I come from a developing country, the one that holds 10% of the world’s biodiversity in just a tiny space of land, so it seemed natural for me to become an environmentalist. I studied economics, environment and development. I became a professional conservationist but always from an integral perspective: helping people protect their environment while enhancing their livelihoods. What I did was helping donors in identifying opportunities to help communities improve their livelihoods while protecting natural resources. I began working on this 10 years ago when legislation support and willingness were on the rise. However, in the last 2 years things have changed and the new government instead of thinking about how to use our resources sustainably, decided that mining and extraction were the best options for achieving development in a country such as mine. Why did they decide that? Well I think it was because commodities became as valuable as gold and that meant lots of money for the economy, and money equals development. Very simple.
In the meantime,, environmentalists working on biodiversity conservation with communities had to deal with an additional threat to biodiversity besides unsustainable livelihood practices: big companies not only looking for oil but also coal, copper and gold. And because of a tragic "coincidence" these minerals seem to be buried exactly under the most diverse and fragile ecosystems.
Besides this, the materials being extracted are not the best for the environment either, given its current state. For example the coal extracted from the Andean mountain range, goes to dirty energy production; gold, well, it goes to the teeth of some eccentric singer who thinks it looks good in his mouth. Not vital at all if I may add. But the consequences of this extraction are permanent both in social and ecological terms.
What could we do, working with extremely limited resources against billion size companies that can come to these remote places and just offer a couple thousand dollars and buy the land from people, increasing their income but forcing them into unhealthy urban settlements that seem to be an indicator of development. In my case, I concluded that not much. If businesses do not understand the importance of the environment, if they keep on just extracting, extracting and dumping and dumping there is not money that can protect ecosystems and communities. At that moment I decided that the economic model needed to really change. A crazy idea, especially in a developing country which is just doing what countries before us did, following the path to development.
I knew something could be done because I have seen how developed countries had been recently recognising their mistakes and are doing something about it so I decided to do some research and I found my master in Industrial Ecology. I had never heard before about the term but what I read in the MIND homepage was exactly what I was looking for: a way our economic model could move from a linear model to a closed loop one. But this is just one of the newer programs and here I want to list all the options curious environmentalists or aware recent graduates have to deeper understand the challenges, opportunities and requirements a transition to a circular economy entails from an industrial ecology perspective:
Master in Industrial Ecology at University of Leiden and TU Delft (MSc), The Netherlands: according to its website this program “trains students in analysis, methodology, design, and implementation of societal activities, with the aim of minimising the environmental impact of these activities while maintaining their functionality”.
Master in Industrial Ecology at Chalmers University of Technology (MSc), Sweden: in the website it is stated that “the program aims to equip students with the competencies, knowledge and tools needed to analyze environmental impacts and resource constraints, to suggest and develop measures and to plan, lead, evaluate and follow up the effects of measures related to for example product development, land and resource use, energy systems, and large-scale urban planning processes.”
MSc in Industrial Ecology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway: as it is presented in its website, the program “focus is on state-of-the-art methods for environmental systems analysis and strategies for policy and management, as well as on the application of such strategies and methods to critical systems.”
Master of Science in Industrial Ecology and the Environment, Mahidol University, Thailand: As it is stated in their home page, “the Programme aims to prepare graduates who have a high competency in industrial ecology and environmental management to meet the demands of industry, government, consultancy and public sectors. It will provide a comprehensive understanding of various facets that comprise industrial ecology, urban ecology, and environmental management, how they interrelate with each other and how integrated approaches are often necessary to achieve the desired results.”
Erasmus Mundus Master in Industrial Ecology, University of Leiden, TU Delft, University of Graz, Chalmers University, Asian Institute of Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology and Waseda University, Europe: the aim of this joint program is “to offer an international and interdisciplinary Master's programme at the highest level, which allows the participants to make an essential contribution to understanding and proposing solutions to problems in order to support the transition towards a sustainable society.”
This is not an exhaustive list but rather a first collection of programs that are already contributing to this transition. Please add any other programs you think need to be mentioned here.