Environmental Education

Never before was it possible for the whole world to so closely follow a disaster unfolding step-by-step with such compelling logic: first an earthquake of inconceivable magnitude, then a devastating tsunami that washed cars into the ocean and tossed ships on shore like toys, destroying houses, bridges, and roads, and extinguishing entire cities like a Tibetan sand mandala that once completed is swept away. More than 20,000 people lost their lives, hundreds of thousands lost their homes and property. What came next may develop into an even greater catastrophe: the shut down of cooling systems at key nuclear power plants. All back-up systems failed, especially at the Fukushima nuclear complex, a plant with several reactors. All heroic efforts to prevent, or at least to contain or postpone, the worst scenario of core meltdown have made it clear that it becomes humanly impossible to manage a nuclear reactor once it runs out of control.

With radioactive particles already contaminating Japan’s water and food supplies, and with a nuclear cloud threatening to drift toward Tokyo and beyond, protesters who have warned against nuclear power unfortunately cannot derive any feeling of satisfaction from the fact that they have been proven right. On the contrary, there is reason to fear that even the clear lessons learned from Japan’s nuclear crisis will not suffice to motivate any lasting transitions in the use of energy and natural resources. Policymakers tend to be too dependent on the energy industry that is driven by powerful profit-motives and commands an influential lobby with all too effective spin machinery. Hope in the promise of atomic energy to stimulate economic potential is too deeply rooted all over the world. Especially the large emerging countries such as China, India, and Brazil are banking on nuclear power – and nuclear power alone – to satisfy their growing energy needs. Expectations are too high among the people of these countries that economic development will bring them employment and prosperity. At the same time, they are too poorly informed to be sufficiently aware of the potential risks and dangers involved.

It is this same logic of economic growth driven by the interests of private capital that leads to the excessive logging of rain forests, the overfishing of the world’s oceans, the warming of the earth’s climate, the genetic manipulation of plants, the chemical adulteration of food, and the mass production of animals for food under conditions that give rise to mad cow disease and swine fever. What we are talking about here is the indiscriminate exploitation of the earth, the rape of nature in the interest of short-term profit for the few at the cost of the many and the future. It is the arrogant assumption that human technology is capable of outwitting and taming the forces of nature.

Moralizing doesn’t help, but it is obvious that nothing has changed to diminish the relevance of the “Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and global Responsibility”, which was ratified in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro at a conference that was held parallel to the Second United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The text of the Treaty was published in issue number 40 of “Adult Education and Development”. It can be found in various places on the Internet, for example: csdngo.igc.org/alttreaties/AT05.htm

It is an expression of hope that thousands of local initiatives can develop awareness and translate into action based on mutual respect and respect for the environment, on better chances for the disadvantaged to take part in society, on the recognition of gender equality, on a local and global culture of care and solidarity.

Individual or small group actions can hardly have significant bearing on global trends. But neither are they insignificant. Many individual actions add up and combine, step by step, toward changes in the knowledge and convictions of entire nations. The hope is that in the end they will also serve to shape the policies that give direction to industry and the economy.

Ecology and global warming are priority issues in the Asian region, particularly in view of the geographic conditions there and the large numbers of people threatened by storms and floods. NGOs from the Philippines, India, Korea, New Zealand, Samoa, and Laos have combined forces in an initiative called CLIMATE to focus attention and concerted action on climate change. Through its regional office in Laos, which covers the Asian-Pacific region, DVV International is a partner in this initiative. Other organizations are invited to join the call for action.

Hillary J Musarurwa is one of the founding trustees und director of the NGO Penya Trust in Zimbabwe. One of his co-workers is Lawrence Hoba, who is making a name for himself in Africa as a budding writer. PENYA is an acronym which stands for “Practical Empowerment and Networking Youth Association”. But it is also a Shona word that means “shine”. It is a call for the children and young people in Zimbabwe’s rural communities to “shine” despite the difficulties they face in the wake of deforestation, erosion, diminishing biodiversity, increasing soil infertility, and the complex social problems accompanying the process of ecological impoverishment.

The next article is also concerned with the “Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility”. REAJA is another acronym with a double meaning. Besides being a call to react and take action, it is derived from the first letters of the Latin American network for environmental education of young people and adults, the “Red de Educação Ambiental de Jovens e Adultos”, which is coordinated by Marcos Sorrentino, the former director of adult education at the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, Simone Portugal, a Brazilian Professor who uses her talents in art in the interest of environmental education, and Moema Viezzer, a Brazilian sociologist, educator, and international advisor for gender and environmental education, who has been an active and prominent figure in the field for decades.

The text “Learning with story and metaphor” is included in this issue with the kind permission of “Equals”, the newsletter published by Beyond Access, a project launched in the year 2003 by Oxfam, the Institute of Education of the University of London, together with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). The paper is based on a study carried out by Siân Davies under the supervision of Heila Lotz-Sisitka and Rob O’Donoghue in fulfilment of his Master’s degree at Rhodes University’s Faculty of Education in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Moema Viezzer, who we already briefly introduced above, is the author of another article in this issue – one that focuses on the themes of gender justice and equal diversity on the one hand, and ecology, climate, environmental protection, and sustainable living on the other. Arguing with conviction that acting sustainably calls for responsible management, she shows how closely gender relates to ecology.