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Education for the Environment and the Sustainability of the Earth

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 todayFrom 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.