UT needs to expand its sustainability-based majors

Benroy Chan

What starts here changes the world. The official motto of the University of Texas resonates in students’ minds and has a different meaning for everyone. For me, it means saving the world from environmental ruin, but unfortunately, the limited options of sustainability-based majors offered here hurt this mission.

Last week, a story ran in the Texan describing the difficulties current petroleum engineering seniors have in finding employment amidst the oil market crash. The story opens by saying many of these students thought they would “graduate with job offers of nearly six-figure salaries,” but we must use this short-term decline as a reminder that the luxury and glamour of petroleum-based jobs cannot last indefinitely.

With regards to climate change, oil production and usage must stop to put an end to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases and to prevent devastating spills and leaks. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey recently released a map documenting the risk of man-made earthquakes from wastewater disposal of oil and gas production in what would be an unprecedented phenomenon. But even if the many environmental impacts of petroleum were completely disregarded, petroleum is still a nonrenewable resource and will eventually be exhausted.

As people become more aware of the negative effects humans have on the environment and natural systems, the demand for sustainability-focused careers will rise. For example, as laws pass requiring companies to reduce their environmental impacts, the need for environmental consultants will increase. The world needs professionals to fix our environmental problems, but as of right now, the majors offered at UT do not reflect this.
The only major offered here directly related to sustainability is environmental science. The Environmental Science Program makes a step forward by offering students a hands-on, interdisciplinary education on the challenges and paths to solution for environmental issues with its degree plan.

There is, however, room for improvement. The program accommodates only about 50 students each year and offers only three specialized tracks — biology, geography and geology — all of which are still relatively general. Compared to the McCombs School of Business’ eight unique majors and the Cockrell School of Engineering’s nine unique majors, UT offers an insufficient amount of sustainability-based majors.

Ultimately, our University must strive to offer more majors that will provide society with professionals suited to fix environmental problems. The University of Texas incorporates many sustainable practices such as recycling and the Green Fee, but to ensure students continue to save the world beyond campus, sustainability-based majors must find more room at UT.

Chan is an environmental science freshman from Sugar Land. He is senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @BenroyChan