Sustainability and Education

Planet earth has been in existence for 4.5 billion years. In the last seven to five million years of that period, human beings appeared and evolved to their homo sapiens form – essentially the way we look today- in the last 300 000 years. However, it has really only been in the last 60 years that human behaviour has started to influence the state of the planet, the so-called “Anthropocene equation” (Gaffney & Steffen, 2017).

This is really because the proliferation of economic growth and activity of carbon-emitting industries have expanded exponentially in the post WW2 period. Energy is the industry that pollutes the most, up to a staggering 35% of carbon emission, related to the burning of fossil fuels and relying on massive networks of transportation.  

It takes an extraordinary amount of bad faith and looking the other way to suggest that the carbon footprint left behind human activity is not damaging the planet and creating new inequities whereby those living off the land and in regions affected by natural disasters are not suffering terribly because of it.

Many forecasts suggest that if we continue this way, within the next 30 years we will be living on a planet that is extremely hostile to human life. There is simply no alternative but to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, as difficult as that might seem. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to conceptualise this is because the consequences are growing exponentially, and human beings think in arithmetic, not geometric growth patterns: we cannot see what is around the corner if it defies the imagination.

Caring approaches to the ecosystem, which typically belonged to ancestral knowledge systems, were displaced, often violently, with waves of imperialism and mercantilist ideology from the late Renaissance to the present. The myths of continued economic development, a never-ending supply of resources and an approach to the environment as something to be dominated and subdued rather than respected and loved, have taken us very far down a path of destruction and an entire world of thought processes, assumptions and behaviours are deeply ingrained in it.

What should our approach be in the world of education? I would put to all involved in teaching, curriculum design and school or university leadership that sustainability has to be at the top if not among one of the top priorities on our strategies going forward. In schools and universities, this can happen at three levels:

  1. The curriculum. Teaching regenerative systems, environmental custodianship, ecology, principles of sustainability, shared economies and carbon-neutral pathways.
  2. The operation of the institution. A mobility plan to reduce car use, more no meat days in the cafeteria, use of renewable energies in building design and the habituation of more environmentally sustainable behaviours (curbing the needless use of paper for example, thinking twice before sending emails, slowing down photocopying).
  3. Individual goals. Each person in the institution committing to a sustainable development goal.

At the International School of Geneva, we are placing sustainability high up on the agenda for a curriculum that is relevant and transformative. We will be supporting a sustainability lead to drive institution-wide projects and an international sustainability observatory. I hope that you will join us as we face the single most important goal facing the planet together. 

One thought on “Sustainability and Education”

  1. Re “it has really only been in the last 60 years that human behaviour has started to influence the state of the planet”

    No, this is false, a whitewash of reality. Humans have started to seriously influence negatively the condition of the planet with the industrial revolution, some three centuries ago. And why is that? Why did they choose that path? Meet “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” …

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