Planetary Education

I often find myself confused as to why on earth more people aren’t freaking out about the contemporary environmental crisis. I assumed it was because most people just don’t care, and I couldn’t get my head around that. Recently, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that actually, it’s more likely to be because most people don’t appear to actually know.

”Knowing” about environmental issues is a bit vague. Most people I’ve come across ”know” it’s good for the environment to recycle and turn off unused lights, and bad for the environment to drive. I haven’t met anyone that hasn’t heard of climate change, although I know a couple of people who think it ”might not be true” and very few who understand it to a GCSE science level.

But what I mean is having a decent grasp of environmental science. Environmental science is about how the world works. How the biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere interact. It’s the bigger picture. All of human civilization and culture is just one part of the biosphere, and all our complicated systems (including the global economy) are within that.

Yet many people seem to be under the impression that human society is the world, and nature is something that happens out in the countryside, or on BBC documentaries narrated by David Attenborough, or in National Parks.

Part of this fundamental ignorance in terms of our place in the world, must surely be because environmental studies is not taught in school? In my school, we were taught biology, chemistry and physics. All fascinating disciplines that place a magnifying glass up to particular parts of science. The bigger picture was missing. It wasn’t until college that I had the opportunity to study environmental science, and I obviously could easily of chosen not to.

I think environmental studies should be taught in secondary schools, alongside the natural sciences and humanities.

This all came to the front of my mind recently from a university class I had.
At university, I study Environment and Media Studies, a dual course that means I go into environmental and geography classes, social science classes and media classes. Recently I had a media seminar around ”the media and the environment”. Unsurprisingly, me and my course-mates knew quite a lot more about the topic than my peers who study straight-up media degrees. What emerged was a really interesting and dynamic discussion.

On the topic of climate change, the class was divided into several responses that were a pretty good representation of wider society. One guy said he honestly didn’t care about climate change because it wouldn’t affect him. One person said we didn’t know enough to know what was going on. Two girls said they didn’t really know anything about it. A couple of people said they thought climate change was just a natural fluctuation, i.e. not human caused. A couple of people (as well as myself) knew quite a bit about it and thought it was a pressing problem.

We went on to discussing why environmental problems don’t get more media coverage. Many of my peers said they don’t get more coverage because people aren’t interested. And yet interestingly, the whole class was very involved in the discussion, with every single student wanting to give their opinion. That was somewhat unusual. Usually in this same class, a few people give their opinions while the majority stay silent or even play on their phones. Given that they’re not environmentally minded at all, and yet really wanted to be part of the debate, made me question the assumption that ”most people” don’t care. This questioning was taken further when one of the girls who said she didn’t know about climate change (a media student) spoke up and said she thought more education was needed ¬†regarding environmental issues. She said she knew nothing about them at all, hadn’t been taught about them in school, and would care if she understood them.

The seminar made me conclude two things:

  • Students that study other subjects tend to lack even basic knowledge of environmental issues/processes
  • Some students desire more knowledge in the environmental field, but are unable to access it

I really think environmental science should be mandatory in school, as even this basic level of understanding would lay a healthy foundation for later life. Everyone should have some knowledge of the ecological processes that support human life.

Everyone should have some appreciation of the scientific complexity that is our planet Earth.

Apollo 17, so obviously not my image!

Apollo 17, so obviously not my image!


5 thoughts on “Planetary Education

  1. Tegan, I agree with you this needs to be taught in school, but here in the US I don’t see it happening. Our government mostly ignores the issue and they determine what it taught. I recently found this quote from our last president “we need an energy bill that increases consumption”. Talk about ridiculous.

    Older adults I know have more of the mindset that the one student had that it won’t affect them. They want to continue to live as they have been and will fight to the end not go make any changes.

    • That’s very sad. It must be frustrating to be such an environmentally minded person living in perhaps the least environmentally responsible country on the planet. I would argue this works two ways: yes, it’s hard for these kind of policies to be passed without a shift in attitude. But also, education is (in my opinion) pretty much the only way to get those attitudes to change. But that requires more than school curriculums, but adult/informal education as well such as accurate mainstream media coverage.


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