Environmental Education and Global Environmental Problems

Environmental Education and Global Environmental Problems

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By Aldo Guzmán Ramos

Environmental problems related to economic and social development have been increasingly taken into account for some decades. The current production system has led us to a critical situation from which it is not easy to get out, even with the best of our efforts.


"Reaching its prosperity has brought Great Britain
to consume half of the planet's resources.
How many planets would a country like India need? "
(Mahatma Gandhi)

Environmental problems related to economic and social development have been increasingly taken into account for some decades. The current production system has led us to a critical situation from which it is not easy to get out, even with the best of our efforts.

So far the solutions have come from the hand of technological changes, the enactment of stricter regulations, the imposition of taxes on those who pollute or subsidies for those who make "green" or environmentally friendly products. All these measures have been relatively successful, the truth is that the environmental situation of the planet is getting worse and more irreversible.
Bearing this in mind, this article first briefly analyzes the relationship between the environment and the capitalist production system, detailing in a simplified way why economics and ecology appear to be antagonistic issues up to now.

In the second part of the article, the one that represents for us the main solution to environmental problems is presented, that is, environmental education at all levels and sectors of society (productive or not).
We precisely believe that the main way out (not the only one, since it must be accompanied by other measures of an economic, political, technological nature, etc.) comes from the hand of education, in this case environmental education. This is a fundamental tool to achieve a change in attitude and behavior in society, not only in producers but also in consumers around the world.

II) Capitalism, consumerism and environmental and human deterioration.

"There is enough in the world for the needs of all
men, but not to the greed of all men. "

(Mahatma Gandhi)

We agree with Jiménez Herrero that "the main cause of the continuous deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of production and consumption, particularly in industrialized countries. While in developing countries poverty and environmental degradation are closely interrelated" (one).
If such models are now "unsustainable" it is because it is evident that it is impossible to continue maintaining styles of development that have historically been based on the exploitation of the environment, in general, of the human being and of the peripheral regions of the world system, in particular (2).
This chaotic situation was created by "the technological society based on the Industrial Revolution and protected by the incipient capitalism" (3) that introduced great problems for current and future generations in the socioeconomic and environmental environment.
We are increasingly aware of living in a "global village" and of starring in the revolutionary era of globalization that ranges from environmental issues to socio-economic processes. After this enormous scientific and technological progress, the increasing abuse and deterioration of nature goes hand in hand with the increase in poverty and human misery for the majority of the inhabitants of the planet. Thus, "... in the face of neo-Malthusian explanations of this crisis based on the pressure exerted by the demographic explosion (especially of poor populations) on the planet's limited resources, other studies have shown that the scarcity and depletion of Resources are due in particular to the forms of production and consumption patterns in industrialized countries and privileged groups in society (4).

The environmental crisis has been accelerating during the second half of this century, with capitalist expansion. Ultimately, the socio-economic and technological processes that trigger the environmental crisis, are linked to the inability of human understanding of the environment, the world and life in its complex totality, to admit the true dimension of man in nature.

Parallel to environmental change, there is also global social change. This is mainly due to the internal dynamics of the world system, whose exponential nature encourages demographic expansion, economic development processes and the trend towards globalization of the economy and technology, through powerful networks of interdependence.

According to some economists, although at first industrial growth increases pollution levels, as people's income rises, this situation is reversed. This is mainly explained by the concurrence of several mitigating factors, the main ones being the effects of increased demand for higher environmental quality and the adoption of new cleaner technologies that tend to preserve the quality of the environment, as society improves economically, is interested in the consumption of benevolent goods from the environmental point of view. According to certain studies (5) in countries with per capita income above US $ 5,000 per year, the environmental situation improves along with their economic growth. What is necessary then is to ensure that the almost 6,000 million people who inhabit the world reach this income, with which it will no longer be necessary to worry about caring for the environment because it may not exist as we know it today. For example, the incorporation of China (or part of it) into the market economy has generated an increase in environmental pollution, a dollar produced in China generates 10 times more CO2 than a dollar generated in the US Environmental principles development are based on a critique of the homogenization of productive and cultural patterns, claiming the values ​​of cultural plurality and the preservation of peoples' ethnic identities. The environment emerges as an ethnic principle, as a condition for the implementation of community management projects of natural resources at the local scale and as an effective means to achieve the objectives of sustainable development (6).

II.A) The course of the capitalist system and the environment. Brief justification of why the economy and the environment have not gone hand in hand.

The development of the capitalist system has led to a generalized pollution of the environment, the destruction of the ozone layer, destruction of natural resources, 17 million ha are lost per year due to deforestation. of tropical forest, 4 million ha are lost each year. of arable areas, due to desertification processes.

Some data demonstrates this problem:

"1,250 million people in the world are below the poverty line
"Every year 14 million people die of hunger (40,000 children every day)
"Of the almost 100 million people born annually, 90% will increase the misery of the developing world.
"20% of the population appropriates 80% of the planet's resources and 85% of the economic wealth, through asymmetric and unjust North-South relations, and internal unjust relations in underdeveloped countries.
"A third of the world's population does not have adequate sanitation works and 1,000 million inhabitants do not have drinking water. This situation is directly the cause of two million deaths and millions of sick people per year. In Mexico, the costs of caring for health caused by polluted waters represent US $ 3 billion.

"Pollution levels in urban areas are estimated to be responsible for 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths per year. In Bangkok, several studies suggest that a seven-year-old child has lost four IQ points or more due to lead exposure in the But who can be blamed by the Thai government, the businessmen of their country, foreigners, its legislation or the globalized capitalist economic system.

The capitalist system, which we are trying to change or improve, leads us to have more than 2,200 manufacturing plants on the US-Mexico border that employ more than half a million people, taking advantage of low production costs due to cheap and young labor . The need to provide work in underdeveloped countries forces the rulers to allow the installation of polluting industries, this is the policy followed in the city of Cubatao in Brazil, although there are improvements, the problem in that city and in many others is pressing.

If the goal is to maximize profits, in the face of capital mobility within the framework of globalization, the capitalist will look for those where he can reduce his production costs, where he is allowed to exploit the worker and the environment to the maximum. Another example of savage capitalism is the use of 2,4,5-T known as Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War to destroy the forests where the Vietcong were hiding, it stopped being used when they noticed the cases of cancer caused However, it had a very widespread agricultural use in undeveloped countries (7).
It is not the only case in which economic groups in developed countries use as guinea pigs a large part of the population (the poorest) of underdeveloped countries. The Green Revolution, which sought to increase food production, did so at the cost of large investments.
For example in the Philippines between 1966 and 1979 the amount invested in the use of pesticides to eliminate pests increased from 2 to 90 pesos per ha. This represents an economic burden for a poor nation and at the same time causes serious environmental problems, but for the On the contrary, chemical companies, and linked activities, increase their profits, and surely the companies that develop chemical products to promote this so-called "Green Revolution" are not Filipino, Peruvian or Haitian.

The highly protected industrialization process that the Latin American countries have followed and their high degree of technological dependence has led them to incorporate increasingly capital-intensive modern techniques. The spread of this technological model has been displacing small industry and traditional production practices, launching larger contingents of unemployed or underemployed labor on the labor market.

We could continue listing one example after another, but what has been said is enough to get an idea of ​​the situation that the hegemonic economic system has generated.

II.B) Attempts to resolve the environmental crisis from an economic logic.

"It takes a minimum of growth in the South and a greater redistribution from the North to believe in" global sustainable development "(8).

Attempts generally aim to solve the problem once it has been raised, on the other hand it has been shown that investing to reverse the environmental crisis once it has been provoked is not easy or the most recommended. In the 1980s, the US EPA estimated that controlling pollution would lead them to spend an unbelievable $ 526 billion.

In a study by ECLAC, it is stated that environmental protection policies "applied with increasing rigor" in Europe and the United States, increase the interest of companies in placing their chemical and metallurgical factories in developing countries. The idea is to "favor" the countries of the periphery, proposing that they use the destruction of their natural and human environment as a comparative advantage. We can also mention the traffic of toxic waste.
The exchange of foreign debt for nature also presents in the background a new maneuver of capitalism to increase its profits.
At the same time ambitious economic programs were launched, trying to solve the environmental problem. Since the early 1970s, when funds allocated to environmental protection began to be systematically counted for the first time, public and private investment in industrialized countries reached large numbers. Industrialized society appears to be retroactively paying astronomical figures for the negative environmental effects of production that have accumulated. The Federal Republic of Germany, for example, has reached the attractive sum of $ 140 billion. However, figures like these are ambivalent.

On the one hand they give rise to proud political statements about the achievements of environmental protection, according to the motto: the more the better. "But on the other hand they are, presumably, the absolute minimum of what is needed to guarantee the very basis of a viable society. At the same time they symbolize a serious structural deficit of industrialized society: expenses are incurred to protect the environment when the natural environment has already been damaged without being able to continue denying it. They are late repairs of the process of economic growth, signs of a policy that reacts and has to react to damage but does not prevent or cannot prevent it.

It seems that the economic development in which our society is totally committed inevitably means environmental degradation and economic contraction.

In general, it is estimated that in the case of Latin America, sustainable environmental development would require investments in the order of 15,000 million dollars per year, this is 1.4-1.5% of the Gross Global Product. But these investments would be irrelevant without an environmental educational program that would avoid falling back into the destruction of the environment.

In order to achieve economic development in accordance with the environment, a reduction in opulence and waste in developed countries and a radical transformation of the economic structures that make up the current World Order is necessary. To do this, is it necessary to reduce the economic growth of the North? Is it enough to change your growth mode? Or is it essential to break the current model of economic growth and accumulation and restructure the consumer metabolism of the current world?

Answering these questions is difficult, but it is more difficult to implement possible solutions, since ultimately it is about convincing producers and consumers to change their normal production and consumption practices.

But the capitalist (as a social class) does not care about the physical and spiritual impoverishment of the workers and the environment, since what interests him most is to extract the maximum of surplus labor at the lowest possible cost in order to increase accumulation. capital, otherwise it would perish (as a class) and this is something that under no circumstances crosses your mind. So how to achieve change.

Faced with this, it is worth asking if the solution is:
1) solve environmental problems within capitalist logic, or
2) alter the basic principles that govern the behavior of the capitalist system. The second option must be discarded until a valid alternative is presented and accepted by all of society.
As Ernst U. Von Weizsacker (Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy) puts it, "Bureaucratic socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to reflect economic truth. The market economy can ruin the environment and ultimately , ruining itself, if prices are not allowed to express the ecological truth. "

If socialism as an alternative economic system does not exist, then we must try to understand the attitude of the capitalist (as a class) to seek a change towards an economic development integrated with the environment. Thus issues such as sustainable development, eco-development, etc. have arisen. But they do not go beyond theoretical speculations made by high-level scientists that do not reach practice, or are only established in small communities with different rationalities than that businessman plunged into the competitive madness of the capitalist free market. It is difficult to demand that political leaders ask current humanity to assume costs for the good of those who have not yet been born and therefore do not vote, and the same happens with businessmen, since they must think of a non-existent market . The painful truth is that the present is a relatively comfortable place for those who have reached important positions in politics or business leadership.
We must seek the solution through mass media that allow a real approach to society, and this medium to which we refer is EDUCATION, which allows a very important exchange between those who learn and those who teach.

III) Environmental Education. A possible way out of the global environmental crisis?

"The environmental crisis is not so much in growth
of population, industrial growth, or in the system
economic and political, but on attitudes and values
that motivate human decisions. "(9)

If we think about H. Houstoun's phrase, it is precisely human attitudes and values ​​that cause the economic system to lead the world to an environmental crisis.
The effects of the process of reproduction of capital on the destruction of natural resources and on the degradation of the environment have become one of the greatest political and economic problems of our time. This environmental crisis has unleashed a vast process of popular awareness as well as a social movement to curb the negative effects that patterns of production and consumption of goods have on the depletion of resources, the destruction of ecosystems and the cultural disintegration of the peoples (10).
But this movement is relatively young, according to research by Landim (1988) and Crespo (1995), most environmental entities and NGOs emerged in Brazil, for example, from the 1980s, of which half were founded between 1985 and 1991 (11), this with variations is similar in the rest of Latin America.
It is difficult to realize the risk of not changing, it is difficult to understand abstract and uncertain scientific information, to perceive it in a correct way and to value it in such a way that we are capable of modifying our behaviors, among other reasons, because our current systems of perception and values they do not help us to understand global change and to integrate the environmental conservation of the Earth within what we human beings consider valuable. In many cases, environmental problems are considered more technical than human behavior and this is wrong (12).

There does not always seem to be a relationship between attitudes and behaviors, and even less, between levels of knowledge (information) and behavior. You can have a lot of information, express a favorable attitude to environmental protection and when acting, do it contrary to what was expected, but logically in line with the line followed by the economic system.

The transformation towards sustainability should not start in the boardrooms, of the managers, that change should start from formal or non-formal education, without a change in the business and social culture that advocates an ethic of prevention and Due to the strategic values ​​of sustainable practices, any change that affects only the technological part will generally be based on very short-term commitments, necessary to alleviate environmental problems today, but insufficient for the future, therefore What is needed is a change that affects decisions in the medium and long term. A formal new moral ethic is necessary for those who in ten, fifteen or twenty years will be integrated into capitalist society, regardless of the degree of intervention. This time seems long in the face of pressing environmental problems, but since the first formulation of a commitment to an environmental ethic, more than twenty years have passed, which shows two things, that the capitalist system took care that no "massive plan will work. "global environmental education to reverse the situation or that those in charge of training and teaching the fundamentals of environmental education failed to truly raise awareness among individuals. But a third hypothesis could occur, that environmental education does not serve to change the situation because the capitalist system is the simple externalization of the nature of the human being. Man's thirst for power has led him to become an individualistic being who does not take into account the rest of society and less the environment.

But if we maintain hope about environmental education, like many, we must begin in earnest to expand it and not just remain on paper, granting the necessary economic and human resources.

Environmental education, then, must stimulate human preferences by emphasizing the convenience of environmental goals, but it must also develop the necessary knowledge so that the individual can conceive the consequences of his actions and so that he can recognize the sacrifices that the choice of environmental goods implies for society. It is not just about the dissemination of existing knowledge. It is essential that environmental education to achieve the necessary change is not a transmitter of culture but a transformer of it, and this must be understood by those who teach environmental education, otherwise the effort will be in vain.

III.A) Where does this issue of environmental education and interest in environmental issues arise.

Concern for environmental problems and environmental education is not a fad as one might think, but has its roots in the current economic and environmental crisis.

If we do a little history, in 1975 the UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Program began, in 1977 in Tbilisi a series of objectives were formulated, later approved again in Moscow in 1987, these aimed to promote an awareness of interdependence economic, social, political and ecological; provide each person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment and skills necessary to protect and improve the environment…; create in individuals new patterns of behavior and ethical responsibilities towards the environment. More recently at the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, the Global Forum document was titled "Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility" and emphasizes promoting resource training. humans to preserve and manage the environment as part of the exercise of citizenship.

But, since 1975, more than two decades have already passed and unfortunately great changes in human behavior have not yet been seen.

III.B) The key lies in attitudes, values ​​and individual and collective perception.

But how to achieve this new environmental ethic if capitalism is based on maximizing profits through exacerbated consumerism of the population? How to raise awareness about the environment if the population is unemployed or underemployed? The key is to achieve a change in culture and in attitude and behavior.

As E. Leff says "... the cultural values ​​that govern the productive practices of a social formation are conditioned (...), by certain effects of the unconscious in the processes of symbolization and signification, which affect their perception of their resources, social access sanctioned to its use and usufruct, as well as to its forms of consumption. Hence the ideological processes that condition the changes in the forms of productive organization of social formations and that define the effectiveness of any environmental management strategy and sustainable use are derived. of natural resources "(13).

Sensitization and moral conscience is the common thread of environmental education, they have to do with perception, the values ​​that sustain actions, certain prejudices and attitudes. It is necessary to understand that the environment is as much ours as our home, car or TV, in this way we can protect it.
Because of our current lifestyle, humanity is in danger. The nearly 6 billion people living in the world, and especially the 1 billion in developed countries, are putting enormous pressure on resources. This is why a deep and widespread commitment to a new ethic is necessary, the ethics to live sustainably. This commitment must be worked from formal and non-formal education, to enable a change in the coming decades.

Eliminating (environmental) externalities through innovations in people's behavior without resorting to taxes, subsidies, bans, quotas or other regulatory measures, and at the same time, without privatizing, is a long-standing ambition. It has always been considered that to achieve this objective in a context of freedom, education is the tool, although the content of such education is not made explicit, and this is perhaps the biggest problem.
As long as people freely choose, by their own impulse, that course of action that is compatible with the values ​​of scarcity for the entire society, the environmental problem, understood as an externality, would not have a presence in society.

The point that we seek to emphasize here is that within the subject of environmental education it is possible to distinguish at least two objectives, although in terms of how to achieve them there is not so much practical difference. On the one hand, to achieve in society an adequate understanding of future challenges in environmental matters, the respective education should not be only information about nature. It is also necessary to emphasize the costs of pro-environmental measures, underlining that the decision in favor of the environment also forces us to sacrifice objectives in the area of ​​equity, ultimately it forces us to sacrifice the presence of other assets that are also a source of human well-being. This is presented according to various authors in two manifestations: environmental participation and responsible ecological behaviors.

Environmental participation is constituted by those actions, collectively organized, aimed at influencing political decision-making related to the protection and conservation of the environment, actions are closely linked to political participation within a certain social movement in favor of the environment. Responsible ecological behaviors are inscribed within a more daily action framework and broadly refer to individual behaviors that are carried out with the intention of conserving and benefiting the environment or harming it as little as possible.

Pro-environmental behaviors are one of the main causes of environmental quality and are conditioned by beliefs, the level of self-efficacy, the value of actions, the tangible benefits obtained and the expectations of social or individual success. Education could facilitate public decisions in this area as long as through it it finds a greater understanding in public opinion.
Awareness for environmental problems should be addressed from an early age, to avoid things like this: in Mexico City (which has almost 20 million inhabitants) the government since 1989 has banned the circulation of trucks and cars one day a week However, many people have bought a second vehicle (generally older and more polluting) to avoid this measure. Efficient legislation is not enough to solve the problem, the population must want to live in a better place, otherwise they will seek a way to circumvent the law or prohibition.

IV) Conclusions:

According to what has been analyzed, it is possible to conclude that we must reverse the current situation of deterioration of the environment and degradation of the quality of life of man, due to the logic of production and consumption of the capitalist system. This change must come hand in hand with the new generations. So far we can see an advance, at different levels of education, regarding environmental problems, which is very important but not sufficient. It is necessary to truly change the behaviors and attitudes of man towards nature; this is in our opinion the fundamental point to achieve sustainable development.

All those changes that aim exclusively at introducing technological modifications so as not to harm the environment only serve to alleviate the most urgent problems, these measures and other economic, political, etc., are extremely important; But the underlying problem, regarding the ruthless consumption of natural resources, the large generation of waste (the product of an exacerbated consumerism) and the exploitation of man by man to generate more wealth, must be taken as a problem of exchange rate human behavior towards the environment and their peers. Este cambio solo puede lograrse a través de un trabajo continuo educativo, tanto en las escuelas, universidades como en las empresas, de esta manera sólo podrá cambiarse un futuro que aparece negro en el horizonte de la humanidad y del planeta.

V) Notas:
1) JIMENEZ HERRERO, Luis M. Desarrollo sostenible y Economía Ecológica. Integración medio ambiente-desarrollo y economía-ecología. Editorial Síntesis. Madrid. España. 1996. p. 33.
2) Ibidem.
3) J. HERRERO. L. Op. cit. 36.
4) J. p 79.
5) VARAS, Ignacio. Economía del Medio Ambiente en América Latina. Ediciones Universidad Católica de Chile. 1995. 21
6) VARAS, I. 187.
7) BRAILOVSKY, Antonio E. Esta, nuestra única Tierra. Introducción a la ecología y medio ambiente. 1992. p.145.
8) J. HERRERO, L. 49.
9) HOUSTOUN, Helena. Proyectos verdes. Manual de actividades participativas pàra la acción ambiental. Biblioteca Ecología. PLANETA. 1994. 61.
10) LEFF, Enrique (comp.) Ciencias sociales y formación ambiental. Barcelona, Editorial Gedisa. (p. 124)
11) CARVALHO, Isabel. Las transformaciones de la cultura y el debate ecológico: desafíos políticos para la educación ambiental Formación Ambiental. Red de Formación Ambiental para América Latina y el Caribe. PNUMA. Vol. 10 Nº22 Febrero-junio de 1998. 15.
12) LUDEVID ANGLADA. El cambio global en el medio ambiente. Introducción a sus causas humanas. 167.
13) LEFF, E. 95-96.
VI) Bibliografía
BONILLA, Luis, Contenidos programáticos y formación ambiental en la escuela. Formación Ambiental. Vol.8 Nº19 Abril- Agosto. 1997.
CARVALHO, Isabel. 10 Nº22 Febrero-Junio de 1998.
EHRLICH, Paul; EHRLICH, Anne, H. La explosión demográfica. El principal problema ecológico. Biblioteca Científica Salvat. Barcelona. 1993
Estudio sobre los aspectos ambientales de las actividades de las empresas transnacionales. 1985. Centro de las Naciones Unidas sobre Empresas Transnacionales. Nueva York. En Dr. Miguel A. Craviotto 1994 "La Gestión Ambiental". Seminario de Derecho Ambiental aplicado a los Asentamientos Humanos. Maestría en Gestión Ambiental del Desarrollo Urbano. UNMdP-FAUD-CIAM
FOLCH, Ramón. Ambiente, emoción y ética. Actitudes ante la cultura de la sostenibilidad. Ed. Ariel. S. A. 1998.
HOLAHAN, Charles J. Psicología Ambiental. Un enfoque general. LIMUSA. Noriega Editores. México. 1996.
HOUSTOUN, Helena. 1994.
KLEIN, María Economía y medio ambiente ¿Un divorcio definitivo? En Dr. Craviotto "La Gestión Ambiental". UNMdP-FAUD-CIAM. 1994
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MORETTI DE JULIARENA, Cristina. Ambiente y educación. Boletín de GAEA. Sociedad Argentina de Estudios Geográficos. Nº 114. Buenos Aires. 1996.
NACIONES UNIDAS. Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe. El desarrollo sustentable: transformación productiva, equidad y medio ambiente. Santiago de Chile. 1991.
REIGOTA, Marcos. Educación Ambiental: Autonomía, ciudadanía y justicia social Formación Ambiental. 10 Nº22 Febrero-Junio de 1998.
SCHMIDHEINY, Stephan. Cambiando el rumbo: una perspectiva global del empresariado para el desarrollo y el medio ambiente. Fondo de Cultura Económica México. 1992.
SOMENSON, Marcelo; MURRIELLO, Sandra; FREISZTAV, Andrés. La educación ambiental en la Universidad. Propuesta metodológica. UNESCO. DPMA. UNLP. 1997
BRVARAS, Juan Ignacio. 1995
VEGA, Abraham. Interdisciplinariedad Formación Ambiental. 1997.
LUDEVID ANGLADA, M. Marcombo Editores. 1996.
LEFF, Enrique (comp.) Ciencias sociales y formación ambiental. 1994
* Aldo Guzmán Ramos
Profesor y Licenciado en Geografía Tandil. Argentina
E-mail: [email protected]

Video: Learn about Pollution. Environment Defilement. Cartoon (July 2022).


  1. Milar

    What remarkable topic

  2. Goltijin

    What an entertaining phrase

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