The problems of environmental protection are facing mankind with extraordinary urgency, acquiring not only a global scale but also very specific local dimensions. Thus, over the past few weeks, the active part of the population of Almaty has been participating in the discussion of an extremely sensitive problem for the city – to build or not to build a ski resort in the Kok-Zhailau tract in the immediate vicinity of the city. Thus, there are very different approaches and points of view expressed on this issue. Some are worried about the dangerous consequences for the city in the form of mudflows and avalanches, others are concerned about the violation and harmful consequences for the nature of this unique nature reserve, and almost all are irritated by the exorbitant ambitions of the business project aimed at its business goals.
Without falling into emotional verbal battles, I would like to draw attention to another practical aspect of this difficult situation. The weak participation of the academic community in the project, not in the sense of participation in public discussions, although this is also an important part of environmental activities. Nevertheless in the sense of creating such a social and cultural environment in Kazakhstan’s society, such a developed environmental awareness, in which many controversial projects should not even have arisen due to the obviousness of the reaction of the whole society, and not only “green” groups.
The reality of our time shows that the attack of cities on nature is happening all over the world. According to the report of The Nature Conservancy, Future Earth and The Stockholm Resilience Center, it is expected that over the next two decades, urban growth will absorb more than 290,000 km2 of habitat – an area larger than New Zealand. In addition, unique nature reserves are increasingly located in close proximity to cities. Urbanization threatens the loss of habitat for nature, but also for people too. According to experts on economic and social issues, by 2050 approximately 68% of the world’s population will be urban residents, in Asia the urban population will be 64% in 2050. Creating huge advantages in lifestyle, the development of industry, technology, education, the city at the same time becoming a problem for the environment through the expansion of the urban area, the use of energy and resources and the creation of a huge amount of waste (The Nature Conservancy, 2018).
This situation can be remedied, firstly, by better planning for sustainable development and environmental protection. Here, a special responsibility lies with city leaders, their social consciousness and ability to withstand attractive, but environmentally harmful commercial projects.
In general, it will be easier to stand up against any predatory projects, the more educated and intolerant of violations the urban community will be through educational and information activities of the academic community. This is the second condition necessary to avoid environmental disasters triggered by unreasonable selfish activities of people.
It is known that environmental education programs in universities all over the world are being actively implemented and are expanding under the influence of universal concern about environmental degradation and its negative consequences for human development. Many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, officially known as “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” are ecological in nature, and in particular goal 15 aims at protecting, restoring terrestrial ecosystems and promoting their rational use, rational management desertification, halting and reversing land degradation and halting the loss of biodiversity (The Sustainable Development Agenda, 2015)
Not surprisingly, higher education systems around the world responded to the UN call with new interdisciplinary programs, the creation of environmental education departments, the implementation of Green Office, Green University, Green Campus projects. According to the Environmental Criteria, there is even an international ranking of universities. Among the best, according to the World University Ranking UI, are Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands), University of Nottingham, (United Kingdom), University of California, Davis (USA) (World University Ranking UI, 2018) or Simon University Fraser, (Canada), University of Alcala, (Spain), Raphael Lendivar University, (Guatemala), according to the system of Interesting Engineering (Interesting Engineering, 2018).
In some of the aforementioned universities, even their teaching practices are green, as they can get a degree in environmental science, doctoral students in climate, space research, and water management through their curricula. Much attention is paid to the aspect of green universities, as participation in solving problems with community members and organizations in the government, non-profit and commercial sectors, as well as solving sustainability problems. Public participation, the leadership of green universities believes, can help students develop leadership skills by deepening their understanding of practical, real-world problems and the decision-making process.
Kazakhstani universities also have an understanding of the importance of environmental education, as well as the realization that modern universities should promote ideas for sustainable development, create “green office” structures that generate “green development” through curricula, research projects, conduct their activities on the basis of energy and resource conservation, the collection and transformation of waste, to engage in environmental education and education of ecological culture, to prepare a new generation of young professionals, producers of innovative ideas and intellectual thought (Tazhibayeva et al., 2017).
However, students and teachers of Kazakhstani universities, obviously, do not have enough active involvement in the reality of the life of a country, city, district, their knowledge and theoretical training do not always stand the test, faced with the complexity of integrating problem-solving in real contexts and complex institutional norms. This was manifested in the situation with the implementation of a number of unsuccessful town-planning decisions, when environmental interests and values retreated under the pressure of municipal policies and business structures, while academic ecologists remained silent.
There is no doubt that the activities of the competent academic community are primarily in research and development in the field of eco-technologies, eco-processes, and products, as well as in education – all students and the general public should be educated to be environmentally aware, and professionals should be formed for general analysis and policy development. We need a rejection of the old ways of thinking, and the educational authorities are responsible for this.
However, many experts, including foreign ones, believe that this is not enough. Universities should take a more active stance than their traditional educational and scientific functions. Even carefully designed research work, or a squad of trained young environmental graduates, are unlikely to have a significant impact on environmental policy within the country. To be effective in achieving sustainability, you need to actively intervene in existing practices and change institutional norms and ways of thinking. Universities should have “their own face”, a special reputation and authority, more actively and effectively engage in dialogue in the field of public policy, clarifying their positions, even if they contradict official ones.
Experts from the academic environment should go beyond the usual way of publishing documents but act as consultants of last resort in controversial issues between various parties, positioning themselves not as individuals, but as representatives of their institution, whose strong opinion they voice. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has always taken such a principled position, participating in the processes of developing agreements between the warring parties based on the knowledge, experience, and critical analysis of its employees (EHRENFELD, 1994).
Perhaps for Kazakhstani higher education, too, it is time to go beyond the campus, conferences, discussions, slogans and flash mobs into a world filled with real, not simulated problems and situations. Preserving the stability and safety of our nature today, we give our future generations a chance to see it with their own eyes, and not to learn about its former beauty from the stories of old-timers.
1- The Nature Conservancy. Nature in the Urban Century. Booming cities raise the stakes for biodiversity—here’s how smart urban planning can serve people and nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/nature-in-the-urban-century/ Accessed on 18.11.2018
2- The Sustainable Development Agenda. 2015. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/ Accessed on 22.11.2018.
3- World University Ranking UI. 2018. Retrieved from http://greenmetric.ui.ac.id/ Accessed on 22.11.2018.
4- Interesting Engineering. 2018. Retrieved from https://interestingengineering.com/top-17-greenest-university-campuses-around-the-world/ Accessed on 22.11.2018
5- Tazhibayeva, T., Salnikov, V., Polyakova, S. 2017. Green Office – The Basis of Sustainable Development of Modern University // Electronic scientific publication “Sustainable development: science and practice” vol. № 1. Retrieved from http://pps.kaznu.kz/kz/Main/FileShow2/94651/101/2/6/0 Accessed on18.11.2018.
6- Ehrenfeld, J.1994. Industrial Ecology and Design for Environment: The Role of Universities. The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems. 1994. Pp. 228-240. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/2129/chapter/23 Accessed on 18.11.2018.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.