The coming of age of environmental education and its newtracks for the 21st century *.

Author:Atchia, Michael


This paper first reviews some major steps in the development of environmental education, mainly in the light of the major UN conferences (Belgrade, Tbilisi, Moscow, Rio, leading to the forthcoming Rio+10 in South Africa). It then highlights the contribution of the University of Salford to the environmental movement from way back in 1969. The paper analyses the way in which environmental education can contribute to conflict resolution and peace, arguing that a derelict environment In which to live, the absence of caring for that environment and pressure on scarce or diminishing natural resources are major potential sources of conflict. The paper reviews the basic causes of conflict and the principles and practice of conflict prevention and resolution. If one wishes to eliminate a major potential cause of conflict and hence help achieve peace, the line of action to follow is, in a nutshell, to "learn about the environment and teach others". The absence of education (basic, artistic, scientific and environmental) is, after all, the earliest warning of oncoming conflict, while the destruction of the environment and the resource base of people's livelihood is a sure indicator of oncoming strife and conflict. Some guidelines for environmental education appropriate to the 21st century are proposed.

  1. Glossary

    Education: In civilizations, a process of transmission from one generation to the next of acquired knowledge, concepts and skills, a process which leads to the personal development of the learner.

    Pedagogy: The science and art of facilitating and guiding learning.

    Restoration: To return a degraded ecosystem (or culture, community or painting) to its original condition.

    Sustainable development: Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacities of supporting ecosystems and supporting built-up systems (Atchia, November 2000).

    Intergenerational equity: Affirming the rights of future generations and our obligations to them (Kumar, 1993).

    Social equity: Confirming the rights of groups formerly on the periphery of decision-making (Kumar, 1993).

    Ecological integrity: Maintaining the global life support system (Kumar, 1993).

    Cumulative effects: The total aggregated impact of many small, individual (often unrelated) impacts over a period of time. The term is equally valid in the environmental field as in the field of conflict build-up and resolution.

  2. Environmental Education--A short history

    Planet Earth is the only place in the solar system and indeed in the universe known to sustain life.

    Starting from the "primeval soup" of organic molecules and one-celled organisms some 4,000 million years ago, evolution has produced, through mutation and natural selection, a bewildering diversity of life on Earth.

    Humanity as part and parcel of this biodiversity has brought "consciousness" and conscious thinking to the biosphere. Armed with these "superior powers," but unfortunately still reacting in the old ways of the "survival of the fittest", humanity has ended in laying waste large areas of the planet and seriously modifying its natural regenerative cycles of climate, freshwater, temperature, currents, reproductions and migrations. The effect of human action and impact has been further multiplied by an exponential human population explosion and by a changing individual human life-style, which makes increasing demands on the earth for energy, material and space, as well as producing mountains of increasingly toxic, non-biodegradable waste.

    The history of environmental thinking dates back from early civilizations in Greece, India, China and Mesopotamia, and later the Aztecs and Incas, to mention but a few. The disappearance of civilizations in Mesopotamia and the Indus valley due to climate change and the over-exploitation of water resources is well documented. The Renaissance period in Europe brought in renewed concerns about nature, reflected in the painting, poetry, sculpture and architecture of the day. The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, culminating in a century of war and technology (the twentieth century), has left Planet Earth and even its protective outer space shield (the ozone layer) with quasi-permanent damage.

    It is noteworthy how many indigenous cultures possess knowledge of their environment far in advance of those who visited or colonised them. The destruction of such cultures and civilizations when it occurred was a tremendous loss for humanity, fortunately compensated for today by the search for and recognition of indigenous environmental knowledge and its incorporation into school curricula.

    The history of the environmental movement can be traced in two ways. The first is through writers whose publications have been influential, for example:

    Aldo Leopold (1949)--A Sand County Almanac

    Jean Dorst (1970)--Before Nature Dies

    Donella H. Meadows et al. (1972)--The Limits to Growth

    E. P. Odum (1963)--Ecology

    Vance Packard (1963)--The Waste Makers

    Rachel Carson (1970)--Silent Spring

    Oliver Goldsmith et al. (1972)--A Blueprint for Survival

    Barry Commoner (1966)--Science and Survival

    R. E. Roth (1969)--Fundamental Concepts for Environmental Management Education

    UNESCO-UNEP (1975)--Belgrade Charter

    UNESCO-UNEP (1977)--Tbilisi Declaration

    The second way to trace environmental history is through a review of major conferences on the theme, starting with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and the subsequent events, many of which were UN initiated. At Stockholm the plight of Planet Earth was revealed, as well as a rift between developed and developing countries, the latter taking the stand that the call for nature protection would prevent their development. Adopting a narrow, nationalistic perspective, some participants at the Stockholm Conference remarked that those who called for the protection of forests in Amazonia, Congo and the East Indies had already devastated a large part of their own forests, be it in North-West Europe, Japan or the...

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