June 07, 2007

Environmental education where it belongs

Cardinal Renato Martino, a senior official (if this is the correct way to say it) of the Vatican, agrees with David W. Orr that "wilful" damage of the environment is a sin. He also advocates more environmental education.
We have to start at the level of elementary schools, to make sure children are taught to respect nature and be aware of the problems of the world. We can't wait until they are older. This has to be done naturally in religion classes, in religious groups everywhere. (From Planet Ark.)
Given what goes as environmental education these days I agree that it belongs in religion classes.

6 comments:

  1. Well if the firts step if Environmental Education (EE) is to generate atitudes it wouldn't be a bad thing to include concepts such as the respect for the environment in religion classes.

    This is not say that EE should be about religion, but that religion should have a more environmentally-oriented doctrine.

    On a more prosaic issue: I have linked this blog in the AMBIO blog. Would be fantastic, Marcelino, if you could do the same. No obligation of course.

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  2. Hi Miguel. I was to trying to express the idea that environmental education these days is - or, at best, is like - religion, and thus naturally belongs in religion classes. It teaches a doctrine that mixes true and false beliefs, a feeling of guilt for bads inflicted by ourselves and by others on "the planet," and a liturgy that helps to cancel some of our guilt but does little or nothing to improve the environment.

    I think environmental education should be not about evangelizing people but about using science to satisfy people's curiosity about how the world works.

    Thank you for linking to my blog. I follow the Ambio blog, which I recommend, but for the time being I prefer to have only English-language blogs in my public blogroll.

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  3. Hi Marcelino,

    I think we should distinguish the practice and the the theory of EE (at least the one read long time ago).

    What is it that defines EE? Some bad examples that you have mind? Which are an inevitable result of the "democratization" of EE?

    Or what some thinkers have proposed back in the 80s and that defined EE as a building up of responsible atitudes of citizenship?

    I guess we now live in a different world, with internet, blogs, etc, and we should revise what we learned, but still I find a bit worrying that you make such strogn statements and generalize when the reality of EE is still quite diverse.

    I am not involved with it at the moment but in the late 80s early 90s I was so much involved as having created an EE centre in √Čvora. Clearly our views on EE were quite distant from religion.

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  4. Environmental education may be heterogeneous but the end result I see all around is pretty homogeneous. For example the following set of ideas is very widespread: We humans are depleting the planet's resources. This jeopardizes the future well-being of humanity and is morally wrong. All of us are guilty. We must do something (recycle, save water and electricity, use public transport). None of us does enough.

    I recently asked my students, who are in the fourth year of Biology in college and who generally hold the above set of ideas, whether they are representative of society's attitudes towards the environment. They all said no. But the truth is that they are. Newspapers and political parties express the same ideas.

    I also ask my students to write short essays where they have to reflect on the costs and benefits of different policies. The whole idea is completely alien to them. Nobody has ever cared to explain to them that all of our actions have costs and benefits.

    Evaluating costs and benefits is the rational thing to do. Feeling guilty and doing things just to feel less guilty is not rational. I respect the latter attitude if it is a personal choice, but I don't like it when it translates into irrational policy decisions that affect all of us. Similarly, I respect religion as a matter of personal choice, but I don't like it when it becomes public policy.

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  5. Hi Marcelino,

    Using your words:

    "Environmental education may be heterogeneous but the end result I see all around is pretty homogeneous. For example the following set of ideas is very widespread: We humans are depleting the planet's resources."

    # Isnt't that true?

    "This jeopardizes the future well-being of humanity and is morally wrong."

    Is there any doubt about he first part of the sentence? And the second... doesn't it follow from the first? Isn't morality about setting rules that allow us to better live in society?

    "All of us are guilty."

    # Isn't "responsible" rather than "guilty" the term usually used? Educating for citizenship implies that people understand that they also are responsible for what happens out there.

    "We must do something (recycle, save water and electricity, use public transport)."

    This is good.

    I can't see in your description of EE anything that leads to believe that it is about religion.

    You mention that the concept of cost-benefit analysis is not part of the EE agenda. I don't think this is true.

    I have been myself involved in EE programmes where cost-benefit analysis was the core idea of the games (role plays) developed. But of course the kind of cost-benefit analysis that a kid can do is pretty simple. And often involves simple reasonings.

    Bear in mind that the main role of EE is to generate positive attitudes towards the environment and society. Critical rationality comes with it but does not come first. The first part of EE is about emotions.

    Saying that this pedagogical process is religion is, with due respect, and overly simplication of reality.

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  6. "Isnt't that true?" No, we have more resources than ever.

    "This jeopardizes the future well-being of humanity and is morally wrong." The net effect of our present actions on future generations is positive. Living conditions will get better in the foreseeable future.

    My arguments below do not depend on my statements above. They would still be true even if we were depleting "the planet's resources" and jeopardizing the future well-being of humanity.

    "All of us are guilty or responsible." I am responsible for harms I inflict on others. A society where people pay for all the costs of their actions is a good idea, but up to a point - I prefer tolerance to paranoia. Once we have mechanisms to compensate others for the harms we inflict on them, feeling guilty (feeling bad) for the fraction that we can not compensate for is useless. Finally, I am not guilty or responsible for harms caused by others or by humans in general.

    "We must do something (recycle, save water and electricity, use public transport)"... only when it is cost-effective. Recycling, saving water and electricity, and using public transport instead of driving a car, all have costs, and not only benefits. Environmental education fails to insist on this fact. I believe that environmentalists prefer to ignore it because they don't have a rational agenda.

    By the way, the Ambio blog is here.

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