If you are keeping up with the recent developments in the lines of COP 22, you’ll know that the countries that signed it, along with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate change, have been in a conference in Morocco, discussing the role of education in achieving mass momentum to tackle climate change.
This is vital if we are going to bring down greenhouse emissions and prevent environmental degradation in our endless quest for economic development. The role of education was recognized and highlighted in Article 12 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Why is environmental education important?
Education affects how we think, believe and act. It is a conditioning process that enables a child to “fit in” to this very strange world. In this regard, environmental education has been one area where we have been lacking. It is probably one of the reasons the world in the state that it is today.
If you are not of the 90’s generation and later, you will not have heard phrases like “climate change”, “environmentalism”, “environmental protection”, “biodiversity” and “sustainable development” in your school days. That is being reflected in the functioning of the world today; most decision makers are desperately grappling to understand the complexity of climate change and environmental degradation and it’s effect. They cannot understand the functioning of nature, and prefer to stick with the superficial laws protecting the environment. They have been bred with the ideology of capitalism, to chase their dreams of economic prosperity and not worry about the side-effects. We cannot afford to think like that anymore. The current generations, need to change.
Concepts of sustainable development were floated around in the early part of the 21st century education curriculum. However, these concepts were riddled with capitalistic undertones. Pursuing activities that protect the environment without harming the development of the country….you’ve got to admit that reeks of capitalism. This is not true environmental education. I have stressed about the need to severe our ties with capitalism before we embark on true environmentalism in a previous post.
Unbiased environmental education is a medium with which we can rid this capitalistic mindset and move towards ecological balance. It helps students understand an environmental problem, how we are causing it and its consequences. With improved environmental and ecological literacy, the current generation will be more inclined to take bold decisions in favor of environmental protection. Everything from litter management, energy consumption, environmental pollution to large scale ecological damage can be better understood; leading to better management decisions by the future government bodies.
Better understanding will lead to better decisions; ultimately leading to ecological harmony with societal prosperity.
How can effective environmental education be achieved?
Article 12 of the Paris Agreement states that..“Parties shall cooperate in taking measures… to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information…”
A well-thought out, comprehensive environmental education system will be able to achieve all of the terms in that line after environmental education. Therefore, this is the first and the most important step.
A successful education regime will need to have-
- A thorough explanation of the social implications of ecological degradation
What people do not understand is that our economies are based on environmental goods. Everything around you RIGHT NOW is from some source in the environment. Ecosystem services amount to over $1.3 trillion every year. Without these services, we absolutely cannot enjoy our current standards of living.
Especially countries with overpopulation and poverty issues will suffer because of the environmental crisis, because they are more directly connected with the environment. Africa, South and South-East Asia and the Latin American countries are likely to be the first to feel the effects of climate change on their life. Increasingly extreme weather conditions will impact their agricultural produce, water and food resources. In Bangladesh, rising sea levels have already caused widespread alarm.
Climate change, if not tackled, will cause homelessness and a massive (not to mention violent) grapple for basic living amenities.
- Interdisciplinary approach
I have mentioned the need for such an approach in science in a previous post. It is even more important in environmental education. Ecology is highly interconnected (you will know this if you read any 5 posts on my blog). Consequences of one tiny activity ripples across dimensions of space and time, affecting millions of things large and small. An interdisciplinary approach will ensure that students appreciate this multidimensional aspect of ecology and seek to understand the multitude of consequences arising from environmental degradation.
Consequences of one tiny activity ripples across dimensions of space and time, affecting millions of things large and small.
- Proactive approach
A hands on experience will etch itself in the minds of children. This will remain more vivid than anything a classroom and a textbook will teach. If students can learn by doing, it will greatly improve their understanding of nature. In India, for example, the Paryavaran Mitra programme, launched in 2010, builds on this concept by promoting the value of ‘learning by doing’. It developed a network of young ‘friends of the environment’ and currently reaches over 220,000 schools as well as government and civil society partners. It has helped thousands of kids look and feel the environment, and feel the full impact of environmental degradation.
Such initiatives need to start all over the world, and needs to be followed as diligently as a seminar on economics from a prominent figure (like Raghuram Rajan, for instance). Kids can be taken to sites of degradation and see the consequences; they can also be taken to sites or restoration and appreciate the need for such activities.
The week-long conference in Morocco has validated that environmental education is not something to be questioned; it is to be taken seriously by all the governments as the first step to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.
- Word Education Blog-article on the importance of environmental education.
- You can also check out this post for more on “whole school” approach to environmental education. It’s a short and simple article.
- Here’s another post from the World Education Blog on changing our economic strategies through lifelong learning.
- Climate and Capitalism article on environmental education, by Ivonaldo Leite.
- UNICEF report on environmental education.