Dr. Andreas Hadjichambis
General Secretary – Scientific Director
Environmental degradation is a reality faced by modern societies. The global demands for food, clothing, housing and transport are increased continuously. Generally, the choices, the managerial and developmental approaches and practices of human societies, exert pressures on the natural ecosystems, causing changes and transformations that occur beyond the limits at which they can operate, leading to their gradual degradation and destruction (EEA, 2010). These changes in natural ecosystems have repercussions on the economy and on the social cohesion, and are expressed as global environmental problems. Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, energy crisis, rising sea levels and ocean acidification are just some of the global environmental problems we are experiencing today. Huge health problems arise as a result of these global environmental problems.
Thus, it becomes imperative to redefine our relationship with nature and the environment in ways that will not only help to mitigate our impact on the environment but at the same will lead us to a modern and innovative environmentally sustainable solutions . However; what does sustainability that we are seeking for really mean and what is its relationship to environmental education that existed until now?
Sustainability was first used by foresters and it concerned in the management of forests in a way that these could deliver products for ever ( αεί=forever + φέρω=offer). Put simply, the sustainability of a practice or a society or of nature is basically the ability to operate in perpetuity ( Flogaiti, 2006 , p. 91). From this description some basic questions are deriving: What status should be sustainable ? For whom, should the status of sustainability, be ensured? How can the sustainability of this status be ensured ( Demetriou, 2009)? Many argue that the concept of sustainability brings philosophical , ethical, political, environmental and educational dimensions.
All of us, who deal with environmental education, we should think, what does really inspires us and what is our motivation that lead us in engaging and devoting plenty of hours in order to cultivate and to develop to our students values , skills, attitudes and environmentally friendly behaviours? Let’s wonder for what’s favour, do we wish to ensure the status of sustainability? Do we really want to ensure the sustainability status of development? Is the sustainability of development the crucial challenge in our modern environmental crisis or is the sustainability of our planet , the sustainability of the Earth?
The focus on the needs and the attribution of an extreme utilitarianism to nature, so as to cover the needs of the present and of the future generations, according to many, escape from the environmentally friendly values that education is called to cultivate today. From a moral perspective, this marks the transition from the ecocentrism of environmental education to the extreme anthropocentrism of covering the consumer needs .
Today, more than ever, we need to enhance the understanding of the basic ecological systems and bio communities of our planet. We need to promote the emotional connection with our planet and its living organisms and to educate our students so as to seek different lifestyles more environmentally friendly. Education for the Sustainability of the Earth, recognizing human activity as the main cause for the contemporary environmental crisis, organizes its content around the concepts of ecological limits and the participation of people in the environmental issues, seeking to build a closer relationship between human, nature and the environment. It incorporates the concept of the ecosystems carrying capacity, of the ecological footprint and of the ecosystems endurance limits. It seeks to improve the quality of human life, which is inextricably linked to environmental quality and balance of ecological processes. The human welfare is directly related to the environment and the limits set by the ecological processes within and between natural systems and can form the basis for the human choices. The nature and the ecological processes can be considered as a model for designing and implementing developmental projects at multiple levels. The participation, the democratic and environmental action is necessary for the protection of our planet. With innovative educational programs that promote through cognitive conflict, the conceptual and holistic understanding of environmental issues, mobilizing adventurous explorations to discover the nature and resolution of significant and real problems of everyday life, can achieve a change in environmental attitudes of our students who will definitely be invited to demonstrate their readiness to undertake personal and collective action in order to reduce their negative impact on the Earth.
Nowadays, it is necessary to move from simple knowledge of the Earth and nature, to the familiarity and experience through more experiential approaches , more real and everyday situations and environments, where we will strive to make our property a part of the enriched and alive sense of knowledge, something of the essentially poetic character of what is meant by the poet and philosopher Henry Thoreau when he wrote :
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. . .
Open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature,
in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons. . .
Grow green with spring, yellow and ripe with autumn . . .
(Thoreau, 1962, Vol. 1, pp.394-5).
If what we ask for is to invite not only educators but students as well, so as to become agents of transformation and hope for our planet that “groans and sighs”, then we need to pose critical environmental education high in our priorities . An environmental education oriented to values and action , holistic and systemic, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary: An environmental education for the sustainability of the Earth.
Let’s continue to strive for the sustainability of the Earth or even better for the euphoria of the Earth.