If you are reading this then you will likely be a member of that lucky UK tribe that finds fulfilment from being in the natural world, and a just cause in its protection. Our tribe has a long history, and the wonder is that it doesn’t have more members. But that is what environmental education is for.

Whilst NAEE is a mere 50 years old, The Sunday Times celebrated its 200th anniversary last month. Part of noting this milestone was a look back into the archives into how environmental matters had been covered. Here are some extracts:

On June 28, 1846, the Political Inquirer section on page 2 lamented the loss of public green space.

As the metropolis spreads out in every direction, … the toll-worn citizens would be deprived of every chance of inhaling fresh and health giving air”. 

On December 19, 1926, Sir Henry Rew reporting in The Sunday Times on the newly formed Council for the Protection of Rural England (now CPRE, the Countryside Charity):

Much of the beauty has been inevitably destroyed by the conversion of an agricultural into an industrial country and by the congestion of population which this involves … The more reason, therefore, to cherish such treasures that are left.” 

Initially, CPRE was preoccupied with the architectural heritage of rural towns and villages, and stopping ribbon developments along roads. There was little concern for nature, but plenty of anger at what was described as horrors, atrocities and monstrosities – the “unlovely” buildings that had popped up in town centres. 

35 years on, the world had become alarmed about humanity’s impact on wildlife. (Sir) Peter Scott wrote in the Sunday Times Colour Section in 1962:

In the past hundred years man’s activities have changed the environment so quickly that no animal with which he comes into conflict can hope to survive for long.” 

Then came global warming warnings:. George Schwartz, writing in 1960, said:

“You may not have noticed it – I certainly haven’t – but since the end of the last century there has been fairly widespread warming … there has been a marked retreat of the glaciers in the Alps, Scandinavia, Alaska and other parts of the world.”

In 1969, the Sunday Times science correspondent Bryan Silcock, recently returned from covering the moonshot in Houston reported that some scientists were becoming concerned about the greenhouse effect:

One of the biggest menaces brought up by man is carbon dioxide, produced wherever fossil fuel is burned.”

On the other hand, he said, other researchers were worried that dust and pollution would produce not global warming, but global cooling, by shielding some of the sun’s rays. Silcock said:

“Nobody knows what the outcome will be … If we are lucky they will cancel each other out.” 

We haven’t been. By the 1980s Silcock had become convinced by the scientific reports he was reading – the world was warming. While some scientists and many journalists still questioned the hardening consensus, Silcock believed climate change would have a major impact on humanity. Carbon dioxide, in conjunction with mass clearance of the rainforests, was driving significant change. On January 4, 1981, he produced a weather forecast for the next century, writing:

“Most areas of the world can expect warmer, wetter conditions… By 2050 Earth is likely to be hotter than at any time for the past 18,000 years.” 

And here we are with even more for environmental education to do …

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