View from the Linden Barn 7 (November 12, 2015)

Emerging Dimensions of Global Environmental Education

By David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa

[The text below is reproduced, with permission, in English from the chapter by David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa in: Dovalova, Z, Gallayova, Z & Hips, J. (eds.). Environmental Education in Context. Zvolen, Zivica/Technical University of Zvolen, 2015, 212-227.]



This chapter begins by looking at key features of what has come to be called global environmental education before going on to explore two new and hugely important areas of development falling within the field: climate change education and disaster risk reduction education.  The interface between the two areas and with the general fields of environmental and sustainability education is then examined. Examples of noteworthy practice are given throughout the text.

Global Environmental Education

An educational response to the multiple-facetted environmental, social and economic crisis afflicting humanity, global environmental education offers a corrective to excessive localism of focus within environmental education.

In so doing, it presents a systems view of the world that highlights the dynamic interconnectedness between personal, local, regional, national and global levels of spatial existence.  Rather than seeing the different spatial levels mechanistically as discrete concentric circles with, for example, ‘world’ at the opposite end of the spectrum and distinct from ‘self’, it looks through a holistic lens and perceives that all levels are folded into each other and so are always present in and influencing each other in an unbroken whole.  The global is ever present in the local; multiple local events flow into, and influence, the global. The perceived boundaries between levels have a fuzzy and permeable rather than hard quality (Selby, 2000, 3-4).

Learning and teaching with a primarily local focus has been a longstanding and much valued feature of environmental education as evidenced by place-based education and bioregional education. The first offers learning that attunes the learner to geographical, ecological and cultural aspects of the near-at-hand community and environment through local enquiry. At its heart is experiential learning in local places that reveals how closely humans are connected to the natural world (Smith & Williams, 1999, 3).  The second takes as the learning setting the bioregion, i.e. the immediate region marked by distinctive natural and geological features that have shaped the particular cultural features of human presence and activity evident in the region (Traina & Darley-Hill, 1995, 1, 7).  What global environmental education brings to the table is the insight that global environmental trends are no respecter of boundaries or frontiers and that, directly or indirectly, global issues such as biodiversity loss, climate change, deforestation and acidification of rain will be in some way manifest or have impact locally.  As such, a local focus to environmental education needs to be complemented by a global focus with locally oriented environmental curricula revealing to students how the global is present in the local.

Learning in Action Example 1:The Sandwatch Project [1]

The Sandwatch Project in the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean involves grade 6-10 students in looking at the impacts of global climate change on local coastal and especially beach environments.  Students research and investigate coastal ecosystems and, in conjunction with local community members, develop plans for adapting to and building resilience in the face of climate change.  The work takes place in Science and Social Science lessons. Students are involved in various activities such as palm tree planting to reduce sand erosion and monthly measurement of beaches.  Through local community interviews, they find out about and record the history of each beach and about peoples’ ideas for resilience building (Selby & Kagawa, 2014, 156).

Beyond championing the age-appropriate inclusion in the curriculum of major global issues threatening environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability, global environmental education has played a path finding role in ensuring that environmental issues are treated in a multi-facetted way.  By this is meant that a seemingly ‘environmental’ issue such as biodiversity loss also needs to be viewed through, amongst others, human rights, sustainable development, health, gender, and peace and social justice lenses.  Distinct educational fields such as human rights, development and peace education, it is recognized, stand in mutually overlapping and mutually illuminating relationship to environmental education and to each other and their insights need to be brought to bear on any issue considered. An ‘environmental’ issue is, in the final analysis, also an economic issue, a social justice issue, a cultural issue and has the potential to become a peace and conflict issue (Selby, 2000, 5-6).

Learning in Action Example 2: ‘Woolly Thinking’

Woolly Thinking is a webbing activity in which student teams represent a particular global issue, e.g. human rights violations, deforestation, gender inequality.  Each team spends several minutes brainstorming ideas linked to their chosen issue.  Then one person from each team is appointed ‘static negotiator’ meaning they join a circle of team representatives with a role to negotiate while standing still.  Each ties a ball of yarn around their waist. Their team colleagues act as ‘mobile negotiators’, meaning they move around negotiating links between their issue and the issues represented by their peers.  For instance, they may find themselves negotiating links, positive and negative, between climate change and social justice.  The negotiation completed, they symbolize what has been agreed in two ways: first, by writing notes on the connections negotiated on their chart and, second, by taking the ball of yarn and wrapping it around the waist of their opposite number. Further negotiations and wrapping of the yarn follow until a powerfully symbolic web of interconnected issues is created.  The teacher asks teams to report and exchange views on connections made before using the activity to stimulate follow-up research into the connections between the issues, taking pains to bring student attention to stimulus material that might challenge taken-for-granted assumptions (Pike & Selby. 1988, 141).

The systems view underpinning global environmental education, under which action anywhere in the global web of connections is seen as having the potential to reverberate through the whole, carries the promise that learners can influence present and future developments and directions at any level, local through global. In this sense, a systems approach affords inherent encouragement to empowerment and action. This is why global environmental education has placed such emphasis on developing student action learning to foster environmental and community change.  The aim is to provide opportunities for practicing concerned, responsive and engaged citizenship that is globally mindful but in the main locally enacted as it addresses environmental and social challenges (Stapp & Polunin, 1999).

Not that action learning experience needs to stay local.  In an age of easy Internet connection and social media, there is every case for opening regular electronic dialog between young people working on similar or related issues in different parts of the world, sharing ideas and experiences and collaboratively critiquing each others’ ideas, perceptions and assumptions (Lotz-Sisitka, 2010). One of us has recently described this as a call to a ‘cosmopolitan dialog of denizens’, i.e. a learning conversation between dwellers and actors in different places (Selby, 2015, 37).

Learning in Action Example 3:Make the Link – Climate exChange [2]

This project organized by the non-governmental organization, Plan International, promoted co-learning, dialog and action on climate change by linking 11-19 year olds in primary and secondary schools and youth groups in the European Union (Bulgaria, Netherlands and the UK) and Africa (Kenya, Malawi and Senegal).  Using an interactive web platform, young people connected via messaging, blogging and group discussions, sharing their local and national climate change advocacy actions and collaborating on international projects.  Those participating gained insights into differences and similarities in their perspectives on climate change and different approaches to effective advocacy – some of which they put into effect in their own schools and communities.

In short, global environmental education underlines the importance of addressing diverse, interwoven global issues in the curriculum while embedding those issues in the local environmental learning agenda; also promoting local action-oriented learning that addresses near-at-hand manifestations of each issue. In this light, let us take a look at two emerging areas of global environmental education: climate change education and disaster risk reduction education.

Discussion and action:

  • Attempt the ‘Woolly Thinking’ activity described above. What insights does it give on how the different global issues considered relate to each other?
  • Collect local data (newspapers, stories, via interviews) on the presence of the global issues in the local community and environment and, back in class, use them to develop learning activities. Then try them out with school students.


Climate Change Education

Climate change education was identified by UNESCO as one of three key action priorities for the second half of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2010-14) alongside biodiversity education and disaster risk reduction and preparedness (UNESCO, 2010).  The urgency given to climate change learning arose from a growing realization that ‘climate change is coming faster and rougher than scientists have expected’ (Romm, 2007, 231), with earlier perceptions that global warming would be slow and gradual being overturned by a series of abrupt climate change impacts.  It became clearer, too, that the 2.0° Centigrade rise in global surface temperatures as compared with pre-industrial levels, regarded as economically and environmentally ‘livable with’, was likely to be exceeded with devastating consequences and that the root cause lay with human activities (Hansen, 2009; Selby & Kagawa, 2013, 4). Climate change was, therefore, seen as a mounting threat to environmental, economic and social sustainability.

A fully-fledged or transformative approach to climate change education has three complementary learning dimensions.  First, it concerns helping learners acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions for climate change mitigation (i.e. minimizing greenhouse gas emissions so as to reduce or reverse future global warming). Second, it is about climate change adaptation (i.e. i.e. learning of ways to reduce vulnerability and build resilience in the face of present and future climate change impacts). Third, it concerns climate change attentiveness and understanding (i.e. fostering understanding of what is happening to the global climate, understanding the driving forces behind climate change, and helping learners develop an alertness to changes that, although often stealthy and unseen, are already happening around them (Selby & Kagawa, 2013, 4-5).

As appreciation of the pervasiveness and severity of actual and potential climate change has grown, there has been a corresponding shift of focus within climate change education.  The field was earlier, and in some programs still is, characterized by a focus on the mechanics of the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’, i.e. the accumulation in the atmosphere of CO2 and other gases that trap the sun’s heat and warm the planet. Climate change was, thus, seen as an appropriate topic for the physical geography or science classroom. If mitigation was brought to the attention of learners it was addressed in terms of tackling greenhouse gas emissions through scientific and technological means such as shifting to non-polluting, renewable energy sources, energy conservation and restoring forests to provide a ‘carbon sink’.  In other words, the issue was approached through a ‘business as usual’ frame of reference, i.e. through ways not overly disturbing of the status quo, when the onrush of climate change was making it increasingly clear that ‘business as usual’ was unlikely to be an option.

Belatedly, there has been a shift towards addressing the deep cultural, social and economic drivers of climate change and exploring what a departure from ‘business as usual’ would look like in concrete, real life, terms.  This has been accompanied by a reweighting of curricular attention away from science and geography and towards the social science and humanities subjects. The following four paragraphs set out some key features of cross-curricular climate change education of transformative intent.

Learners investigate the culpability of the global economic system for climate change and consider slow growth, no-growth and de-growth alternative economic arrangements. Economic growth has achieved the status of a quasi-religious faith.  As one writer ironically writes: ‘Growth alone will save the poor.  If inequality causes concern, a rising tide lifts all boats.  Growth will solve unemployment. …And if the environment is in decline then higher growth will generate the means to fix it.  Whatever the social problem, the answer is always more growth’ (Hamilton, 2010, 33).  This prevailing mindset is countered by abundant authoritative opinion that the global fixation with growth is destroying the environment, eroding biodiversity, exacerbating inequalities and disrupting environmentally attuned ways of life and indigenous cultures, and is the primary fundamental driver of climate change (Selby, 2015a, 25). Unleashing the transformative potential of climate change education involves subjecting growth and market globalization ideologies and assumptions to critical scrutiny, bringing similar critical and creative attention to slow growth, no-growth and de-growth proposals that are being advanced, and giving learners the chance to engage and/or experiment with localized counter-growth and counter-globalization economies based on demonetarized exchange, a gift economy, use of coinage of locally-accepted validity and/or an ‘economy of proximity’ where the gap between the producer and consumer is significantly narrowed (Selby, 2015b).

Learning in Action Example 4: Climate Change Explanations

Designed to take the climate change debate beyond science and into social, economic and cultural domains, this high school activity gives learners ten statements each offering a different explanation as to why climate change is happening, for example: mass consumerism fuelled by an advertising industry manufacturing desire for things we really do not need; industrial, oil-based agriculture; deforestation contributing to greenhouse gas emissions while eroding the earth’s carbon sink; overpopulation; economic growth.  Groups of three are asked to critically review each statement, lay them out in order of significance, look for interconnections between the explanations offered and categorize each statement according to how challenging it would be to tackle each of the problems described (on a continuum from ’hugely challenging’ through ‘very challenging’ through ‘somewhat challenging’ to ‘not very challenging’). Teams share their ideas, including on how best to address each issue (Selby & Kagawa, 2013).

Learners develop the capacities for critical and ethical consumerism. The rampant consumerism evident in the metaphorical ‘North’ of the planet and amongst elites in the South has been defined as ‘consumption beyond the level of dignified sufficiency’ and has been earmarked as a key driver of climate change (McIntosh, 2008, 180). A root and branch approach to climate change learning necessarily involves developing a critical understanding of consumerism that goes beyond the reformist approach of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ green consumerism – where consumerism receives a ‘green wash’ carrying the subliminal message that consumerism can be made benign. It is about developing awareness of the exploitative nature of consumerism as manifest in both destroyed environments and sweatshop labor on the one hand and in dependency on continual purchase to buttress our sense of self on the other (to borrow from Descartes ‘I consume, therefore I am’). On the opposite side of the same coin, learners explore the multiple facets of ‘voluntary simplicity’, i.e. living frugally according to needs (as against ‘wants’), living in a connected and convivial way in and with community, living in intimate and rewarding relationship to nature (Elgin, 1981, 40).

Learning in Action Example 5: Ethical and Sustainable Consumerism

Based upon the development of good learning practice across six European countries, the Ethical Consumerism in European Education Project has made available six workshops for considering consumerism and how to roll back its effects. One workshop explores ‘wants and needs’ and aims at demonstrating that ‘we could do without many of the things we consider necessary’.  It ends with group work discussing the concept of ‘overconsumption’ by asking questions such as ‘Does consumerism, or having lots of things, make people happy?’ and ‘What are some non-commercial ways of achieving happiness?’ Out of another, young people mount a campaign to practice ‘shared economy’, i.e. alternative collaborative exchange methods outside the money market. First, they set up a community book sale based on donated second-hand books in which the donor ‘prices’ the book not financially but by writing down a good deed the recipient of the book should undertake to improve community life. Second, they set up a one-day ‘free shop’ by asking community members to pool goods they no longer need so they can go to other community members.  Third, they set up a ‘free seeds’ market in which local gardeners pool seeds and young plants they have collected that are displayed on a stall for others to take away free of charge.  A local ‘gift economy’ in seeds is thus created with the additional advantage of ‘preserving traditional seed lines’ (ECEE, 2014, 6, 9, 27-8).

Learners develop critical media literacy skills to unmask climate change denial and media disinformation. There are powerful forces marshaled behind disseminating contrarian message about climate change and so encouraging climate complacency.  These include corporate bodies attached to fuel extractive industries who have a huge self-interest in climate change disinformation and in discrediting climate science, not least through putting out their own, free materials for use in schools (Elshof, 2015).  At another level, there is widespread evidence of climate change denial amongst a general public who do not want to meet the challenging demand of changing their lifestyles to mitigate climate change and who prefer the cozy feel of ‘business as usual’.  At all levels, personal to governmental, an ‘eyes wide shut’ tendency characterizes responses to climate change marked by an outward acceptance of the severity of the looming climate crisis, on the one hand, but an ill-preparedness to follow through with the deep personal change and societal transformation needed, on the other (Hillman et al., 2007).  Given these facts, three further learning strands become necessary for a climate change education of transformative purpose.  First, learning programs need to develop a critical media literacy so students can decode and deconstruct messages they receive, from whatever source, on climate change, asking questions such as: ‘What evidence is given to support what is said?’ ‘In whose interest is it being said?’ ‘What is the background of the message transmitter?’ ‘What persuasion strategies are used to sway the receiver into accepting the message?’  Second, they need to nurture in students the skills and perceptiveness to identify and challenge climate change denial and prevarication in their everyday interactions.  Third, they need to skill up learners for informed and creative climate change activism able to engage with disinformation and denial and so fulfill an important democratic function, fomenting what has been called ‘beautiful trouble’ around an issue threatening our individual and collective futures (Elshof, 2015).


Learning in Action Example 6: Climate Change Denial Snappy Dramas

This learning activity begins with students, sitting in a circle quietly recollecting and then sharing occasions when they have put something to the ‘back of their minds’ because it is too worrisome to face up to - but then finding it remains uneasily present in their consciousness.  Having shared recollections, the teacher gives examples of climate change denial and asks for strategies the students might use to help deniers face up to their denial.  ‘Snappy dramas’ then follow in which teams of four quickly prepare and then performa one-minute role-play in which two act as deniers and two as challengers.  An example of the role-play cards:

The newspaper front page had a shocking piece about the melting of the Arctic ice, the sinking of island nations, and the spread of deserts. ‘We have only a small window of opportunity to stop climate change before it is too late,’ the editorial proclaimed.  On page 8 the newspaper was advertising its special world travel offers to see places soon to disappear with climate change. On page 11 was a whole-page advertisement by a car manufacturer for a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).  The editor has agreed to meet with some concerned readers who have complained. [Roles: the editor; the newspaper sales manager; two concerned members of the public.] (Selby & Kagawa, 2013)

Learners confront issues around climate change justice.  Climate justice education has become an important subset of climate change education. It applies environmental, human rights and sustainable development lenses to the issue of protecting vulnerable peoples and communities especially in the developing world from climate change (Mary Robinson Foundation, undated, 3). Above all, it addresses how climate change impacts are falling most heavily on nations and communities in the ‘South’ of the planet who are the most vulnerable but who carry least responsibility for global warming given their low levels of greenhouse gas emissions (Tutu, 2010).  Linked to this, it asks learners to examine the ethics and means of implementing restorative justice on the part of polluting nations of the ‘North’ by supporting climate change adaptation efforts. It also examines climate change impacts through a gender lens in that ‘in many countries and cultures, women are at the forefront of living with the injustices caused by climate change’ (Mary Robinson Foundation, undated, 2). It is also about ensuring that, as climate impacts bite, students have developed the attitudes and value system to positively and proactively respond to the arrival of displaced climate migrants. Finally, it looks at the issue of intergenerational justice by having students consider how present behaviors and inaction are worsening the life chances of future generations.


Learning in Action Example 7: Listening to the Voice of the Vulnerable

By means of case study and video material learners in the ‘North’ listen to the voice and experience of those in the South whose lives have been overturned by climate change impact.  They also research examples of community-led efforts at climate change adaptation in the developing world, including examples where children and youth have taken a leadership role in adapting to climate-changed circumstances (Selby& Kagawa, 2013a).

Discussion and action:

  • Hold an ‘Alternatives to Growth’ workshop in which de-growth advocates and those living to a gift economy share ideas and experiences before participants work on developing learning activities drawing on what has been heard.
  • Set time aside for regular ‘show and tell’ sessions in which group members are invited to share and critique public and overheard pronouncements on climate change. Ask how these could be turned into ‘teachable moments’.
  • Set up links with training institutions in climate-challenged developing countries and share perceptions and personal stories of climate change.


Disaster Risk Reduction Education

Disaster risk is on the rise globally as disasters increase in both frequency and severity (CRED, 2014). Extreme weather events, geo-seismic hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, themselves often climate change-induced (McGuire, 2012), technological hazards and so-called slow onset or creeping hazards such as desertification are triggering a thickening procession of catastrophe affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.  Although developing countries have been disproportionally affected, the developed world has learnt through bitter experience that disasters are not just happening ‘out there’ but also at home, the tsunami and nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan in 2011, the flooding of Dresden and hinterland by the River Elbe in 2013 and the South Australian bushfires of 2015 being cases in point.

Against this backcloth, the field of disaster risk reduction education has developed, the aim being to instill in learners and learning communities ‘a culture of safety and resilience’ (UNISDR, 2005). In 2009 international agreement was reached that disaster risk reduction should be integrated in national and sub-national curricula by 2015 (UNISDR, 2009).

A coherent and systematic approach to disaster risk reduction teaching and learning is seen as having five dimensions (Selby & Kagawa, 2014b).  These are set out below.

Dimension 1: Understanding the Science and Mechanisms of Natural Disasters. Globally, there is recognition that to prepare learners to face natural disasters, they have to understand the mechanics of natural phenomena of disaster potential: why they happen; how they develop; where they occur; their physical impacts; trends and patterns in their occurrence.  In different jurisdictions there will be a curricular focus on disasters most likely to happen in the context concerned.  Hence, the Turkish curriculum prioritizes earthquakes while Mekong River-dependent Cambodia focuses on flooding (Selby & Kagawa, 2012). This dimension of disaster risk reduction learning usually happens within physical and natural science and geography lessons where meteorological and geo-seismic phenomena have traditionally been studied.

Dimension 2: Learning and Practicing Safety Measures and Procedures. A second dimension of disaster risk reduction education involves instruction and practice in safety measures and procedures in the event of hazard whether at school, in the home or out in the community or local natural environment. Included under this heading are: familiarization with hazard early warning signs and signals (e.g. local and indigenous understandings of animal behavior); instruction in evacuation and sheltering procedures; emergency drills and exercises; familiarization with basic first aid and health and safety measures, plus general guidance on safe behaviors immediately before, during and after a hazard event.  Learning falling under this heading usually takes pace outside of science and geography lessons.

Dimension 3: Understanding How Hazards become Disasters. By focusing exclusively or primarily on the science of natural disasters and/or safety procedures in preparedness for hazard, there is a danger that disaster-related learning programs inadvertently convey the impression that there is little to be done but accept the inevitable.  To offset that impression and encourage learner agency and pro-activity in reducing risk, more comprehensive approaches to disaster risk reduction revolve around a fundamental disaster risk formula:

Hazard and disaster are different but interlinked.  A hazard is an event with the potential to effect harm.  A disaster happens when the hazard exceeds people’s capacity and readiness to cope, with devastating impact. Clearly, the risk of disaster multiplies with the intensity of the hazard but the level of risk is also exacerbated by prevailing conditions of physical, social, economic and environmental vulnerability. Poor quality of built infrastructure (materials and design) is a prime example of physical vulnerability. Social risk drivers include illiteracy and ignorance, lack of social cohesion, and the tenuous hold on security of marginalized groups.  Economic risk drivers are primarily linked to poverty and inequality while environmental risk drivers include natural resource depletion, biodiversity loss, reduced access to clean water and deforestation. Under this dimension learners examine risk drivers, local to global, and map local vulnerability through engagement and enquiry in the community.  Very much paralleling the case of climate change education, this dimension further moves disaster risk reduction learning away from the science curriculum and calls for a core contribution from the social sciences.

Learning in Action Example 7: Memo’Risks [3]

Starting with a 2006-7 secondary school project in the city of Rochefort, Memo’Risks has spread across the whole of France. Recognizing that ‘the majority of towns and communes of France can be the victim of catastrophe’, the project offers young people practical citizenship education in risk prevention. Linking schools as partners with town and commune authorities, classes of students act as ‘reporters and enquirers’ exploring the terrain, talking with townsfolk about their memories of past hazards, examining relevant documents in the city archives, looking at houses, streets and the overall environment with the aim of identifying the major risks the town or commune faces. They also assess the level of risk awareness and level of risk preparedness of the community through interviews and surveys. Finally, they make a formal presentation to the mayor, usually with media coverage. The project is seen as a multidisciplinary venture that develops out of French language, history, geography, mathematics, technology, and arts classrooms. It happens across the primary and secondary cycles.  Memo’Risks locates itself as part of national Education for Sustainable Development provision, giving students the chance to play a high profile part in civic life.

Dimension 4: Building Community Risk Reduction Capacity. Another way of reading the formula laid out above is that communities can reduce disaster risk by increasing their capacity to protect themselves from hazard.  Hence, much of disaster risk reduction education concerns engaging learners with processes of resilience building in their own community. This is why there has been significant development in the field of out-of-class learning activities involving community disaster vulnerability and capacity mapping and assessment, conducting local community and environment vulnerability transects, drawing up resilience action plans, and establishing adult/child partnerships for the enactment of those plans.  Action may focus on disaster adaptation (i.e. adjusting the ways things are done to reduce the risk of hazards turning into disasters), or disaster mitigation, (i.e. lessening the future threat from climate change and other hazards by bringing about fundamental changes in how the community lives, such as reduced use of fossil fuels).

Learning in Action Example 8: Child Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives (1)

Children on the Comotes Island in the Philippines conducted a vulnerability and risk assessment of their local farming and fishing community and ecosystem. One of the things they found was that the mangrove trees in the coastal area were being cut down for charcoal and that this posed a huge disaster risk to their community in that protection from storms and sea surges was being eroded.  They spearheaded a mangrove rehabilitation campaign to restore the local ecosystem with the support of Plan International and the local Farmers Association. They shared their assessment findings at community meetings, spoke on local media to raise awareness and distributed simple fact sheets.  They also formed teams to replant the mangrove trees.  In seven months, the children planted 100,000 trees covering ten hectares of coastal land. This protected against storms but also restored fish spawning grounds (Plan International, 2010, 34-5).

Dimension 5: Building a Culture of Safety and Resilience. This dimensions conceives of the school, taken as a whole, as a disaster risk reduction learning organization at the hub of a local disaster risk reduction learning community. The idea is that opportunities for developing a school and community culture of safety and resilience are availed of, such as having learners meet and engage with technical personnel on structural and situational aspects of school safety, letting students manage and maintain a school hazard bulletin board, holding school forums for community members on local risk, having students present their risk reduction projects to the community. A core idea is to make children key players in advancing the new culture.

Learning in Action Example 9: Child Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction Initiatives (2)

In the Hatibhanda sub-district of Bangladesh, child-led disaster risk reduction groups were attached to ten local councils covering a total population of 230,000. The mixed age groups (8-17 years) undertook analyses of the hazards, risk and vulnerabilities faced by their communities.  Their key finding was that families only responded to flooding danger when the threat was imminent. Groups then developed an action plan. The first step was to mount a door-to-door campaign to advise families on being disaster prepared including roof storage of supplies. They then instituted a ‘piggy bank’ savings scheme so families could buy rice and seed and replace schoolbooks after a flood. The children proved very effective in advocating for community disaster risk reduction and so much so that local Disaster Management Committees dealing with disaster preparation took on some of the children’s ideas and eventually asked four child representatives to join each Committee. In consequence, a national Standing Order on Disasters stipulated that there should be child participation on Committees across the country (Plan International, 2010, 19-20).

Discussion and action:

  • Practice undertaking a community disaster vulnerability and capacity survey and, out of the experience, prepare to conduct one with school students.[4]
  • Discuss priority focuses for disaster risk reduction learning in Slovakia.
  • Consider the examples of child action learning and resilience-building leadership in this chapter. How might these translate into Slovakian practice?


Climate Change, Disaster Risk Reduction and Environmental Education: The Interface

The links between climate change education and disaster risk reduction are particularly solid. Both are educational responses to the severity and incidence of hazard globally. As such they share much in terms of origins, parallel concepts, emphases and tendencies, as well as intersecting action implications for learners. Climate change is clearly fueling the increase in disasters but, outside of Africa where reformed national curricula are combining disasters and climate change as crosscutting issues, disaster risk reduction education has had little to say in practice about climate change and climate change education practice has been rather disaster-blind (Selby & Kagawa, 2012). To promote understanding of their close connection, UNICEF has begun to embrace the idea of placing both ‘educations’ under the umbrella idea of ‘resilience building education’ (Selby & Kagawa, 2014a, 12).

Both fields make a natural fit with global environmental education as described earlier in this chapter.  They are concerned with global issues and how they play out in the learner’s locality; they invite the learner to look at any issue through a multi-issue lens; they stress action-oriented learning for community change.  They follow global environmental education in addressing the drivers – economic, social and cultural – that are devastating the natural environment and destroying communities. They are particularly at one with global environmental education in addressing so-called slow-onset environmental trends of hugely destructive potential, of which climate change is but the most virulent example.

Taking the broader field of environmental education, there are actual and potential synergies, too.  As discussed earlier, through place-based and bioregional education linking the natural world and local cultures, environmental education has developed a long and outstanding tradition of attuning the learner to the attributes and rhythms of place, while helping the learner see local culture as embedded in nature.  Both climate change and disaster risk reduction education build on that tradition in their emphasis on viewing community and environment through the lenses of vulnerability and resilience. They also build upon environmental education’s long lineage of having children immersed in active and action-oriented learning ‘in the field’. By so doing they join with environmental education in seeking to roll back the distancing of children from nature, something that Monbiot (2012, 30) calls ‘the second environmental crisis’. He argues that the removal of children from the natural world – through the safety fears of parents, the quality of indoor (computer) entertainment, and the loss of common, natural play areas – is estranging generation after generation from place, so reducing the will to defend nature against exploitation.  In the light of the environmental crises we face, ‘where,’ he asks, ‘are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change?’ (ibid.).

Climate change and disaster risk reduction education also feed into sustainability-related education. The concepts of sustainability and resilience are positively correlated. For a community to sustain itself, it must manifest physical, social, economic and environmental resilience. The concepts of sustainability and vulnerability are negatively correlated. A vulnerable, non-resilient community will sooner or later prove unsustainable.  In their emphasis on resilience building, disaster risk reduction and climate change mitigation and adaptation learning offer means of shoring up and enhancing gains in sustainability. Every natural disaster or climate crisis, on the other hand, represents a major setback in the achievement of sustainability.  Given this insight, it is strange that sustainability-related education has a record of being more or less disaster-blind while treating the climate threat within narrow technological and scientific confines (Selby, 2015).  Both new fields in their fullest expression are of crucial importance for a rounded, real-life conception of what sustainability learning involves.

A further advantage in seeing climate change and disaster risk reduction education amongst the clusters of ‘educations’ making up both global environmental and sustainability education is that they both help to concretize each field for the young learner. Some environmental and sustainability ‘big themes’ can seem abstract and far-removed in the eyes of the learner, divorced from the immediacy of their own experience. Both new fields open up multiple, concrete and close-at-hand learning opportunities. They can help the big themes come alive through ‘tangible operationalization’, i.e. by making them concrete, immediate practical and infused with a sense of urgency.  It has been said that by providing the scope and tools for concrete action, disaster risk reduction education ‘can empower learners by enhancing their sense of efficacy and making them feel they are in control of their own lives’ thereby breaking down abstract global issues ‘into something manageable and immediate for learners, something which they can exercise control over and act upon’ (Laboulle & Richmond, 2011, 119-22). The same holds true of learning in the face of climate change, something that for more and more people and in ever more insistent ways finds stark and concrete local expression.



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