. The modern Fort Garry campus offers a vibrant space where students can excel both in and out of the classroom. Campus activities and a range of clubs and societies complement this university’s academic pedigree, producing well-grounded graduates who enjoy excellent employment prospects.
HAROLD AND PEARL DRIPPS DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, McNEESE STATE UNIVERSITY – LOUISIANA, UNITED STATES
Established in 1939, McNeese State University is a leader in the study of agricultural and environmental sciences. The university was ranked among the best regional universities in the South for the fifth consecutive year by U.S. News & World Report and is well regarded for its overall affordability, which has given the University a reputation for quality.
McNeese’s Harold and Pearl Dripps Department of Agricultural Sciences is renowned for its high quality teaching and practical training, which is supported by the school’s three working farms and state-of-the-art meat processing and production facility. Its programs in Agricultural Sciences, Natural Resource Conservation Management, and Nutrition and Food Science are particularly well-regarded across industry.
Located in the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, students will have plenty of fieldwork opportunities, thanks in part to the region’s unique terrain and agricultural activity. They may also collaborate with and receive insight from field researchers and experts at McNeese’s Louisiana Environmental Research Center (LERC). LERC has historically focused its research on wetland restoration, ecology, and the environmental effects of oil spills.
FACULTY OF SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA – BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is one of Canada’s top universities, counting 7 Nobel Prize winners and 3 Canadian prime ministers among its current or former faculty and alumni. UBC’s Faculty of Science has been repeatedly recognized for its excellence. QS World University Rankings 2016 placed its Environmental Science programs 1st in Canada and 11th in the world. US News and World Report Rankings 2015 named its Environment and Ecology programs as 1st in Canada and 8th in the world. With 1,750 annual co-op placements per year, students have plenty of opportunity to gain practical experience and establish networks with industry.
NICHOLAS SCHOOL OF THE ENVIRONMENT, DUKE UNIVERSITY – NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES
Tracing its origins back to 1838, Duke University is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. Its Nicholas School of the Environment is particularly well-resourced, with an impressive US$45 million budget in 2015, and produces 300 research projects annually. With an emphasis on a holistic understanding of Earth, the environment, and humanity, the school offers degrees in environment-related fields from undergraduate to doctoral. Research at the school is primarily focused on three areas: climate and energy, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and human health and the environment.
Pic: Duke University
DEPARTMENT OF EARTH, ATMOSPHERIC AND PLANETARY SCIENCES, PURDUE UNIVERSITY – INDIANA, UNITED STATES
Founded in 1869, Purdue University is a leading American university located in the Midwest. QS World University Rankings 2015 put its Environmental Sciences program among the top 100 in the world. Purdue’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) features state-of-the-art facilities including an automated electron microprobe, complete wet-chemical lab for analysis, and a molecular biogeochemistry laboratory. The department offers a degree in environmental geosciences, focusing on issues like ground-water contamination, landfill management, landslide risk, urban planning, and climate change.
SCHOOL OF THE ENVIRONMENT, FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY – FLORIDA, UNITED STATES
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University’s School of the Environment offers rigorous, multidisciplinary training in environment science from undergraduate to doctoral levels. The school’s proximity to the Apalachicola River and the Apalachicola Bay gives it the opportunity to conduct ground-breaking ecosystem research. Undergraduates may opt for the Bachelor of Science, which offers a more technical, scientific overview of environmental issues; or the Bachelor of Arts which is perfect for those intending to practice Environmental Law or write about the environment as journalists.