Environmental education

We have come a long way in a very short time from a point in human evolution where ecology and culture were as one. Looking back less than a century we see fading images of native peoples with lives that revolved around the circling year. Their demands were made on a regional ecosystem in which they moved from site to site according to the richness of place and season. At the extreme, whole communities migrated to find maximum abundance through minimum work.   Having alternatives and choosing only the resources that were plentiful meant that no single species became over-used.  These were societies at one with ecological patchiness. Biodiversity meant abundance, stability, and a regular supply of the things that kept them alive.  Management of resources meant the management in families of hunting and collecting.  The key elements of culture were flexibility of resources and the mobility to find them. All education was environmental education, which was needed to instil the practical skills necessary to apply biology of human inclusivity to local ecosystems.  Place names tell where plants could be gathered, shellfish collected, mammals found, fish caught or reeds harvested.  Then, agrarian fixity replaced native mobility, and this separated people from ecology through ideas of property, wealth and, above all, fences. Education to exploit nature instilled the practical skills necessary to sustain permanent settlements, maximise productivity, and transport commodities for profit.  As world development gathered momentum, demands for resources met through applied science replaced requests for deities to support family and community.
Nature has always seeded values in society because it comprises the outcomes of creation in which we know we are an integral part of a unique cosmic wholeness.  This is why nature has to be taken seriously as a third partner in the business of development along with labour and monetary capital, because human history and natural history are part of the same comprehensive cosmic process.  It is therefore an important task for educationalists to develop a new biology of qualities and inclusivity.  This stands in sharp contrast to the old biology of exploitation that emphasises competition, selfishness and survival, and is encapsulated in the myth of the selfish-gene.  Its applications are to realise the five points of the Berne Draft Resolution about ‘rights of nature’, which is really an educational manifesto for non-violence towards the environment.

·        Nature-animate or inanimate- has a right to existence i.e. to preservation and development.
·        Nature has a right to the protection of its ecosystems and of the network of species and populations.
·        Animate nature has a right to the preservation and development of its genetic inheritance.
·        Living beings have a right to life in accordance with their species, including procreation, in the ecosystems appropriate to them.
·        Interventions in nature need to be justified….
Local consumption now has global implications and in 1974 the United Nations called upon all interested bodies to promote ‘learning for living‘ so that people and business could become communities of stakeholders in local plans for sustainable development.  Learning for living means growing up in a community where learning is a neighbourhood participatory process dedicated to families and individuals taking responsibility for the quality of their own environment.  Their roles are as families, employers, employees, producers, consumers, and taxpayers, functioning as one community whilst sharing ideas and experiences among the millions populating the earth.   The local management of sustainable development requires everybody taking up their rights to understand fully the necessity of the economy of which they are a part.  This means that learning should be targeted towards a personal body of knowledge focused on gaining an awareness of environmental obligations to others, and to the natural world.  The culture of a community is a dynamic association of livelihoods, skills and environment. Participatory involvement requires a broad understanding of how environment, economy and community are integrated.  In particular, information is required about who benefits from the fruits of work, who benefits from what is bought and sold, and the degree to which consumerism enhances or degrades the local environmental inheritance. This neighbourhood knowledge system is then applied to support a local culture of ecological collaboration in conservation management systems for sustainable development.  These target the environmental impact of the circulation of goods, people, raw materials, messages and money.
In 1977, the UK Department of Education and Science suggested that reasonable expectations of such a knowledge system were that citizens should:
·        view their neighbourhood with an eye both appreciative and critical;
·        understand something of the processes of their physical world;
·        have a basic knowledge of their local biodiversity;
·        understand something of the local economy, technological planning and political process, which affect community livelihoods and use of the environment;
·        have a degree of insight into environments of other communities, livelihoods, lifestyles and predicaments;
·        understand something of the interdependence of communities and the nature of their resource bases;
·        develop attitudes of concern towards their neighbourhood and the neighbourhoods of others;
·        have a basis on which to participate in decisions affecting their neighbourhood environment and view their actions as part of the cultural history of the community;
·        know about the policies of local non-government agencies;
·        participate in grass-roots input to national decision-making. 
Unfortunately, the adoption of a UK national curriculum dedicated to passing examinations set within traditional subject divisions, has obscured the fact that traditional subjects are inadequate navigational aids to support the 1977 expectations for a citizen’s curriculum. It was an opportunity missed.  
Another disadvantage of the old subject divisions is that they are barriers to holistic systems thinking.  Industrial exploitation of natural resources involves many production lines, blending and separating in multipinnate schemes, often of great complexity, which eventually converge as goods and services.  Consumption in a supermarket economy, which is alienated from neighbourhood, is represented by diverging connections from far distant producing agencies that converge on collections of households. 
One of the first examples of the need for the educational system to produce a mind-set and confidence for crossing traditional academic boundaries were the practical problems of establishing the Weija Reservoir in Ghana. This water storage project, created in 1977 on the Densu River, is approximately 116 km long.   The objective of this massive scheme was to provide a water supply for more than two million inhabitants of the rapidly growing city of Accra.  To obtain a practical body of knowledge applicable to evaluate the impact of this enterprise required assembling an information database encompassing the following topics:
·        National Debt;
·        population growth;
·        migration;
·        sacred land;
·        agrochemical runoff;
·        soil erosion;
·        eutrophication;
·        flooding;
·        extinction of indigenous communities;
·        bilharzias disease;
·        flooding;
·        population growth;
·        urbanisation;
·        water-borne waste disposal;
·        costs of water treatment;
·        donor politics.
This list shows the diversity of specialised information required for learning about local interactions between communities and their ecology.  Only this broad approach can produce an understanding of how people position themselves in the landscape in order to obtain a steady input of natural resources.  In a pre-industrial setting, stability of sedentary communities was maintained through a flow of information and skills between generations to turn these resources into goods and produce an economic surplus.  This ecological view of society invokes the notion of ‘carrying capacity” defined as the maximum number of people that can be supported in a specific environment for a given mode of production.  Major limitations occur when a population increases, either through immigration or indigenous reproduction, beyond the limits imposed by the local economic carrying capacity.  This type of cultural crisis is exemplified by the fate of the Easter Islanders.  For modern urbanised societies, crises occur when the flow of resources is no longer adequate to provide jobs for the existing population.  The concept of a cultural trajectory describes these contemporary economic upheavals in terms of a rise and fall of regional cultures based on changes in the market for locally produced goods.  The local economy fails either because the resources are eventually exhausted, or customers are lost to competing communities offering cheaper and/or better products.  The U.K. communities of Lowestoft, South Wales and the Isle of Bute exemplify cultural trajectories experienced during the last one hundred years.  The end of the industrial mass netting of fish by Lowestoft’s fleet of trawlers came in August 2002.  It marked the demise of the British fishing industry that at one time was the greatest in the world.  Similarly, the South Wales coal mines, for a brief period at the turn of the 19th century, supplied most of the world’s energy needs.  Now only one pit remains out of scores that supported hundreds of thousands of miners in the coal valleys.  The Isle of Bute was once the annual holiday centre for tens of thousands of families of Clyde ship builders.  They were transported in their masses by train and steam-powered paddleboats to every point on Bute’s east coast that could support a pier head.   This profitable tourist trade collapsed with the advent of cheap mass air transport to Mediterranean resorts, a trip that guaranteed a reliable combination of sun, sea and sand for less than the cost of a traditional British seaside holiday.
These examples illustrate general principles of rapid economic change, which leave local communities having to attract new sources of income against a legacy of social deprivation.  The next phase of economic development requires global flows of capital to the cheap labour market.  The first post-coal business cycle in South Wales was large-scale Japanese investment to manufacture electronic goods.  Now these businesses are moving to the cheaper labour markets of Eastern Europe.

It was a recognition that new holistic curricula with economic case histories were needed for coping with living on a crowded planet that led, in the early 1980s, to the creation of the subject of natural economy for the Cambridge International General Certificate in Secondary Education.  A team of academics and schoolteachers invented the new subject to encompass all of the diverse interdisciplinary and cross-cultural traffic of information required for education about the dynamics and issues of world development.  Natural economy was defined as the organisation of resources for production and envisage as being complementary to the well-established subject of political economy that deals with the organisation of people for production.   To create a syllabus, the group took a systems thinking approach to humanity’s position in the evolution of life.  It started with the concept of nature “as including systems behind the existence and arrangement of matter, forces and events, that are not controlled by man, but of which man is a part”.  Natural systems are complex and unpredictable.  They include all environments in which plants, animals and microbes interact with local rocks, soil and climate.  Physical laws govern the orderly interplay between the various parts and these interactions define our planet’s economies of materials and energy.  They involve the heat energy of its core; the kinetic energy of its rotation; the thermal energy of climate; and the food energy of plant, animal, and microbial life cycles. Natural economy therefore sets the scene for the study of industrialisation as a global account of materials and energy supporting human production.  We are part of three interlocking component economies; the planetary economy, which describes effects of the earth’s energy of heat and motion; the solar economy, which describes effects of solar radiation; and the animate economy, which describes the effects of materials and energy flows on populations of organisms living together in ecosystems. We are part of nature and our existence as a species depends upon drawing a continuous supply of resources from the three global economies. 

As the subject of natural economy got underway within the International Baccalaureate, there was a gradual realisation by teachers that the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ owe much to human cultural history, of which mass production technology has occupied a relatively small segment.  To accommodate this, their course materials began to gravitate towards a systems view of the interaction between society and environment.  Also, the teaching of natural economy was influenced by the educational outcomes of the 1992 Rio Environment Summit.  In particular Agenda 21 defined the principles of sustainable development to maintain economic growth of technological societies.  The Local Agenda 21 was placed at the forefront of local planning in communities and it was envisaged that class work in schools serving these communities could help bring these plans to fruition.

Humanity has gained much from its invention of urbanised technological societies.  There can be no going back to primitive ways, and education for urban sustainability, in addition to concentrating on ways of using less, has to develop a biology of inclusivity where creative forces and the created world are not separate or distinct from our day-to-day lives.  Rio encouraged education to carry a message that all forms of life have an intrinsic value and meaning in relation to the tapestry of their ecosystems.  In particular, education for sustainability has to be grounded on a science of qualities that emerge from interactions between parts of organisms, and between organisms and environment.  These qualities are also the basis of the sacredness of particular outcomes of evolution in both species and ecosystems, so that we are linked with bonds of sympathy, mutual recognition and respect to the dappled spots on the coat of a deer, the whorls of a sunflower, and the cracked glaze of a raku pot.  These all have a unity as expressions of the principle of emergence from chaos of unpredictable order and beauty of which art is an important expression.
Art as culture has always aimed at making sense of our ever changing and fraught relation­ship to the material world.  This was clearly stated by the pioneers of abstract art who had an optimistic belief in a future that would be characterized by the ‘spirituality’ of all relationships in nature. The British abstract sculptor Barbara Hepworth drew her ideas from the random shapes in rocks and pebbles, and the standing stones of prehistoric cultures.  In this respect she said: “I am the landscape” and produced works by which she could affirm her own existence and her own mortality. She was in effect cultivating an awareness of intrinsic values in nature.  This has been highlighted down the centuries as the importance of education through art, from Plato to the influential British art critic, Herbert Read, who in the 1940s restated the ancient idea in his book “Education Through Art’.  The importance of teaching the aesthetics of nature is that it makes people reflect on ideas of what is natural and what parts of the environment we all hold and value in common.  Miriam Rothschild in her book  “Butterfly Cooing Like a Dove” made a very personal effort to carry conservation of the environment with its scientific heritage into the literary sphere.  The following quotation is from Rothschild’s book.  It indicates the grace of literary style that can be combined with carefulness of natural observation.  It expresses the continuity of the natural world, and kindles a desire to celebrate and conserve the commonplace life cycles of plants and animals, which define a sense of place. 

“There is something profoundly moving and delightful when, for the first time, a young pigeon spontaneously says its piece word for word and tone perfect, a link in an unbroken chain of gently bubbling sound which has emerged from beneath a canopy of green leaves for thousands of years”.

Small dramas unfold in nature without us seeing them.  Water collected in the bole of an old tree stimulated a 10-year-old Lara Mair to write:-

Collected in the stump of a three-way tree,
Like a transparent blanket
Shaken between two people:
Only no dust is blows up.
Tiny fragments of bark falling,
Like melted icicles,

Gently slide into the water”.

Her teacher says, “Recognitions are exciting and need articulating”.  Old poems, travel books, and autobiographies can resurrect a vanished perspective of how local water features stimulated literary expression in the past.  Recognising a literary connection with nature may become an expressive moment because the discovery can be promulgated to become common property. The term commons, meaning a shared place shared goods and shared values, among people and between people and the natural world, suggests that local natural settings intersecting with local communities can be a source for respect and compassion.
This idea of a commonality of nature was at the centre of an EC LIFE Environment Programme, which, at the end of the 1990s, funded work on the natural economy syllabus by bringing together people and business in order to cooperate in managing the community’s green commons.  This expanded the mind map around a cultural viewpoint that natural values of the environment are imparted by society to define heritage.  The teachers appropriated the name cultural ecology for this new topic tree, for a collection of on-line pages of which natural economy was a part.  Anthropologists to encapsulate the behavioural adaptations of native societies with their environments that made distinctive local cultures had first coined the name in the 1920s. 
Culture is a complex clutch of ideas that a particular society has adopted to live by.  Applying these ideas to religion, art and science influences the way society ‘cultivates’ nature.  For example, the intersection of religion with environment produces moral goods, which have been described as ‘sacramental commons’.  There is also a flow of ideas from our uses of nature into society, which influences culture.  This two-way interaction between environment and society is the ideational topic scaffold described as cultural ecology. Cultural ecology is a more comprehensive educational framework for environmental education than natural economy.   It presents exploitative management of natural resources to meet the needs and wants of life coupled with conservation management of natural resources to maintain their flows and protect special places of an evolving biological diversity and beauty that may be called sacred.  Its eight or so topic headings are classroom slots in a mind map that can be customised with local information, to delineate traffic in men, materials, messages, and law that makes a community’s economy grow yet remain self-sustainable through local management of its inputs and outputs.  Conservation management balances the intrinsic values of nature against its instrumental values, and cultural ecology presents preservationism and resourcism as the two interlinked social movements of world development.   Cultures differ with respect to the formal arrangements for decision-making about the environment prevailing within a definite territory and interacting with different kinds of community units.  Community is defined by local cultural practices and a common neighbourhood history.  The roles of people in social units depend on their distribution as workers within resource systems; their organisation as families and individuals through demands on resources, goods and services; their participation as activists in the process of social development; and their belief as individuals with community bonds and some kind of value system of which humanity is at one with nature and history.
These four economic categories broadly match the four main conceptual pillars of cultural ecology as an educational concept.  They define a community according to the ways in which it exploits resources through production and demand.  They also define its approach to social development.  Today the latter is bound up with the conservation of resources through applications of science to environmental management, and/or, working through nature as one ‘solar economy’, which includes all living things.  Within this holistic educational scheme, communities may be compared under the four headings of ‘distribution’, ‘organisation’, ‘participation’ and ‘belief’.  Distribution maps the community in relation to resources and jobs; organisation describes the lives of families and individuals; participation covers action for local development; and belief is exemplified by respect for living things and a sense of ‘place’. 
Nature conservation is the link between natural economy and political economy.  It is the accounting and management system of biodiversity for communities and governments; a counterbalancing response to economic development and an effort to make markets more harmonious with the dynamics of biophysical economies.   To this end, as living organisms with the rest of nature, we have to audit, protect, and manage the rest of nature upon which we depend.  We have to do this in order to match markets with ecosystems, which provide the natural resources for economic development, and are sources of the non-marketable environmental goods emanating from scenic beauty, and nature study.  There is a need to integrate environmental care and development under the guiding principle of ‘sustainability’. Furthermore, we have to promote the idea that biodiversity is still a vital stock in the human survival kit and make people in all walks of life aware of its vital importance for the future of planet Earth. 

Cultural ecology is the only educational framework broad enough with the necessary flexibility to support a quest to find and answer practical and moral questions about the kind of world we want to live in, what kind of environment it should be and what we have to do as individuals, families, communities and nations to maintain a technological society.

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