Consider a Coursera Class

Nature’s beauty is a bonus!

I recently wrapped up my first Coursera class, on sustainability. Coursera partners with top universities around the world to offer online classes in a wide range of topics including Humanities, Medicine, Social Sciences, Biology and Math. And it’s free! My class had 26,000 students, imagine how many more people are improving their lives and communities by learning through this online school and others.
The Sustainability class was tough! We all read, watched lectures, took quizzes and wrote essays in response to a discussion question each week. These discussions were posted so students could see what others were saying and engage in dialogue. The eight week class was taught by Professor Tompkin of the University of Illinois. I’m sure everyone is getting tired of hearing about “my class”, but truly it altered the way I look at the world.
Issues of sustainability do not belong to those on the fringes who admit to hugging trees. Issues of sustainability belong to everyone living on this planet and all of our descendents. I learned that some of the problems that seem most overwhelming, such as overpopulation are actually taking care of themselves, and that other problems such as the frequently scoffed at notion of global warming, are already costing us billions of dollars per year. Never mentioned in any of the presidential or vice presidential debates, this thorny predicament threatens our very existence.
We covered climate change in week four, and learned the science around ecological services, those processes associated with biological systems that also happen to provide for human life. Natural systems form soil and cycle nutrients allowing us to grow food, they sustain us with fresh water, fuel, fibers, recreational opportunities and regulation of climate, floods and disease. We humans are completely dependent on biodiversity and the sustained integrity of the earth’s ecological systems. We don’t need a class to learn this, yet news about how creeping climate changes affect habitats and extinctions or even good things like advances in renewable technologies seem to never make primetime.
After two months of intensive learning the final discussion question came down to this: do you think we have what it takes to turn things around, to learn to live without carbon emissions, to stop habitat destruction and pollution and to put natural systems ahead of material gain? Sadly, the class was not optimistic.
However, I see in the paper today that tiny Qatar a Gulf nation among the worlds highest in per capita green house gas emissions, is hosting the U.N. Climate Change Conference in November. It will take place in their newly constructed convention center, one of the most environmentally sound buildings on the planet. CEO Ali al-Khalifa of the project management company stated, “We want to change people’s mindsets. We are part of this earth.”


One response to “Consider a Coursera Class

  1. Stars in your crown, Mz. Gail! I am so happy that you are addressing this issue if the “big guys” insist on ignoring it for now. I am encouraged that the class is offered and that 26000 other people felt the need and answered the demand of the class….drops in the ocean, perhaps, but drops that add up just the same. Please write more about your learnings in sustainability!

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