In Pursuit of Sustainability
An anonymous humorist once referred to his home town as “the last stronghold of ignorance.” The comment conjures up a vision of a community comprised of people who simply lack the essential understanding of what makes their community work. It would be a community in chaos, fraught with bad decision making. This prompts the question of “what constitutes a community of well informed citizens.” FORED operates on the assumption that informed citizens need to be environmentally literate. The association works with community stakeholders of all ages to achieve that goal.
What is meant by environmental literacy? In brief, it means having the ability to grasp the basic concepts: scientific, economic and social that surround environmental issues and their consequences.
Why is environmental literacy a critical component of citizenship? It is because at all levels of society, the critical choices being placed before citizens by their governments are invariably connected to environmental choices. Here's how.
At the international level the dominant issue is climate change. Countries belonging to world bodies such as the United Nations are divided as to how to respond to this contentious theory. The subtopics are complex and range from the degradation of the ice shelf to new forms of international trade in environmental credits. But the final outcome will affect the lives of every citizen around the globe in some way.
In Canada , this international focus on climate has generated a national debate on the KYOTO Agreement. This debate is turning millions of Canadians into environmental students as they follow the arguments and counter arguments in the media daily. To understand this debate, Canadians need to grasp a full “curriculum” of topics ranging from economics to health impacts. In British Columbia , environmental matters dominate the public agenda. Whether it's the area of parkland created, the volume of timber cut, or the protection of salmon, the most significant public issues all have environmental concepts at their core.
It is no less true at the community level. Decisions made today in towns and cities involving roads and zoning will have environmental impacts for a generation.
This brings us back to the connection between environmental literacy and citizenship. If citizens don't have a basic understanding of any of these debates, they will reward, reject or ignore decision-makers at their peril. Conversely, these same decision-makers, if guided by an informed electorate, will make better environmental choices.
Elsewhere in these pages we learn that literacy in a second language is most likely to be achieved if instruction starts in childhood. This is equally true of environmental literacy.
Not too long ago, the custodians of environmental debates seemed to be proponents and activists. Proponents are people who have already made up their minds. The term activist is not always synonymous with being informed. Today, in order that the right decisions can be made at all levels, citizens need to take ownership of environmental choices. To do so they must have some understanding of the language of the environment.
This is what FORED does. We work with lifelong learners in all segments of society to create literacy in a second language every citizen is entitled to: the language of air, water, soil and place.