The threat posed to humankind by increased incidences of drought, cyclones, floods, hailstorms and heat waves has made climate change a salient subject anywhere in the world.
Climate change is a scientific issue as much as it is a political issue and a communication issue.
This means that people must have a multidimensional approach when dealing with it. Everyone must be involved in climate change. This is why, within the circles of the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change, a policy-centric approach is often mentioned.
Universities are known as centres of knowledge involved in research that must guide communities or societies on what to do about socio-economic issues that confront them, including climate change. It is, therefore, important that university students form an integral part of the solutions to challenges brought about by climate change.
Universities should come up with solutions, data and useful information concerning climate change and how it is affecting human life.
University students must play a central role in research or projects on ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As most of the students constitute the younger generation, they must be ambassadors on climate change issues to students and youth because the benefits of mitigation, adaptation or saving electricity in their residences are better understood if communicated by their peers.
Students come from many different communities where they observe and experience the effects of climate change first hand.
The students can play a major role in disseminating information from universities – centres of learning and research – to the communities where they come from. Students are the only group of people that can easily be managed to create groups on environmental problems and climate-related issues to create awareness in different communities as part of their learning.
It is also very important that students have platforms to present or air their views as part of finding solutions to climate change.
While universities are doing a lot to teach and conduct research on climate change, my concern is that much of the work is confined within academic spaces.
A student might conduct research on climate change that is relevant to adaptation and mitigation, but the results of his or her research will be accessed or understood only by those who have access to the particular university.
For example, I was involved in a project on indigenous knowledge systems recently and, if we publish a book on the project, only those that have access to my university can get to know what indigenous knowledge systems involve.
So, there is a need for ways to disseminate the information beyond the confines of the university and to create awareness of the issues that are investigated.
Besides including climate change in the curriculum, universities need to carry out more outreach programmes in which they can disseminate information and observations to the communities about the research they have conducted.
This is where ecolinguistics – which is the understanding of language use and its relationship to the wider ecological environment – becomes very important. There is a need to understand what language is doing to contribute to environmental sustainability, what language is doing to increase the ambition of people to act or what language is doing to increase urgency in undertaking climate-related activities.
In the study of sociolinguistics, the focus is usually on understanding the relationship between language and society in general but beset with the various challenges of climate change on society, there is a need to go beyond just society and to look at the ecological context in which language occurs to ensure the sustainability of the environment.
Archieford Mhondera, a PhD student, and Tonderayi Mukeredzi, a regular contributor to University World News, co-wrote the blog.
Archieford Mhondera is a PhD student at the University of Zimbabwe. His thesis focuses on climate change issues, specifically the implementation matrix of the Paris Agreement in Zimbabwe.