“Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a science fiction movie,” Dr. Mitchell Thomashow told Capilano University leaders and educators who gathered to hear him speak about the future of environmental learning at lunchtime, Jan. 27. Many of the alarming things he’d read could happen to the planet have happened.

While Thomashow, an author, educator, environmentalist and former college president, highlighted that the earth may have entered the Anthropocene—a new geological age shaped by human impact on the biosphere—he didn’t want his mention of being in the midst of the “sixth mega-extinction” and “plunging declines in biodiversity” to be a downer.

Instead, Thomashow noted both the environmental challenges and the opportunities he sees on the horizon.

The fact that we’re living on an increasingly urban planet isn’t all bad, Thomashow says. The forecast that seven of 10 people in the world will live in cities by 2050 will likely likely slow extinction.

Thomashow, who showcased numerous images of vibrant street art painted by his son, Jake Seven, maintains our urban worlds don’t have to accommodate growing populations in drab and impersonal boxes.

He shared images of pink, yellow, white, blue and gold buildings designed by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser to illustrate that buildings can be beautiful. He urged university leaders to encourage public art on campus to make Capilano University’s already beautiful campus “funky” and even more attractive to students.

“We have to take down some of the barriers that shackle our public spaces,” Thomashow said.

The self-described “gabby” baby boomer chats with young people he meets and is amazed by the skills and savvy he encounters.

Thomashow met one young man who builds websites part of the year and travels the rest. What did this website designer study at university? Nothing related to creating websites.

“They just figure it out,” Thomashow said. “So what do they need us for?”

University curriculum needs to change with the times, he says. His “fantasy curriculum” would include biosphere studies, social networking and change management, the ecological imagination, sustainability life skills and urban environments.

Not sure what that means?

Find out more at Thomashow’s talk, The Future of Environmental Learning: Why it Matters, tonight, January 27, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts. Admission to this talk, which is presented by CapUWorks/Earthworks, is free of charge.

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About Dr. Mitchell Thomashow

Thomashow’s first two books, Ecological Identity and Bringing the Biosphere Home, significantly influenced environmental studies education. His newest book is The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus. He’s the former president of Unity College in Maine. Currently, Thomashow is a Sustainability Fellow at Philanthropy Northwest in Seattle and an associate faculty member at Royal Roads University in Victoria.