Environmental educators are some of the most important people on our planet. I can take it a step further by confidently stating that environmental educators may be that one group of humans who can save humanity from total destruction in the next 50 years. [ http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/book_files/pb4book.pdf ] Those of you who are environmental educators have the power to advance your legacy with a sense of caring for our Earth. Equally important, you have the power to instill a human consciousness of deep interdependency with Nature. Equipped with this new ecological consciousness and literacy, the generations that follow you will have the power to change the grim projections of human destruction of the very home in which they live and depend upon.
The most important conservation strategy that we can implement is environmental education programs that build both a human consciousness and an ecological literacy for Nature and Her interdependent character.
An increasing and unsustainable human population is consuming the earth’s resources as if there was an infinite supply of these finite resources. Within the next 50 years, the human race is in danger of destruction. There is an intense dialog within conservation science that is documented in a paper entitled “The Battle For The Soul Of Conservation Science“. The two conservation strategies that are featured in this paper do not address the potential crisis that may be coming in 50 years. One strategy assumes that human technology will overcome the issue of overconsumption. Little is said about man’s disconnection from Nature as the possible cause for a crisis.
Gus Speth, a US advisor on climate change, said:
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places”, offers his perspective:
“It is not the greed of multinational corporations with their vicious bulldozers, chain saws, and oil rigs that consume resources, but rather individuals like you and me creating these insatiable demands. The real problem is our many nonnegotiable needs for fuel, transportation, our modest twelve-hundred-square-foot houses, and worse, the incessant demand for industrially grown food that requires the proliferation of strip mines, chemical companies, and the mind boggling complexity of the energy and transportation networks. Each of us standing on the brink of our own individual crisis fuels these insatiable demands“
In addition to ignoring an exponential and unsustainable human population growth, humans have come to believe that they can predict and control Nature. With this belief comes the false idea that humans are not dependent upon anything. Sustainability guru Justin Mog says:
“It may be that we live in an age of hyper-connectivity and “big data,” but I contend that the fundamental reason why we’ve managed to construct the most highly unsustainable culture the Earth has ever seen is precisely because we have not been taught to see the connections“.
The underlying force of all life on Earth is the flow of energy.
The key word in this quote is “connections“. The underlying force of all life on Earth is the flow of energy. Without energy flow, life would not exist. Life’s energy flows through highly interconnected networks of chemical and physical conduits such as our body’s digestive system, our network of veins and arteries, and Earth’s ecosystems. This energy flow network, that starts with our sun, consists of highly complex energy flow networks throughout Nature at all levels. If pieces of this interdependent network are altered or destroyed, life as we know it would be changed or destroyed. The preservation this network is not addressed in modern conservation strategies. Yet, it is easily taught in the classroom and demonstrated during hands-on, place-based student visits with Nature.
Peter Karieva, formerly Chief Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, has said:
” For better or worse, people’s attitudes and actions help shape the world that will be left behind for future generations…The “public is becoming increasingly indifferent to environmental issues… The fate of Nature and people are deeply intertwined…. Conservation will be a durable success only if people support conservation goals.”
As Gus Speth points out, scientists ( including those mentioned in the papers I just noted) do not know how to solve the problem of human indifference toward a sustainable Nature, but environmental educators do know the solution. It is my contention that environmental educators are very important people in modern times because they have the power to build a consciousness in young people (and maybe their parents) that may prevent the crises that face humanity in 50 years.
The challenges that face environmental educators are:
- Human indifference to Nature.
- A lack of ecological literacy concerning subjects such as Nature’s energy networks.
- The absence of a legacy – connections to parents and to future generations.
Perhaps human indifference is the biggest challenge that faces environmental educators. I submit that the building of ecological ethics in our youth is an important first step. An “environmental ethic” is a guideline for behavior that is based on scientific fact. An environmental ethic is the connection of facts that are first learned in the classroom, then practiced through outdoor experiential activities, and ultimately coupled with with human behavior in the world of Nature. It is a powerful thing for a young person to be able to sit with family and talk about how everything in Nature, including we humans, is interdependent. It is equally powerful when that young student supports his or her statement with facts about the vital energy flow between all things in Nature. In doing so, both human indifference and ecological literacy are addressed. It is up to the environmental educator to bring each student to that point where this scenario is possible. This activity might include inviting the parents on those field trips where hands-on, place-based education takes place. In my view, human indifference can be addressed by presenting material to both students and parents that emphasize three ideas:
- Teach the idea of earth as a “living system“.
- Emphasize the characteristics of an energy flow network.
- Offer simple methods for analyzing and preserving the energy flow connections in an ecosystem.
Legacy is something that is transmitted to a future or earlier generation.
As environmental educators, your students (and perhaps their parents) are your legacy where you pass on fact, ethic, and a consciousness for humanity’s interdependence with Nature. A great example of legacy in environmental education is the LEAF program offered by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). LEAF is an environmental education program offered to students who live in cities. TNC states:
“Many former LEAF interns have continued with their passion for conservation, and are now working in the field as national park rangers, environmental engineers, environmental science teachers, and in careers helping to connect future generations to nature at some of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Over 30 percent of surveyed LEAF alumni go on to pursue environmental careers, and over 50 percent volunteer for environmental causes in their communities.”
In the formal sense, I am neither a trained teacher nor an environmental educator. I am a biologist who has taught at the university level. I have mentored groups of high school students as they developed their own environmental education programs for introducing Nature to primary students. I have rubbed shoulders with numerous educators as I have written my blog essays and books. This all speaks well for osmosis because it is through my contacts with environmental educators that my ideas about conservation and environmental education have grown. To all of you who have guided me, I am deeply grateful !!!
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.