As the term “environmental awareness” is turning into a scientific cliché, its meaning is either ignored or taken for granted. Behind the emerging policies to translate environmental awareness into action, the question of what makes up for such awareness and how it works has no definite answer. An emerging consensus is that school-based curricula teach children to be cognizant of endangered species. The learning process is designed to create a satisfactory atmosphere of environmental awareness and motivate children to be proactive in their environmental decisions and steps. In reality, the prevailing majority of the current approaches to environmental education rest on the outdated belief that theory can bring children closer to nature. The summaries below uncover a new wave of concern about the future of environmental awareness in global society. They also confirm the growing interconnectedness of humans and species, the fundamental role played by humans in maintaining such interconnectedness, and the crucial importance of transferring this tangible knowledge of nature to the future generations.
As more environmental professionals and educators speak about awareness as the key to positive social change, contemporary researchers investigate the multiple facets of environmental awareness and the role of humans in the natural world. Dougherty (1987) talks of the responsibility of being a human, based on the strong belief that everything within nature is intimately linked. With no regard to religious or philosophic conventions, Dougherty (1987) makes a plausible claim that the essence of human life is in maintaining interdependence and brotherhood with everyone else on the planet. Those who seek a deeper analysis of human relations with nature should realize that every single person living on earth is profoundly connected with other people and species that make up the very notion of nature. Dougherty (1987) suggests that every person operates as a radio station, transmitting and receiving signals to and from around the globe. Even if the physical entity of the human being is fixed, consciousness crosses the boundaries of imagination, turning spiritual and emotional activity into a force of enormous power and magnitude. In Dougherty’s (1987) view, “living an upright life […] hinges upon the thoughts and feelings that we gather to us, our aspirations and desires, and the motives that underlie our actions.” Here, Sobel (1998) joins the conversation and tries to advertise possible ways to raise environmental awareness from the early age.
Based on what Sobel (1998) writes, contemporary curricula no longer respond to the emerging demands of the environmental age. One of the principal problems facing modern schools is that environmental learning is too early and abstract (Sobel, 1998). With ecological curricula being so confusing and misbalanced, it comes as no surprise that children develop some kind of ecophobia, or a fear of the natural world (Sobel, 1998). Sobel (1998) provides recommendations to facilitate children’s transition to a higher level of environmental awareness. For children aged four-seven years, cultivating closer relationships with animals and the rest of the natural world could be helpful in fostering ecological empathy (Sobel, 1998). Between eight and eleven years of age, children should be exposed to vast exploration opportunities, through traveling, landscape investigation, gardening, providing animal care, etc. (Sobel, 1998). By the age of 12, children are physically and mentally ready to engage in a social action in their neighborhood. However, before they are asked to save the Earth, they should be given enough opportunity to love it (Sobel, 1998).
This is actually what happens in the article by Richtel (2010). The author describes an unusual journey, during which five neuroscientists devoted themselves totally to the world of nature, spending a week in a remote area of Utah (Richtel, 2010). The activity encompassed numerous elements and activities, from rafting to camping. The primitive trip was intended to teach a group of adults how they could live without digital devices and how their retreat into nature could restore the intimate relationship between humans and the world of plants and animals. Unfortunately, the trip had little to do with the issue of environmental awareness. Rather, it reinforced the potent sense of dependence on technological devices. Nonetheless, all three articles provide useful information on what it takes to be cognizant of the environment and what place every human takes in that environment.
The first thing to know to be cognizant of the environment is that all processes and things are intimately related. Humans are not an exception to this foundational rule. Despite the growing number of digital devices and humans’ evolutionary desire to emphasize a huge difference between them and other species, individual and collective recognition of the existing links will shape the basis for raising environmental awareness. Also, everyone should remember about his/her dramatic impacts on the environmental equilibrium. In the words of Dougherty (1987), every personality acts as a radio station, receiving and transmitting information, actions, and decisions. The ability to assume responsibility for one’s actions and decisions is likely to foster substantial improvements in environmental awareness as the basis for proactive approaches to environmental protection. Here, humans should also realize the place they take in the environment.
Humans are a part of nature, but they should not treat their position as preferable or more important to that of other species. The place of humans in the environment is defined by their inherent ability to analyze and transfer useful information about this environment. Apart from developing and maintaining a strong connection with nature, humans are expected to use their knowledge, experience, and values to translate their environmental commitment into a global reality. Neither technologies nor the human ability to think critically can justify the abstraction and distance, which many people seek to create between themselves and the environment. Only by bringing themselves into a harmony with the rest of the natural world, humans can finally fulfill their environmental mission.
- Dougherty, S. B. (1987).The responsibility of being human.Sunrise: Theosophic Perspectives 35(4). Retrieved from http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/sunrise/36-86-7/ka- sbd2.htm.
- Richtel, M. (2010, August 15). Outdoors and out of reach, studying the brain. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/.
- Sobel, D. (1998). Beyond ecophobia.Yes! Retrieved from http://www.yesmagazine.org.