Environmental Education Thinking

Is crisis all that Environmental Education has left?

the extinct
Creative Commons License photo credit: the|G|™

I just finished reading an article in The Walrus by Chris Turner titled The Age of Breathing Underwater. The hypothesis of the article, broadly stated, is that we’ve irrevocably entered the Anthropocene and nature, as the Romantics knew it, or as the prototypical environmentalist tries to protect today, is no longer. Based around twinning the lament of loosing coral reefs and realizing that it is only through the (highly industrialized) technology of scuba diving that we have the first-hand experience of this loss, Turner makes the argument that it is not the beauty of the reefs, per se, that need to be preserved. Rather, it is the “ungainly apparatus” (otherwise known as Western culture) that needs the preservation.

Which brings me to my question: What is environmental education for? I’ve been contemplating this question since I attended the 5th World Environmental Education conference, held earlier this year in Montréal, Québec. One of the keynotes for the 5th WEEC was Stephen Lewis and he spoke about global climate change—he has special insight on this given his role as chair of the first international conference on Climate Change—and the connection to social justice. In a sense, the keynote was a lament: Lewis suggested that our jobs, as educators, was to now go forth and prepare the world for the crisis that global climate change will precipitate.

If this is our jobs as environmental educators, then I want out.

So, we’re presented with fact: the world is irrevocably changed by humans and consequently we’re in the “midst of chaos and devastation on the scale of a world war” (Turner’s words). Do we then say that environmental education is about learning to preserve the “apparatus” that allows us to experience the sublime first-hand? Is it teaching about crisis—extinction, environmental degradation, climate change and the like?

I do feel like, in practice, much of environmental education’s domain is marking change—we tend to embrace a declensionist narrative of the more-than-human world. I do want to clarify that I’m not suggesting that environmental education ignores the human. I am interested in kinds of environmental education that acknowledges that we’re an integral to natural world. In relation (however asymmetric) with many kinds of others. But we (and this is a Western we) need to do more than react to impending doom.

I’m somewhat concerned—and this may strike you as silly—about what happens to environmental education after the crisis is over. So, a challenge then: how do we move beyond crisis in environmental education?

Conference Environmental Education

One week, two confrence-esques

look up
Creative Commons License photo credit: jnthnhys

I’m in la belle provence for the next seven days attending & presenting at the 5th World Environmental Education Congress and participating in the 10th Seminar in Health and Environmental Education Research (you can read more about the outcomes of the 9th seminar). The congress is during the latter half of the seven days in Montreal and the seminar happens from Thursday May 7th to Sunday May 10th in beautiful Montebello, Quebec (seeing as I’ve never been there, I should reserve the beautiful adjective until after I return).

For the seminar on Environmental Education (EE) research, I’ll be spending time in conversation and thought wondering why, for example, the above photo “screams” environmental education. More than just that, and perhaps more importantly for EE research, if the experience depicted above screams EE, what other kinds of experiences might we be missing as researchers? The theme of the seminar is “Making a Difference” and looks to be focusing on just how we can make the kind of research that gets done under the name of EE make a difference–for the environment, obviously, but also for different populations, including humans as well as non-humans. Think of EE research done in the name of social and environmental justice in addition to strict education about the environment. At least, that’s going to be my M.O. going into it ;) I’ll be pushing the non-human agenda, as is my want; so much so that I’m pleased to be co-facilitating a session titled “How can we move beyond the human?” with Leesa Fawcett, Sue Hamel, Gail Kuhl, Jan Oakley and Traci Warkentin. The whole event should be great food for the brain.

While I wasn’t initially enthused about presenting my research at WEEC via a poster, I’ve come around and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of turning some of my preliminary findings into a poster. Part of the fun is getting to be a bit controversial with the poster–I can put forward some of the more challenging findings, and see how the masses react. It will be interesting to see what kind of reactions, if any, I get from my poster. I do have a provocotive title (Am I being a tease? The poster is titled “Birding ≠ Bird Conservation”) so I’ll see if that gets me in trouble from any birding environmental educators.

I’ll be tweeting the WEEC confrence using the #weec5 hastag. Follow along and add your own voice if you’re going to be in Montreal. Tweeting confrences seems to be de rigeur for tech confrences. We’ll see if anyone in EE is into twittering too.