Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ignorance is Bliss, but Knowledge is Power – the importance of education in the move towards sustainable living

I had always considered myself a relatively ‘eco-friendly’ person, enjoying time spent outdoors, despising litter and pollution, growing up in a countryside household that values the environment. I reassured myself that by recycling plastic bottles, walking short distances and by availing of public transport as opposed to driving a car that I was able to justify endless of television and laptop use, recreational shopping and an occasional flight to Europe for a holiday in the sun. In recent years I have since come to accept that I can no longer engage in the same consumption practices of the past without a sharp pang of guilt. The ‘you-should-know-better’ voice inside my head (that developed as a result of four years of environmental and sustainability-related lectures) now lingers when I queue to pay for a heavily packaged pair of shoes, or a box of fruit that has been transported thousands of miles from its source of origin. Education has indeed opened my eyes to the reality of my contribution to increasing carbon emissions and the associated consequences.

As suggested by the title of this blog, to me, ignorance was bliss. Although I was aware that my energy consumption practices far outweigh those of people my age in other parts of the world, it was a thought that rarely crossed my mind. Thus, for several years I was blissfully engaging in the unsustainable mass-consumption economy I was born into. Taking a rather Orthodox Marxist perspective, I would argue that the environmental issues at hand today are inherently interlinked with this capitalist system and that the current crisis of the situation necessitates a demand for scientific, technological and other developments to improve our current understanding and the methods employed for resolving these issues. This information then needs to be distributed to and understood by people of all ages, across all levels of society, in both the public and private sector. In short, we need education.

As my awareness of the extent of the global environment issues grew, I must admit the temptation to adopt a despondent, existential attitude was there – after all, given the magnitude of the situation, if nobody else was making changes what difference could I make? However I ultimately believe that knowledge, particularly knowledge pertaining to the effects of an individual’s lifestyle and personal choices, has the ability to empower and inspire meaningful action. The role of education in this regard has become increasingly recognised by actors and organisations across multiple spheres. Departments of Education worldwide and multinational organisations such as UNESCO and the WWF run programmes in support of sustainability-based education. Such courses aim to promote sustainable lifestyle choices and often take a particular focus on the education of younger generations. In August 2013 for example, the Irish Department of Education and Skills launched a plan to develop the ‘National Strategy onEducation for Sustainable Development in Ireland’. This strategy expresses the significance of education. It aims to establish sustainable development learning at all levels of the education system and to promote public awareness and create support for education for sustainable development. I strongly believe the implementation of such strategies, as part of a wider movement that recognises the importance of education, is the first step in the long road to sustainable living.

Claire Quinn

Further information:
Nevin, E., 2008. Education and sustainable development. Available at: http://www.developmenteducationreview.com/issue6-focus4
Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 2013.  Available at: http://jsd.sagepub.com/


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