Has the world peaked in its capacity to sustain human population growth, growth in economic activity and material living standards for all? Environmental education and sustainability, or sustainable development education, aren’t necessarily the same thing but both have been enlisted in the current quest to deal with the problem of climate change. Whatever definition of
sustainability you choose, these are the key questions that have to be faced. The picture shows filming of my award winning project to educate about the loss of wetlands and the Somerset peat moors, which was contemporary with the data gathering phase of my PhD entitled Value as a Reason for Action in Environmental Education.
This study used mixed methods but drew heavily on a quantitative approach based on surrogate economic calculus. I used this to investigate the mismatch between the pro-environmental rhetoric employed by young people and their actual behaviours. My conclusion was that expressions of value for the natural world are often superficial and that, if sustainability is ever to be achieved, deeper and more fundamental change in values will be needed. Two areas of concern are reflected in the subsequent publications:
The philosophy of value. This asks deep questions about whether the values held by young people are compatible with the goals of sustainability. Changing the conditions that have brought about anthropometric climate change requires sacrifice – principally in the form of significant reduction in energy use. This may not necessarily be bad. Fulfilment and wellbeing are not necessarily linked to levels of energy use and material consumption. Such questions take us into the “spiritual” realm – with or without a religious dimension.
I have discussed them in:
Finding the Right Kind of Awe and Wonder: the metaphysical potential of religion to ground an environmental ethic. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 11, 88 – 99.
Behaviour Change and Environmental Citizenship: A Case for Spiritual Development? International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 5 (2) 131 –145.
Faith and Fatalism: Deep beliefs of children in the risk society, Environmental Education, 71, 34 – 38; 73, 33 – 38.
Understanding science. In essence, this looks at the proposition that if people truly understood the science of climate change, they would act to reduce their dependence on those aspects of energy use that contribute to climate change. In practice, this is highly unlikely. One reason may be that science education is either inadequate or wholly absent (for example, when students are able to opt out at a certain age). Another may be that the proposition itself may be wrong. Even if people fully understood the science, action out of immediate self-interest would trump the rational course. Which rather takes us back to the previous paragraph!
I have written about related issues in
Tensions between indoctrination and the development of judgement: The case against early closure, Environmental Education Research, 11 (2), 187 – 197.
Science: an unreliable friend to environmental education?, Environmental Education Research, 6 (3), 265 – 276.
It was through wrestling with this problem that I developed my interest in children’s spirituality and in teaching philosophy to children. This is an activity which I still very much enjoy, for example through the enrichment courses I continue to teach at Kilve Court.