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Posts Tagged ‘environmental education’

In their new paper, Where does biodiversity go from here? A grim business-as-usual forecast and a hopeful portfolio of partial solutions”, just published today in the Online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Pringle, two researchers from Stanford University, propose a “hopeful portfolio” of seven strategies, to remedy the global biodiversity crisis. One such strategy involves getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen. Here it is – I have highlighted suggested actions –

For decades, conservationists have appealed to aesthetics as a principal reason to conserve wild areas and species. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 13-billion-plus beholding eyes of the world are drawn to many things that are hostile to biodiversity: large families, tractors, treasure, pavement, goats, and Cadillacs, to name a few. The processes of economic and infrastructural development help to divorce people from the natural world. Moreover, although outdoor recreation and ecotourism are still important parts of many lives in rich countries, biophilic impulses seem increasingly swamped by other stimuli. In the United States, the rise of electronic media has coincided with a 20-year downturn in National Park visitation, after 50 years of steady increase. Recent findings indicate that similar declines in contact with nature are common to developed nations worldwide. Such trends will not be reversed and the biodiversity crisis will not be resolved until nature can rival virtual reality as a source of entertainment, intrigue, and inspiration. Janzen offers a compelling analogy: as books are uninteresting and useless to an illiterate person, so is biodiversity uninteresting and useless to a bioilliterate person. People keep what they use, and increasing bioliteracy would enable more people to find uses for biodiversity. Demand for ecotourism and perceived ‘‘existence values” would increase and, with them, biodiversity sustaining revenues. In a world of stingy appropriations for conservation, we have a wonderful academic literature on how to maximize returns on conservation investments. But we have spent comparatively little effort figuring out ways to create a world of biodiversity fanatics and conservation voters, where conservation resources would presumably flow more freely. The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to have us. More ambitious people might think about how to finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas. Those of us who work in the tropics can do these things there, too. Clearly, we can also use other strategies. One method is to appropriate the very technologies that are currently enforcing the divide between people and biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly on the World Wide Web via projects such as the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies. But we can do more. We can upload science and nature shorts to YouTube and contribute our knowledge to Wikipedia and its offshoots. We can post our lectures online. We can work to add ecological dimensions to online virtual-reality platforms and video games like Second Life, which currently has 10 million registered accounts. These are obvious ideas; many more are possible. There is hope here. Online sales have helped to revitalize classical music which is like biodiversity in that its devotees have long been predicting and lamenting its demise. Some have argued that the key to widespread biodiversity appreciation is the ability to know immediately what is what in nature. Janzen believes that this requires a comprehensive library of DNA barcodes along with a handheld, nanotechnological, field-portable sequencing device. We are hopeful about this dream, as well as any other means of achieving the same end. Profound social transformations are not impossible or ‘‘unrealistic.” Shifts happen. They have happened in our lifetimes. We all know these terms: segregation, Iron Curtain, apartheid. ‘‘Anthropogenic extinction” belongs on that list. More than anything else, the long-term future of biodiversity will be determined by our success or failure in helping to precipitate such an overhaul in popular perceptions of nature and what it means.

My way of getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen is to blog here, and on other blogs, and to link back to this post in my comments on other blogs. Also to tweet, and digg, and stumble, as much as I can about the topic. What can you do?

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As of late, Gallup has been a great source of important climate related behavioral data. Here is the third survey in the series, this time taking a look at differences between top polluting nations:


These are global numbers. Equally relevant are per capita footprints – latest, 2006 data from Footprint Network:

United States 9.6

China 1.6 (and growing quickly)

Russia 4.4

Japan 4.4

India 0.8 (also growing)

Japan and the US have done a good job at educating the public. China, and even more so India have done a poor job. In both of these countries, one should consider helping with educational efforts, particularly as consumption, and the risk of associated environmental damage, are growing exponentially.

Differences in education, infrastructure, access to resources such as water, and wealth, have a direct impact on citizens’ behavior:

My main take away: people are a product of their environment. Change the environment, and you will get different behaviors. Make it hard for people to access resources as in India with water for instance, and they will use less. Give them the right infrastructure, as in recycling in Japan or the US, and they will follow.

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Rasio stopped by La Marguerite a few days ago, and left a comment that caused me to stop, and wonder who was hiding behind such a sensitive and responsible soul. Her real name is Clara, and I asked her to share her story:

Hi. I am a 13-year-old girl who goes to Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda , Maryland. I love nature, books, and climbing things. I want to help save this wonderful planet, earth, from ourselves, and enlighten people in the ways of nature.

Where do I start? Well, I didn’t always want to save the world; I began as any normal child. I have never discovered the foundation of my love of nature, for even my mother does not adore it the way I do. Perhaps it was the books I often read, because I am and have always been a quiet, unsocial person. Not lonely, however. I find books and nature to be much more forgiving than any human being. I still have a certain book which I worship, about a man who lives in the wilderness with his wife. He explains every aspect of survival in an interesting, yet informative manner. I guess that was what first made me want to ditch mankind and run off into the woods, living out the rest of my life as a hermit. However, I never got the chance, and as I grew older and learned more and more about the devastation the human race has caused, I realized something: I could not just bury my head in the sand like an ostrich, pretending there was nothing wrong and ignoring the facts. I had to remove myself from that flock of birds, sitting there on the beach, pretending they were happy when they really weren’t. I had to spread my wings and explore the world around me.

Almost immediately after this realization, I severed nearly all dependency on electronics such as television and computer. I have never possessed any of those useless but common items most people own at my age, like cell phones and even laptops. In addition, I have no desire to waste my time in such a ridiculous and unproductive manner. I would prefer to go outside and sit in the sun, watching birds fly past. I also have no attachment to shopping, even avoiding it if possible. I do well in school, and give the teachers what they want, but always hear, in the back of my mind, this ticking – the ticking of the clock counting the time remaining until our end. Over the past few months, this ticking has gotten louder, and with it my morale has dropped considerably. I feel quite sad nearly all the time and mostly keep to myself. I suppose it really plummeted after my failure to convince fellow class mates that the crisis was real. I actually created a binder, for the particular object of informing people on environmental problems. I worked for an extremely long time on it and it includes global warming, critically endangered species and the great pacific garbage patch. I even printed on the backs of the papers. However, the effort was wasted: when I presented the binder to other kids in my science class, they laughed – and called me a freak.

I am quite disappointed that schools have not added environmental studies to the curriculum. I think it would increase public knowledge of this subject by an incredible amount and it may even get kids off their Nintendo’s. On that note, I conducted an informal study of people talking on cell phones in their cars. I was on the highway and looked out the window at 16 cars passing by. 6 of the 16 people in the cars were talking on their cell phones. It no longer surprises me that there are so many accidents nowadays.

I also joined the World Citizen’s Club and the Chesapeake Bay Club at my school. However, I still don’t think people have the right idea about nature and saving the world. We should do it for nature because nature has done so much for us, and… well, I can’t explain it. This is our home. Why are we destroying it? Don’t people see the beauty, the wonderful, natural beauty that is our planet earth?

The earth is terribly sick and we have a responsibility to help it get better – especially since we caused the disease!

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Things are shaking on the other side of the ocean.

First, is Do the Green Thing‘s latest monthly challenge. This time it is, ‘Do February’s Green Thing. Turn your heating down a bit or off for a bit and use your body warmth.‘ Check it out, it is hilarious, and a brilliant example of what humor can do to help people change their behaviors:

Do The Green Thing

And thanks Cowrin, over at Suitably Despairing, for reminding me of what great things, Do The Green Thing has set out to accomplish. I was so inspired that I immediately sent a Be My Body-Warming Valentine to Prad. Never mind that I am a week early. I just couldn’t wait.

Second, is the Carbon Fast initiative started by the Episcopalian Church, in the context of Lent. I have to thank Lynn, from Organic Mania, for the tip:

The Church of England is urging people to cut down on carbon, rather than chocolate, for Lent this year.

Two senior bishops within the church are joining with development agency Tearfund in calling for a cut in personal carbon use for each of the 40 days of Lent, which begins tomorrow.

The Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who is also vice-president of Tearfund, and the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, have launched the “carbon fast” in response to what they say is an “urgent need” to reduce carbon emissions, and to protect poor communities around the world that are “already suffering from the ravages of climate change”.

The 40-day plan lists simple energy-saving actions that can lead towards a lighter carbon footprint, including snubbing plastic bags, giving the dishwasher a day off, insulating the hot-water tank and checking the house for drafts.

Participants are asked to begin the carbon fast by removing one light bulb from a prominent place in the home and live without it for 40 days, as a constant visual reminder during Lent of the need to cut energy. On the final day of the fast, people are encouraged to replace the missing bulb with an energy-saving bulb.

Jones said: “Traditionally people have given up things for Lent. This year we are inviting people to join us in a carbon fast. It is the poor who are already suffering the effects of climate change. To carry on regardless of their plight is to fly in the face of Christian teaching.

“The tragedy is that those with the power to do something about it are least affected, whilst those who are most affected are powerless to bring about change,” he added. “There’s a moral imperative on those of us who emit more than our fair share of carbon to rein in our consumption.”

Will we listen to the Brits, and with them, remember that ‘Yes, We Can‘? We can change, and start taking action on behalf of our planet.

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Want to know how to dispense some of your green wisdom, without getting on other people’s nerves? Just go to Groovy Green , for my latest article, on ‘Sharing Our Green Selves’, including a list of 10 tips.

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Link to my post in Environmental Graffiti, this week:

Science? What’s That?

Inspired by a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle. First nature, now science . . . We are preparing ourselves for a future of young people totally unequipped to deal with the challenges ahead of us.

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Great article in the San Francisco Chronicle, today. ‘Nature Deficit Disorderdiscusses young people’s growing alienation from nature. After reading it, I sat wondering, and very concerned. The article hits close to home. Our children spend hardly any time in nature, although we live minutes from great hiking trails, and only 30′ from the beach, and two hours from the mountains. Shopping, driving to each other’s houses, hanging out, and staring at the computer, have become their way of life. It is not for a lack of an example on our part. Prad and I go for long walks every day. I hike up the trail behind our house. We go to the beach. No, the problem is not there, but rather in a combination of cultural and environmental factors. The article lists five possible factors:

  1. Urbanization: 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, where opportunities to connect with nature are much less.
  2. Virtualization: children 8 to 18 spend an average of 61/2 hours a day with electronic media, either on the computer, in front of the TV, playing video games, or on the phone talking or texting.
  3. Parental fears of letting their children loose in nature: fears fed by sensationalistic reporting of rare occurences.
  4. Overbooked schedules, with heightened pressure to take AP classes and enter prestigious colleges.
  5. Lack of opportunities to connect with nature, in children from lower socio-economic background.

My most favorite childhood memories are of the times I spent in nature. Playing hide and seek in the wheat field near my parents’ house. Summers at my grandparents’ farm. Making necklaces out of grass. Picking up mushrooms in the woods. Eight year old, maybe, and biking alone, along empty roads in the midst of the country, savoring my freedom. With friends, trying to catch fishes with a fork, in the stream outside our village. Picking up red poppies, and making a bouquet for my mother. My first discovery of the beach, I was twelve. Hiking in the French alps. Rolling down the meadows. Looking for snails after the rain. Picking up grapes in my grandfather’s vineyards. Afternoon spent in the fields watching the goats graze, some baguette with butter and pear as my reward. The smell of rain. It all felt so good.

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