The climate crisis and environmental degradation are among the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. The paradigm of economic growth at all costs, the spirit of consumerism, the attitude of greed and exploitation which man has applied to the Earth and its resources, as well as to the weaker ones, has led to ecological imbalances, environmental degradation, social inequality and climate change.
We are seeing the progressive effects of climate change all over the world. It can also be felt in our part of Europe: ever warmer winters, deeper droughts, and extreme weather phenomena such as heavy rainfall are occurring with increasing frequency.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, report in English, report in German) clearly shows that, if we do not take decisive steps towards a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, we could lead to irreversible, long-term effects, even leading to the loss of certain ecosystems.niektórych ekosystemów.
We are also witnessing the sixth extinction of species. The rate of extinction of species is between 100 and 1000 times faster than that of the last million years. Today, only 4% of mammals are wildlife. 60% are farm animals and 36% are humans (World Wide Fund for Nature Polska, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)). Industrial food farming contributes to this, and contributes to the emission of around 25% of greenhouse gases. Such intensive use of soils results in their barrenisation, so the fertile soil, which is essential for feeding people on Earth, is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Waters are increasingly polluted by large-scale agriculture, industry and the large quantities of plastic that go into them.
Consuming lifestyle, especially in the countries of the Global North, lead to excessive consumption of raw materials and production of waste. Our ecological footprint is greater than the earth's environmental capacity. If every person on Earth lived like the average Pole or German, we would need about three earth spheres to meet such demands. In a word: we live on credit, using more resources than the Earth is able to reproduce. There is now a growing awareness that the plundering of resources and the greed and consumerism that underlies it are leading to the deepening of existing and creating new human conflicts and may even threaten the further development of our civilisation.
The IPCC report of 2018 says that in order to prevent irreversible changes to ecosystems, rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes need to be undertaken in all areas of society: energy, industry, land use, transport and agglomeration. These processes should be enabled and supported by politicians at various levels. However, the role of active citizens is invaluable.
The activities of non-governmental organisations, a strong civil society, and local, cross-sectoral and international cooperation are essential for developing the values of sustainable development, democracy and solidarity in societies.
The voice of young people is increasingly strong, and they are expressing their resistance to the exploitation of the Earth and people by participating in mass climate strikes around the world. Young people realise that it is their generation and future generations who will pay the highest price for an approach in which continuous economic growth, excessive consumption and ruthless competition are identified with development. The international climate movement Fridays for Future shows that young people are ready for change and demands it from decision makers.
In this context, the role of environmental education, for sustainable development, global and transformative learning is invaluable for strengthening civic attitudes and commitment to social and environmental transformation. Such education operates on the basis of several steps: from knowledge, through deepening awareness, activating emotions, to involvement in a given matter. Asking important questions, creating a space for discussion and in-depth reflection on ecological and climatic challenges, emotional involvement, leads to specific undertakings preventing environmental threats. Showing alternatives inspires to take the initiative.
Education should develop critical thinking that allows facts to be combined in cause and effect sequences in order to be aware of global dependencies and the impact of global processes on the individual and vice versa. Critical thinking also helps to distinguish genuine commitment to sustainable development from apparent actions. Greenwashing is an increasingly common phenomenon among companies, institutions which hide their environmentally harmful practices with so-called green PR.
The role of environmental education is, among other things, to change the perspective from which we look at the Earth, its resources and others, from one where profit and (over)consumption are most important to a more sustainable one. It can show different approaches to environmental issues. Deep ecology reminds us that we are part of the ecosystem and are linked by a network of mutual dependencies with other organisms, but we do not stand at the centre or above it.
The idea of post-growth reverses the logic of the modern economic system, in which economic growth means excessive production and consumption, which takes place at the expense of other people and the Earth and leads to the enrichment of a few. In post-growth, social and environmental well-being, or 'good life for all', are priorities. Deep adaptation to the climate crisis, in turn, encourages recognition of its inevitability. This leads to a verification of the existing lifestyle and the development of strategies which will allow us to deal constructively with changing living conditions. The perspective of global education is also extremely important, and it is a reminder of our responsibility towards the inhabitants of the countries of the global South, who are the ones who feel most strongly the destructive effects of the global activities of the North on the climate and the environment.
Educational centres can provide safe spaces to face these complex problems and show them from a different perspective. Children, young people, teachers and multipliers can deepen their understanding of processes related to environmental issues and also be inspired by the examples of social and environmental transformation.
By striving for consistency of the content provided with functioning practices, educational centres become spaces for experiencing and trying out various pro-ecological solutions.
Anna Dańkowska - Coordinator of the European Academy projects in 2018-2020; currently a freelancer cooperating with the Krzyżowa Foundation
The "Green Krzyżowa" tab was created thanks to the funding of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.