Why environmental education isn't enough to create change and improve governance
The existing ecological literacy, or "ecoliteracy," model of simply addressing the knowledge deficit, rather than addressing the real issue of the behavior deficit, has tended to yield highly knowledgeable individuals who, despite their understanding, often fail to take action.
"Knowing that change is needed is clearly not enough to motivate it in most human behavior," writes Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability contributing author Monty Hempel. "Individuals must have a sense of urgency and personal control over prospective outcomes and goal achievement before they will commit to meaningful action or new behaviors."
Scientists today are able to collect information about the health of our planet to an unprecedented extent. Information about global, long-term issues is surfacing out of our data-noisy world. To improve people's ability to understand the complex natural systems that are being affected, there has been a growing focus on improving ecoliteracy. However, as climate change continues to accelerate and biodiversity crises worsen, ecoliteracy alone has proven to be insufficient in the push for bold environmental change.
In his chapter, "Ecoliteracy: Knowledge is Not Enough," Hempel, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Redlands University, states that environmental education should restore nature-based attachment to place and go beyond teaching science--- it should include ethical, cultural, and political dimensions.
"The fundamental sense of connection that people had with the natural world has disappeared in most places," says Hempel. "Restoring ecoliteracy to this connective role and fortifying it with the power of science and widespread recognition of global interdependence is perhaps the greatest challenge of this century."
Poor ecoliteracy remains a sign of crisis in education. But it is also evidence of a deepening crisis in governance. The most vexing problems in contemporary governance, especially at the scale of global environmental issues, stem from the pressures to bypass, distort or dispense with democratic deliberation. In order to deal decisively and quickly with urgent challenges, such as climate change, there are muted but growing political pressures to replace a barely functioning democracy with something closer to technocratic oligarchy.
Governance is about empowering collaboration that produces an expanded sense of what is possible, along with practical strategies to achieve it. In order to yield real results in environmental decision-making and to safeguard the democratic process, ecoliteracy will need to redefine itself more broadly to include action-driven thinking.
Worldwatch's State of the World 2014 investigates the broad concept of "governance" for sustainability, including action by national governments, international organizations, and local communities. The book highlights the need for economic and political institutions to serve people and preserve and protect our common resources.
State of the World 2014's findings are being disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders, including government ministries, community networks, business leaders, and the nongovernmental environmental and development communities. For more information on the project, visit our publications.
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.