EE & ESD
Environmental Education/Education for Sustainability:
What is the difference?
David Chapman, Massey University College of Education
The decade 2005-2014 has been dedicated to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) by the United Nations. The questions remain though, what is education for sustainable development, and what, in fact, is sustainable development? This has posed particular problems for environmental educators in clarifying what is the difference between environmental education (EE) and education for sustainability (EfS). The answer could be "everything" or it could be "nothing", depending on the values and assumptions at work. I want to attempt to clarify this issue but am wary that in doing so I may oversimplify the situation. This is because almost every part of what I will say is open to alternative interpretations. I will try to signal these alternative interpretations, but in doing so I wish to provide a forthright commentary on the field as I see it. Given the state of the planet I see little point in writing otherwise.
I have already used two expressions related to sustainability. ESD is a term that arose in the 1980s but links the concept of sustainability with the notion of development. Many environmentalists see 'development' as the problem rather than the answer so I have used the term 'education for sustainability' to sidestep this issue. In fact, there are several sustainability 'educations' with subtle differences in meaning and this is part of the problem. In contrast, environmental education is a much more dependable and unambiguous expression for reasons I will explain.
First and foremost, there is a body of literature that includes several international journals and a number of UN/UNESCO declarations that give the field of environmental education some structure. Of course, you can get lost in this material, and some people do. On the other hand, there are many people who call themselves environmental educators who have no knowledge at all of this material. While passion and concern about the environment are necessary qualities for environmental educators, they are not by themselves sufficient. My view is that it is incumbent on anyone who wishes to make a contribution to the field to find out what it is about. A starting point is the Tbilisi Declaration (UNESCO-UNEP, 1978; available at: http://education.massey.ac.nz/environment/about.htm). This document sets out the goals of environmental education as follows:
to foster clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas;
to provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills needed to protect and improve the environment;
to create new patterns of behaviour of individuals, groups and society as a whole towards the environment.
(UNESCO-UNEP, 1978, p. 3)
I would like to explain why I think it is important to know about these goals.
One reason is that the Tbilisi Declaration was the result of an intergovernmental conference held in 1977, and this built on work done at previous meetings in 1972 and 1975. As such it has international legitimacy and stands as a blueprint for EE in many countries (Palmer, 1998). Indeed, it has clearly influenced, and is referred to in the Guidelines for Environmental Education in New Zealand Schools (Ministry of Education, 1999). This gives rise to a second reason; the Tbilisi goals are not mentioned in the Guidelines. The last goal contains a transformative agenda within EE and one can speculate as to why this is not included in guidelines for schools. Moreover, the powerful the verbs, "protect" and "improve", have been neutralised in the Aims of the Guidelines although these too, are derived from the Tbilisi material.
What the Tbilisi goals emphasise is a powerfully two-fold agenda. First, they stress the need for changed behaviour, emphasising, secondly, that the way we treat the world is intimately linked to social, economic and political activity. This idea is commonly called 'interdependence'. In short, you cannot solve environmental problems without addressing the social, political and economic forces that drive them. To put this in concrete terms, recycling and worm farming alone, important starting points though they are, will not do the trick. We need new patterns of behaviour from society as a whole. This poses huge challenges for schools and for society as a whole in every way. I do not wish to get side tracked here but I have previously raised a number of issues in attempting to contribute to this discussion (Chapman, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 2005, 2006; Chapman and Pearce, 2001. The general tenor of these contributions is that the task is not simple and requires some deeper thinking than is commonly evident.
Statements of goals can be deceptive though, and here I want to skirt some marshy ground without getting bogged. We use language with different meanings that depend on the assumptions we make. The Tbilisi goals thus have different meanings if viewed from different perspectives. In this regard, Timothy O'Riordon (1989) identifies different philosophical positions that commonly inform European environmentalism. There are two broad camps, 'technocentric' and 'ecocentric'. The first gives prime importance to people and technology while the second emphasises the people and natural environment. Within each camp are two subgroups: Technocentric 'interventionists' have complete faith in human ingenuity, science, and the market to solve all problems and 'improve' the quality of the environment. Technocentric 'accomodationists' largely follow this view but are more moderate and express a note of caution. They believe some accommodations are needed to mitigate the impact of humans on the environment. Accommodationists are the overwhelming majority. They want an undisturbed environment but also want a nice car, house, and holidays overseas.
In the ecocentric camp are 'communalists' who take an eco-socialist view that protecting the environment requires system change towards locally based, cooperative and self-reliant economic activity. 'Gaianist' ecocentrics, the fourth group, generally lean toward giving intrinsic value to nature and focus on personal change, although this is the hardest group to describe because it is the most diffuse. The point is that people with fundamentally different values can use the same goal statements and mean completely different things. Let me explain. An interventionist would say that we have continued to damage the environment because goods and services have not been priced to include the social and environmental cost of their production and consumption. These are 'external' to the cost equation. These 'externalities' need to be 'internalised' by costing and charging for environmental impact. In order to do this we need to privatise resources and have a completely open market. On the other hand, a communalist would scoff at that and say it sidesteps the issue that the prime purpose in a capitalist economy is to accumulate surplus through profit and in order to increase profits we need to consume ever more. You cannot 'conserve' under a capitalist economy, it is impossible, the communalist would say.
Clearly, these people would have different views on what "new patterns of behaviour" might be. Thus, I make the point again, that EE and ESD may be the same or may be completely different, depending on the driving values. EE, however, does have a set of goals and detailed supporting material in the Tbilisi Declaration and Belgrade Charter (UNESCO-UNEP, 1975), about which, discussion can occur. ESD does not, and to explain this I need to track a little history.
Annette Gough (1997) reports that the concept of sustainability arose at least as early as 1980 in a report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 1980), but was popularised by a report from the World Commission for Environment and Development, Our Common Future (WCED, 1987), commonly known as the Bruntland Report. The report defined sustainable development as that which ... "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs" (WCED, 1987, p. 8). This definition, like the Tibilsi goals, hangs on a couple of important interpretations. In particular, what is 'development', what are 'needs', and what is meant by "compromising" the future? It surfices to say that development as it is currently understood has caused the environmental crisis and that this is driven by the 'needs' of the rich rather than those of the poor. Thus, O'Riordan (1989) considered the term 'sustainable development' to be the refuge of the environmentally perplexed. Indeed, the Bruntland Report is most confused about what sustainable development is and I suspect that is because it would have been unacceptible to say that the rich nations are rich enough. Most important though, the Bruntland Report is about economics, not education. The EE literature reports scores, if not hundreds, of definitions for sustainable development and Gough (1997) suggests it has become little but a slogan. Huckle (1991, 1993, 1999) continues to argue that it is at best an accomodationist term that attempts to keep responses to the environmental crisis within the structure of existing power and avoid any examination of the assumtions about economic growth which underly the sustainability debate. I agree with Huckle's analysis.
A set of Principles for sustainable development emerged from the earth summit at Rio in 1992 and these are available in Palmer's (1998) book. I find Princple 16 summarises the situation:
National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalisation of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.
(in Palmer, 1998, p73)
This contains a loophole big enough for a drunk to drive a leaking super-tanker through. "Without distorting international trade and investment" means that ecomonic interests are given priority over environmental ones. Similarly, Principle 12 links economic growth with sustainable development which, it insists, should not restrict international trade. These principles, which could not emerge without the consent of the rich nations, do not disrupt the status quo, exactly as Huckle suggests. They are essentially technocentric, and preserve the rights of big economic players. But visions of a sustasinable future do not have to be informed by economic values alone. Other views of sustainable futures struggle to reach a wider audience though.
A meeting of non-government organisations (NGOs) immediately prior to the Rio summit produced an alternative statement on EE/ESD entitled the Treaty on Environmental Education for sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility. This is mentioned by Gough (1997) and the copy available at http://education.massey.ac.nz/environment/about.htm was courteously provided by her. Its Principles for "Environmental Education for Equitable and Sustainable Societies" are listed below:
- Education is the right of all; we are all learners and educators.
- Environmental education, whether formal, non-formal or informal, should be grounded in critical and innovative thinking in any place or time, promoting the transformation and construction of society.
- Environmental education is both individual and collective. It aims to develop local and global citizenship with respect for self-determination and the sovereignty of nations.
- Environmental education is not neutral but is values based. It is an act for social transformation.
- Environmental education must involve a holistic approach and thus an interdisciplinary focus in the relation between human beings, nature and the universe.
- Environmental education must stimulate solidarity, equality, and respect for human rights involving democratic strategies and an open climate of cultural interchange.
- Environmental education should treat critical global issues, their causes and interrelationships in a systemic approach and within their social and historical contexts. Fundamental issues in relation to development and the environment, such as population, health, peace, human rights, democracy, hunger, degradation of flora and fauna, should be perceived in this manner.
- Environmental education must facilitate equal partnerships in the processes of decision-making at all levels and stages.
- Environmental education must recover, recognize, respect, reflect and utilize indigenous history and local cultures, as well as promote cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity. This implies acknowledging the historical perspective of native peoples as a way to change ethnocentric approaches, as well as the encouragement of bilingual education.
- Environmental education should empower all peoples and promote opportunities for grassroots democratic change and participation. This means that communities must regain control of their own destiny.
- Environmental education values all different forms of knowledge. Knowledge is diverse, cumulative and socially produced and should not be patented or monopolized.
- Environmental education must be designed to enable people to manage conflicts in just and humane ways.
- Environmental education must stimulate dialogue and cooperation among individuals and institutions in order to create new lifestyles which are based on meeting everyone's basic needs, regardless of ethnic, gender, age, religious, class, physical or mental differences.
- Environmental education requires a democratization of the mass media and its commitment to the interests of all sectors of society. Communication is an inalienable right and the mass media must be transformed into one of the main channels of education, not only by disseminating information on an egalitarian basis, but also through the exchange of means, values and experiences.
- Environmental education must integrate knowledge, skills, values; attitudes and actions. It should convert every opportunity into an educational experience for sustainable societies.
- Education must help develop an ethical awareness of all forms of life with which humans share this planet, respect all life cycles and impose limits on humans' exploitation of other forms of life.
This is a truly comprehensive set of statements with profound implications at every level. Item 14 is particularly interesting. Interesting too is that many phrases in this statement have their roots in material from the Tbilisi and Belgrade meetings, that is to say, knowledge has a 'genealogy'. Of interest too is that the NGOs linked the concept of sustainability to societies, not to growth or development, and retained ties to environmental education, perhaps in order to respect the traditions upon which they built. I favour this and it is a point I wish to reflect on.
I have mentioned genealogy. In this regard I find it fascinating that many members of 'mainstream' New Zealand society are comfortable in refering to Maori narratives in pursueing their practice. Certainly, the Maori view of creation links together all the living and non-living aspects of the environment apon which life depends in an important way. It is fascinating that the same people are sometimes less well informed about their own cultural traditions and the geneologies of knowledge within Eropean traditions. Worse, not understanding these genealogies of knowledge, they often simply dismiss them. I have tried here to provide a brief illustration of some of these genealogies. I have also made the point quite strongly, I hope, that environmental education has a longer and more noble whakapapa than its younger relation, EfS. Without knowledge of this history we are simply ignorant and risk trivialising important ideas, or wasting energy reinventing them.
If we are knowledgable about these traditions and of the substance of the statements quoted above, we can build EE/EfS on solid foundations with a clear sense of direction. We need to keep the foundational goal in focus; new patterns of behaviour. This creates a significant tension for schools which have often been considered to be part of the apparatus for reproducing the status quo rather than leading social change. We must be conscious that schools may not be ready for this and that much work may need to be done before they are. We will undoubtedly have to debate the meanings of, and how to interpret many of these ideas. That is healthy. But there is an old saying "nothing travels faster in a vacuum than a bandwagon". I fear bandwagon education of any sort but particularly that which masquerades as EfS/EE. Thoughtless and poorly considered EE props up existing arrangements and greenwashes children. Again, there is an extensive literature on this. For example, and to be blunt, and after reading the NGO treaty; are 'Green Awards' serving any environmental purpose or do they simply reinforce the value of competition as a vital force within market economies, thus supporting the status quo?
EE/EfS should be about cooperation and needs to be built on a robust foundation. So in the end, I don't think it matters what 'education for a better world' is called. I do care about its quality though. I also think it is vital that people undertake such work having informed themselves about the task. It is not a simple one. I also think that educators need to keep in mind that a decade for 'education for sustainable development' could easily be co-opted as propaganda in support of the economic growth imperitive, or alternatively, be simply ten more years of procrastination. It could be a decade of more trivial, fringe educational initiatives while carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to build. Environmental educators cannot afford to be complacent about these issues.
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