People of SFU

Empowering the next generation of climate leaders: Q&A with SFU professor Mark Jaccard

December 22, 2021

To empower the next generation of climate leaders, Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM) Director and Distinguished SFU Professor Mark Jaccard combines the personal and the political in his upcoming course, REM 350 - Energy Management for a Sustainable Climate and Society.

Drawing from various disciplines and weaving in real-world examples, Jaccard and his students examine individual and collective actions necessary to transform our world from climate crisis to a brighter more resilient future.

Courses like Jaccard’s reflect the university’s deepened commitment to sustainability and climate action. Recognized as a global leader in sustainability, SFU set ambitious emission reduction targets for the United Nations-backed Race To Zero campaign and launched a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) website to highlight our role in advancing the UN’s SDGs.

Jaccard shares what students will gain from REM 350 and how climate research at SFU moves beyond traditional ways of thinking and doing.

Tell us about your course REM 350 – Energy Management for a Sustainable Climate and Society.

The course is for anyone who wants to better understand the challenge of climate change and become more effective as an agent of change. I am trying to treat the climate emergency with the urgency that it deserves. To walk the talk.

Young people are engaging with climate justice in a way that we have not seen with previous generations. How is your course relevant to current times and younger generations?

The course empowers young people so that their personal and collective efforts are more strategic and therefore more effective. Together, we examine a variety of real-world case studies relevant to SFU students. We address how an academic institution like SFU can eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with travel to our commuter campuses by 2030. We also study how to achieve an effective and fair global climate agreement, sustainable cities and clean energy development for Indigenous communities.

SFU students from any discipline may enroll in REM 350. Why is this important to you?

In the 10 years of offering this course, I have gradually modified the syllabus to draw in the widest possible range of students (humanities, natural sciences and social sciences). My logic is that all universities should have a basic course on the climate problem and its solutions that all students are encouraged to take. Thus, the course has no pre-requisites, but should help non-experts quickly get to a base level in several disciplines—climate science, thermodynamics, resource assessment, understanding key technologies, basic economics for assessing our options, climate policy options, global diplomacy and psychology, sociology and political science—for understanding the critical challenges of a global threat and its solutions.

What will students gain from your course on climate change?

Most people admit they are confused about what personal actions are most important for reducing their GHG emissions. In REM 350, students learn to identify and focus on the few key technological and behavioural changes that can today decrease their emissions by 90 per cent.

To take one example, students currently driving gasoline cars have more options than they might realize, including transit, active mobility, sharing an electric vehicle with family and friends or buying a second-hand electric vehicle.