ERIC Identifier: ED320765
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Disinger, John F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Environmental Education for a Sustainable Future. ERIC/SMEAC
Environmental Education Digest No. 1.
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, significant shifts in perceptions of
environmental priorities have occurred. Confrontation between environmentalists
and those they have challenged is increasingly seen by "both sides" as
counterproductive; it is generally accepted that reasoned concern about the
environment is essential to good economics and planning. Dramatic increases in
knowledge about the environment have revealed the necessity of applying
information from all disciplines of the natural and social sciences to the
solution of environment-related problems. A global perspective on "environment"
has become pervasive (Botkin, et al., 1989, pp. xiii-xiv).
An emerging emphasis is on sustainability. Use of terms such as sustainable
society, sustainable use, sustainable growth, sustainable resource development,
and sustainable economic development is increasingly common. A recent issue of
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (Clark, 1989) was devoted to scholarly analyses of the
ramifications of this topic.
WHAT DOES "SUSTAINABLE" MEAN?
A sustainable society has
been defined as "one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects
for future generations." (Brown and Wolf, 1988, p. 171). On the surface, the
term sustainable use may appear to be an oxymoron. It must respond to these
questions: "How can use of... (natural) resources possibly be made sustainable
given present population levels and per capita demands?...Sustainable? For how
long? By whom? Where?" (Ray, 1989, p. 82).
Talbot (1989, p. 26) has suggested that, to achieve sustainability, a set of
transitions is needed: to stability in the world population; to sustainable and
safe use of renewable resources; to the use of energy which is efficient and
non-threatening to the biosphere; to the development and application of high
technology in the service of environmental management and improvement; to a new
economics supportive of sustainable resource management and environmental
improvement; to sustainable, equitable economic development; to an integrated
sense of the biosphere; to effective implementation of measures to conserve
"Sustainability" is not a new concept. Pinchot addressed it as the basis of
the conservation movement of the early 1900s, pointing out that its three basic
principles were: development and use of resources, prevention of waste, and the
benefit of the many: "Conservation means the greatest good to the greatest
number for the longest time." (Pinchot, 1910, pp. 42-50.)
WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM?
Mau (1986) reported a survey which identified rankings of the most pressing
global problems from the perspectives of 262 science educators from 21
countries. Among them were: world hunger and food resources, population growth,
air quality and atmosphere, water resources, and human health and disease. These
parameters are among those associated with sustainable development.
Respondents to the survey indicated that they:
(1) expected science and technology-related global problems to worsen; (2)
were slightly to moderately knowledgeable about the problems; (3) believed that
it was important to study global problems in the schools; (4) detected a trend
toward teaching about science-technology-society; (5) believed that an
integrated approach should be used to teach about environmental problems; and
(6) saw public support for including the study of global problems in school
Social studies educators have indicated that issues rising from manipulation
of the natural environment create problems due to the limited capacity of the
natural environment to satisfy human needs (Woyach, 1984). They suggest that
secondary school social studies courses should emphasize a conceptual framework
for understanding, interpreting, and making and judging decisions about such
issues. This framework should enable students to organize, interpret, and
appraise information about the "limits to growth" debate, and about sustainable
development of natural resources. The approach should help students develop an
understanding of the social and political contexts of issues related to
sustainability, and to develop a global perspective on them.
These reports indicate emerging emphases on the environment by both science
educators and social studies educators, and imply a merging focus across their
disciplines. Because environmental educators have traditionally stressed the
need for integrated, interdisciplinary approaches to learning about the
environment, they have developed conceptual bases and workable procedures to
this end. Science educators have been encouraged to look to the experiences of
environmental education for a research-and-practice base for their new emphases
(Rubba, 1987); it appears that scholars and practitioners in the social studies
also could benefit by doing so.
WHAT MATERIALS EXIST FOR TEACHING ABOUT
Roth (1987, pp. 129-138) has implemented a model for
education for sustainable development in the contexts of both developed and
developing nations. He identified four categories of interrelated conceptual
underpinnings: biophysical, socio-cultural, environmental management, and
change. His 1987 paper presents applications in the non-formal sector in the
Dominican Republic, and in the formal sector in Barbados.
Explicit curricular responses to emphases on sustainability are beginning to
emerge in the formal education sector. Sustainability has sometimes been
addressed in materials developed for global education, with emphases on the
situations of developing nations. However, global education teaching materials
typically emphasize political and economic aspects and pay less attention to
environmental and natural resource realities. At post-secondary levels, texts
for some college survey courses deal explicitly with sustainable development in
a global context (for example, Botkin and Keller, 1987), but similar texts are
not available for elementary-secondary levels.
Some elementary/secondary supplementary teaching materials targeted on
sustainability have appeared, such as those developed by the Global Tomorrow
Coalition (Holm, 1986). The Coalition's materials include five "Global Issues
Education Packets"--Consider the Connections, Tropical Forests, Population,
Marine and Coastal Resources, and Biological Diversity--for the intermediate
grade/- middle school levels. Supplementary teaching materials with substantial
environmental components which deal with sustainability include the:
(1) Minnesota curriculum guide focussing on "International Development in a
Global Context" (Hoffman, 1988); (2) ERIC teaching activities volume directly
addressing relationships between environment and global development (Mann and
Stapp, 1982); (3) university-generated secondary school global issues activities
and resource guide (Switzer, et al., 1987); (4) UNESCO-UNEP module on
conservation and management of natural resources (UNESCO, 1986); and (5) An
Arkansas resource handbook on teaching for global perspective (Roach, 1988).
In school settings, interdisciplinary content has
no clearly identified curricular home, and is not seen to "fit" in settings
which place a premium on disciplinary rigor. Also, educational leaders,
curriculum planners, and textbook publishers have not placed priority on
Until educators supporting education about sustainability find ways to
overcome these obstacles, education about sustainable development will be at
best spotty. Those involved in environmental education and environmental studies
appear to be in the best position to move it forward. An encouraging sign is the
strong interest of science and social studies educators in topics relating to
the environment. Perhaps education about sustainability will provide the
mechanism for the development of interdisciplinary educational efforts across
the natural and social sciences, with the environment at the focal point.
Botkin, Daniel B., et al., editors.
CHANGING THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT: PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN INVOLVEMENT. Academic
Press, New York, 1989.
Botkin, Daniel B., and Edward A. Keller. ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES: EARTH AS A
LIVING PLANET. Merrill, Columbus, OH, 1987.
Brown, Lester R., and Edward C. Wolf. "Reclaiming the Future," in Lester R.
Brown, et al., editors, STATE OF THE WORLD 1988: A WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE REPORT
ON PROGRESS TOWARD A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY. W. W. Norton, New York, pp. 170-188,
Bybee, Rodger W., and Teri Mau. "Science and Technology Related Global
Problems: An International Survey of Science Educators." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN
SCIENCE TEACHING, 23(7):599-618, 1986.
Clark, William C. "Managing Planet Earth." SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 261(3),
Hoffman, Dorothy D. INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT. Curriculum
Services Center, White Bear Lake, Minnesota, 1988. ED 308 124.
Holm, Amy E. Consider the Connections: GLOBAL ISSUES EDUCATION PACKET. Global
Tomorrow Coalition, Washington, DC, 1986. ED 297 281.
Mann, Lori D., and William B. Stapp. ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION TEACHING
ACTIVITIES FOR GLOBAL EDUCATION. ERIC/SMEAC, Columbus, OH, 1982. ED 229 214.
Pinchot, Gifford. THE FIGHT FOR CONSERVATION. Harcourt, Brace, Garden City,
Ray, G. Carlton. "Sustainable Use of the Global Ocean," in Daniel B. Botkin,
et al., editors, CHANGING THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT. Academic Press, New York, pp.
Roth, Robert E. "Environmental Management Education: A Model for Sustainable
Natural Resources Development," in Douglas D. Southgate and John F. Disinger,
editors, SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT IN THE THIRD WORLD. Westview Press,
Boulder, CO, pp. 129-138, 1987. ED 294 727.
Roach, Patricia Betts, editor. TEACHING FOR GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: A RESOURCE
HANDBOOK. Department of Education, Little Rock, Arkansas,1988. ED 299 218.
Rubba, Peter A. "An STS Perspective on Environmental Education in the School
Curriculum," in John F. Disinger, editor, TRENDS AND ISSUES ON ENVIRONMENTAL
EDUCATION: EE IN SCHOOL CURRICULA. ERIC/SMEAC, Columbus, OH, pp. 63-71, 1987. ED
Switzer, Kenneth A., et al. GLOBAL ISSUES: ACTIVITIES AND RESOURCES FOR THE
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, 2ND ED. Social Science Education Consortium, Boulder, CO,
1987. ED 286 810.
Talbot, Lee. M. "Man's Role in Managing the Global Environment," in Daniel B.
Botkin, et al., editors, CHANGING THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT. Academic Press, New
York, pp.17-33, 1989.
UNESCO. EDUCATIONAL MODULE ON CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES. Paris, France, 1986. ED 297 949.
Woyach, Robert B. "Ecopolitical Issues and the Secondary Curriculum." A paper
presented at the annual conference of the International Studies Association,
1984. ED 269 313.