Parshuram S Niraula
Center for Environment Education Nepal.
“Have you observed any so called educated urban dweller going for a morning walk hoping to prolong his life for some more years, but bringing back with him chemical-filled vegetables and other items in many small plastic bags, with mask on his face……………?”
We, with other creatures, have been inseparable part of the environment ever since our appearance on this beautiful earth-the only living planet. In the beginning, being primitive, our limited needs did not disturb the harmony of nature since the amount and extent of damages to the environment was insignificant. But later, our population growth, with increased needs as well as scientific, commercial and technological advancement, accelerated the pace of environmental degradation. Today, at the dawn of a new millennium, we have begun to hear more new words like global warming, ozone depletion, garbage, pollution, poaching, habitat loss, dwindling forests, urbanisation, desertification, species loss, acid rain, climate change, degradation, development, war, terrorism, famine, etc,.
The most recent and deadly of all these issues which has also become the major cause of other issues, damaging the earth’s basic functions is climate change. All these words sound very big, alarming and complex, but their roots are all embedded and closely linked in our daily behaviour and activities. However, it is hard to believe this! We always blame a big industry or an oil mine for polluting our environment and changing the earth’s climatic pattern, but fail to recognise how much our demands are that accelerates this grave issue.
It is very much true that the root cause of all these problems is the increase in human population. Just a year ago global human population reached seven billion which is alarmingly on rise. Out of these, almost 1/5th are hungry, 1/5th lack access to clean water and nearly 1 billion adults are illiterate. Disease and famine are striking every where. Globally, forest, the size of United Kingdom, is being lost every year. Climate induced problems have given rise to new challenges, new issues and new diseases in humans, plants, animals and crops. With the increased production of food and meat to feed the growing world population, more greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere.
The environment and its allied problems do not recognise any political boundary created by the humans. However, we fail to see these connections.
Now that climate change is a reality, it must be remembered that Nepal is one of the countries which will be seriously hit by its impacts, such as melting snows, flooding, flash floods, landslides and reduction in agricultural produces, rendering people hungry, homeless, jobless with increased crime and destruction.
All these problems and issues bring to our mind a question the whole world is asking: Is there a way that we humans can change our behaviour pattern and lifestyle in harmony with the changing climate? We are already at the verge of extermination today, and if we are not careful in our behaviour, we will invite the doomsday even sooner!! Hence, if we are to compromise with the changing climate and environment and to adapt the predicted environmental catastrophe, the only answer and hope is ‘Environment Education’.
Any citizen who misses environment education and education for sustainable development (EE/ESD) today will be a blind individual tomorrow in her/his thought and actions. Therefore, chapter 36 of Agenda 21 of the Rio Summit, and all the succeeding EE/ESD summits and conferences clearly state the need to educate the people of all ages on environment and its associated issues. EE/ESD has been considered very instrumental in shaping an individual’s personality and forming positive attitude and behaviour towards our environment.
The educators/teachers should be able to establish and explain the relationships between the content of the books and the reality. In other words, we should be able to translate and communicate the content of the books into action. With a little twist, some of the topics in the existing curriculum can be made environmental and climate change-oriented.
Just by memorising the laws of nature and learning about the environment does not change our behaviour and solve our problems. For example, a student may score distinction in the subject. On reaching home, his parents may ask him to get rid of the garbage lying about. If he doesn’t know to dispose off the garbage safely, he has learnt nothing to work ‘for’ the environment. As such, rather than learning ‘through’ and ‘about’ the environment, we should teach and learn something that we can do ‘for’ the environment. We have ample chances to practically follow and experiment the activities outlined/designed in the textbooks and we can even design activities in the context of climate change. The students can study and investigate a forest fire, a snake charmer, a bird seller, a busy street, an industry, a community, family size, energy issues, farming and chemical fertilizers, a temple, any place of cultural interest, and inter-connections can be made among all these issues, etc. These reports can be shared in the class; discussion on these themes can take place and an “action plan” can be prepared to address the issues encountered, thereby reforming the behaviour at the individual, household and community level for improving resilience.
Hence, in order to revitalise the only living planet earth, let’s all unite and sincerely educate all the citizens to make it ecologically, politically and spiritually a secure place to inhabit. In other words, the challenge is ahead of us, each of us! The future of our common home rests on our hands. We are the most responsible creatures in ruining our planet, and it is high time that we start the repair work. A fifth century Chinese poet Kuan-Tzu has said, ‘If you plan for one year, plant rice, if you plan for ten years, plant trees, if you plan for 100 years, educate mankind!’….and this is where we all are!!