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Environmental Educators’ Responsibility in the Age of Climate Change


by Yolanda Ziaka

The current global environmental crisis, due—in particular—to the major issue of climate change, has made environmental education today an integral part of any environment policy. How are environmental educators looking at this issue? Following is the plan to analyze this question currently being implemented by the Environmental Education network …

Photo: Global warming/cooling by Truthout.org



1. Environmental Education: a definition

By Environmental Education (EE) we mean (following up on UNESCO’s first definition of this field in 1975) an educational act, the object of which is comprised by the problems of the environment and of resource management and the goal of which is the acquisition of knowledge and skills, a change in attitudes and behavior in the direction of civic action in favor of the environment. The current global environmental crisis, due—in particular—to the major issue of climate change, has made EE today an integral part of any environment policy. Given the inherent complexity of environmental issues, speaking of the environment implies referring to:

  • governance issues: “rules for managing the Common House at a time when the Common House has become the planet”;
  • global-ethics issues: “our responsibility, as citizens of the planet, to the other social groups, future generations, and life on Earth.”

2. Our project

Our project consists in a critical analysis of the main lines of evolution of EE between the 1992 Rio Summit and “Rio+20,” and of current trends, as seen from the standpoint of the key concept of the “responsibility” of environmental educators / communicators and in connection with the project for Declaration of Universal Responsibilities. This analysis is carried out with the support of a network of educators who have longstanding experience in the field and are from several geographical areas of the world. Our goal is to formulate proposals for the guidelines that will be necessary in EE as we face current environmental, social, and economic challenges. The collective document resulting from this work will be submitted for discussion at the civil-society conference that will take place as a side-event at the “Rio+20” conference in 2012.

3. The major challenge of Environmental Education in the perspective of “Rio+20"

At the 1992 UN Conference in Rio, the “Agenda 21 Action Plan,” which was adopted there, viewed EE for the first time as being education at the service of the sustainable-development goal. As of 1997, when UNESCO held its International Conference on Environment and Society, EE was replaced in all the official texts by Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). A number of thinkers around the world have argued, however, that the concept of “sustainable development” is a disguised reformulation of the former goal of economic growth at any cost—reference to “green” growth notwithstanding—which has been the cause of the current deep crisis in the relationship between humankind and the biosphere. What we share with this school of thought is that: “Our current system is founded on bicycle equilibrium: its balance depends on constant movement, i.e., on ever-increasing consumption, particularly of energy and natural resources, in a way that flagrantly contradicts the biosphere’s finitude. [1].


Photos: Global Warming 1/2 and 2/2 by LamaZone

The key question that we have raised then is: How are environmental educators positioning themselves with respect to this debate? Obviously, every educational action is the reflection of a position and involves specific “political” options. What, then, does it mean to be responsible as an actor in EE today? In this context, the “Rio+20” civil-society conference becomes the opportune moment to raise with acuteness the question of the responsibility of environmental educators, given the conceptual challenges posed by the current global environmental challenges and the crisis in the economic and financial globalization system.

Editor’s note: This article is a summarized version of the original one, which is only available in French. Download the full article:

Word - 43 kb
La responsabilité des éducateurs à l’environnement au temps du changement climatique
3 pages - FR

[1] Pierre Calame, 2009, Essay on Œconomy, Editions Charles-Léopold Mayer, Paris.

Published on: 26 September 2011
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