FLAME in the news | April 22, 2021
There is an urgent need to change the way we teach our future generations to sensitise them about the environmental problems, writes Prasad Pathak

March 2020 brought in a completely new experience into everyone’s life - the COVID-19 pandemic. It changed the way we behave at individual level as well as interpersonal interactions. COVID-19 affected our jobs and daily routines we used to follow. There has been tremendous change in our education system as well, mostly in the mode of delivery. Education institutes across the globe adopted online platforms with highly interactive applications to provide nearly the same experience of classroom education. This, not so swift, but still a quick change in education delivery has made possible the learn-from-home mechanism for most of us. If education can mould itself at this intensity, then a major question arises as why it has not changed and been successful in tackling the bigger challenge of “climate change”, which has exacerbated to such an extent that our future generations may not lead a good and healthy life.

Gaylord Nelson, a US senator came up with the idea of Earth Day in 1970. To be precise, it was April 22, 1970. He intended to break the shackles of the politics and create awareness and sensitivity in everybody about the environment. Initially, it was a great success and lead to several laws and also creation of environmental monitoring agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency. It has led to some critical environmental management steps. It, however, has not reached its broader goal where humans will be respectful to all the other species on this planet, providing equal opportunities to every other human being, and changing the human behaviour for sustainable future.

To understand the current scenario, we need to look at the planetary boundaries. They are performing worse than that of 1970s. The emission of carbon dioxide has around 390 ppm (limit 350 ppm), ozone depletion is on the rise, our oceans are experiencing tremendous acidification and land is increasingly getting converted for agrarian use. The rate at which we are losing the biodiversity is 10 times more than what could be a sustainable limit. So, Earth Day has not really achieved its purpose in the last five decades.

In the Paris Agreement, many countries agreed to work towards sustainable future by adopting low greenhouse gas technologies and strategies to achieve that. What it meant was to modify the finances (markets), develop sustainable green technologies, and work on capacity building for climate change.

With respect to capacity building, we can link it with our education system where we feel that the education institutes are meant only for providing skills to the students so that when they graduate, they start earning money. Certain new ventures are marketing Mars as the next destination. However, we should not touch another planet as we are not able to take care of our own. The education so far has ignored the importance of sensitising the human race toward the environment and teach the required respectful relationship with it. The environment is only for the students who learn about it and want to make a career while trying to somehow manage a few environmental issues.

Understanding environmental issues
One has to understand that environmental issues we have at hand now, are far more complicated and are of trans-boundary nature. It demands the engineers, doctors, writers, and any other domain experts to work together to identify the solutions and pave the way for better future. It will be only possible if the very nature of their training enables them to do so. Also, as global citizens we need better understanding and measure of our own interactions with nature, which we really do not ponder upon in our day-to-day lives. The number of cars is still increasing. The cities are still expanding. We still want a latest phone, a better performing computer, a foreign trip, and more food and water. Will our thirst ever end? No, it will further push us towards the catastrophe which is a problem for someone else to solve.

Change in education system required
There is some change in the education system. Environmental education has been provided to the primary and secondary school kids now.It is a great step. They at least understand some natural processes. It still lacks in developing sensitivity in them towards Earth. With the proposed liberal education policy in India, there is a very high chance to bring about desirables changes in all the disciplines and make them multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary so that different experts can have broader understanding of the environment and work with each other to tackle complexity of climate change. A poet can work with an engineer and a journalist can work with a lawyer to find solutions and spread awareness about various environmental issues. This can provide an apt platform where environmental ethics and required environmental curriculum can be introduced so that the human beings understand connections among themselves and with the planet.

There is still hope about this planet looking at Greta Thunberg and many students like her who are taking climate change seriously and demanding the elders to listen to them. Urging them to take concrete steps and change the way world economics work. “Fridays for Future” and many local movements are also gathering momentum and providing platforms to unite people for the cause of climate change. These actions are inching towards the broader goal of Earth Day, i.e., to spread awareness and take individual actions at larger scales. They are trying to go beyond the current political establishments to change the ways we can lead our lives. Education certainly has the potential, which can bring in the realisation, sensitivity and actions in everyone’s life. Therefore, there is an urgent need to change the way we teach our future generations. Can this be one of the goals for this Earth Day?

The author is associate professor and Chair of the Centre for Earth and Environment at FLAME University, Pune