The basic objective of Environmental Education is to form responsible citizens
We are confronting an environmental crisis affecting the whole planet, disrupting the pace of life and destroying the environment, as well as human communities. This global crisis cannot be compared with the previous ones mainly because what is threatened nowadays is the continuation of human existence itself. On the one hand, the size of pressure exerted on our planet has become unsustainable. On the other hand, the environmental crisis cannot be separated from a deeper social crisis, characterized by vast social inequalities, social alienation and a steep increase in violence.
Today’s crisis is the consequence of the predominant way of production and consumption, which progressively spreads all over the planet. It is the result of specific economic, social and political choices, which reflect the system of values of our society. Thus, the use of corrective methods, involving the application of specially adapted technologies, is not sufficient by itself for the environmental and natural resources’ management problems to be faced. The overcoming of the crisis, so as to provide a viable future, can only take place through critical analysis of our values and through deep changes in our way of thinking. The humanity has the responsibility to ensure the right for life for all peoples of the Earth, for future generations as well as for each and every form of life, regardless of its usefulness for humans.
Within this context the intervention of Environmental Education is placed, in all its forms, whether formal (in schools), non-formal (in the family etc.) or informal (through the mass media). To meet today’s challenges, this kind of education should develop “political” judgement and analysis, with the original meaning of the term “political”, which concerns the management of public affairs. In order to achieve this, the complexity of environmental issues should be analysed in the light of the close interaction among ecological, economic and social factors. In this sense, real education about the environment cannot be cut off from social reality and should be placed against today’s challenges which lie at the heart of environmental problems: unequal access to natural resources, poverty, threats to peace.
In this context, we shall regard the environment as a number of complementary realities7: it includes nature (to be respected and preserved), resources (to be managed and shared), a complex of problems (to be solved), a system of relations (to be understood for better decision-making), the entire biosphere (in which we live together in the long term), but above all, much closer to us, it is a living environment (that we must know and develop) and a community project (in which we must commit ourselves). Environmental Education aims to develop skills in the field of critical, ethical, strategic and aesthetic analysis, etc. related to the environment, in order to rebuild the network of relations between persons, the social groups to which they belong and the environment. It is not just an additional subject or a “form of education” in a long list of other subjects: it is rather a fundamental dimension of education as a whole, an essential process of human development and of social development as a whole. It is an extremely vast educational project based on many, diverse well-documented theoretical and strategic proposals.
Given the extend of its mission, Environmental Education is mainly based, among the more general educational principles, on the values of citizenship, responsibility and solidarity. The adoption of the value of responsibility, essential to preserve life on earth is considered a primary target. The development of responsible citizens contributes, at the same time, to the strengthening of democratic life, ensuring the effective participation of citizens in the decision-making process concerning environment and development. It is a concern to ensure that ordinary citizens find their role again, the rightful position which - by definition - they own. In this sense, Environmental Education is real political education.
Finally, the phenomenon of globalisation, in all sectors, forces us to expand the frontiers of the area of our intervention and responsibility. In the context of our continuous demand for local and immediate citizenship, from now on we should incorporate the perspective of a planetary citizenship.
Environmental Education aims to form citizens who are responsible and capable of taking action in the field of environment.
1. In this context and regarding the value of responsibility, educators in environment should promote the adoption of the following principles:
1.1 Responsibility for the environment concerns every level of social class, individuals, social and professional groups, state and interstate organisations.
1.2 Each one of us is responsible for the sustainable management of natural resources and the preservation of a position for every form of life on earth, regardless of its usefulness to humans.
1.3 The recognition of our responsibility for the environment involves the expression of solidarity towards other people, other social groups, future generations, at the same time promoting equality, social and economic justice on a local, regional and planetary level.
1.4 The realisation and recognition of the direct and indirect consequences of our actions on the environment, should lead to the adoption, in our everyday life, of behaviours which contribute to its preservation.
1.5 The recognition of our responsibility, as members of a society, means that, beyond individual action, we are ready to co-operate with others to organise collective intervention in our social or professional life.
1.6 The recognition of our responsibility entails that our objective should be the prevention of the impacts on the environment, as well as the implementation and respect of the principle of prevention, on a social level.
1.7 Our responsibility for the environment is proportional to the level of knowledge, capabilities and strengths of each one of us.
1.8 We must not disclaim our personal responsibility for the environment, as individuals or members of a social group, on the plea that other individuals or other social groups should take the responsibility.
2. Regarding the educational process itself, the formulation of responsible citizens towards the environment entails that those who do educational work in this field have as an objective:
2.1 The acquisition of basic knowledge and the way of acquiring basic knowledge, so that the young and adults are in a position to be able to seek, understand and analyse in a critical way information about the environment and to be able to formulate proposals for the solution of the problems.
2.2 The introduction to the complexity of environmental issues, based on the interaction among economic, social and environmental factors.
2.3 The development of a critical and autonomous way of thinking, which allows the analysis and dispute - if it is necessary - of the economic, social and political choices, which lie in the heart of environmental issues, as well as the values on which these have been based.
2.4 The introduction to the close interaction between human societies in the era of globalisation and their consequences for the expression of citizenship in connection with the environment, on a local, regional and planetary level.
2.5 The adoption of values of tolerance and respect for other people’s dignity and cultural diversity, so that the creative participation of an individual in a public discussion on environmental issues is possible.
2.6 The promotion of an individual’s total development, addressing mental as well as emotional, sensory and other levels, aiming to establish amicable relationships with other individuals, the social group one belongs to and the environment.