Today’s blog is the first in a series from Richard Jurin who, before his retirement, ran the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Northern Colorado, launching a degree in Sustainability Studies. His academic interests are environmental worldviews and understanding barriers to sustainability. As ever, with our blogs, Richard’s views are not necessarily shared by NAEE.
David Attenborough in his latest documentary A life on our Planet (2020) makes two clear statements: Our greatest threat is loss of biodiversity and the need to ‘Save the humans’ since the planet will look after itself without need for more interference on our part. We often get so buried in the minutia of what to teach that we forget to take a big picture look at the true essence of our problem. What education is necessary to ‘Save the Humans’?
On Apollo 8, Dec 24, 1968, Anders took the first photographs of Earthrise that were catalytic in causing a great change in thinking about our planet. In 2012, at a height of 240 miles (400 Km) above the Earth, STS-51-G Space Shuttle astronaut, Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, is quoted saying, “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.”
I think the quote above says it succinctly – we are all one and all connected, and there are no real divisions between anything. Rather than life being a contentious contest between 8.7 million species on Earth (we’ve identified maybe 1.6 million of them as of 2020) it is literally an interconnected network of life in which humans strive to exclude themselves at their own peril. Now, how do we teach connectedness without sending everyone into space to get that unique transformative perspective for themselves? Proverbially, viewing our planet from the 240 mile level reveals perspectives that we miss at ground level.
The late Sir Ken Robinson was quite clear that traditional education is an obsolete model that stifles creativity and does little to prepare us for the changes required in a future sustainable world. David Orr talks about education focused more on topics that teach us how to live well in a place and not for the consumer paradigm. Yet getting to that new model requires us to seriously rethink not only how to think out of the box but to break apart the old model box of education completely.
Daniel Quinn through his Ismael novels series and Jared Diamond in his book The World Until Yesterday both emphasize how indigenous cultures already knew how to live well on the planet, not just as hunter-gatherer societies per se but as humans that understand their connection within the natural world and lived lives that honored that connection.
The barriers seem immense yet what we need is already around us. My own interests in worldviews reveals we are already on the cusp of change in thinking. American philosopher and transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilber who derived integral theory believes humanity is evolving away from its ethnocentricity of the past many millennia and becoming ‘worldcentric’ in that more and more people are starting to see themselves as citizens of an interconnected world. Change is already here – are we ready to embrace it?
Richard can be contacted at: Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org