The earth is suffering from a loss of biodiversity, climate change and increasing problems with food. A new kind of nature professional is needed to tackle these global trends, said the speakers at the ‘Joining Forces for Sustainability’ symposium on Wednesday at Van Hall Larenstein in Leeuwarden.
Today’s students need to be good at negotiating, to be creative and to be able to set limits. ‘Nature conservationists speak the same language as civil servants and that needs to change.’
Ben ten Brink of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency: 'We can expect some really big blows. If humans do not change their ways, the earth will lose around 10 per cent of the mean species abundance (average numbers per species, KdM) by 2050. There will also be a fall in the number of species.' At the same time, the demand for food and energy is increasing and agricultural production needs to rise. Bram van de Klundert of the World Wildlife Fund: 'Nothing is being added. It isn't enough to have a few fields of heather - that is just gardening. Nature conservation needs to be more thorough and more robust.' Henk de Jong of the Ministry of Economic Affairs' biodiversity task force predicted that there would only be a real switch after 'we have had a couple of major calamities'. 'The economy will just march on, especially in China and India.'
One of the symposium's aims was to see whether the degree programmes should change their curricula in the light of global trends. What kind of student will be needed in 2020? The speakers said that in particular he or she would need to be good at negotiating, creative, able to build bridges, set limits and see connections. De Jong addressed the students in the room: 'You will have to say: "this far and no further". That is a demanding and difficult task.'
Van de Klundert thinks the new professional should not be too attached to government authorities. Instead, they should be entrepreneurial, commercial and have a good legal grounding. 'At the moment nature conservationists speak the same language as civil servants and that needs to change.'
The loss of biodiversity is not a problem in itself, said Van de Klundert. 'The animals themselves are not bothered by it. Who reminisces about the dodo now? But I don't want the disappearance of animal species on my conscience from a moral point of view. I don't find that a very pleasant thought. That line of reasoning is something students need to be able to portray and get across.'
Ben ten Brink said that an economist had once told him that the solutions were technically possible. 'He pointed to the improvement in water and air quality over the past few years. "But it is your fault that we aren't really doing anything with sustainability", he said. Apparently we are not able to make it clear what is going wrong and what the consequences will be. You need the skills to be able to get this message across. So don't stay within the confines of your own world. Start at the micro level and end at the macro level.'
Wildlife Management Lecturer Tine Griede, who was in the audience, said that university of applied science students were in a particularly good position to bring specialists such as ecologists and economists together. 'They don't really talk to each other. Our students need to break down the barriers between these parties.'