"...He prayeth well, who loveth well, Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best, All things both great and small;
for the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all..."

The Rime of the Anchient Mariner -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Environmental Education: A Social Issue

I object to letting a job define me, though I am very proud to be defined as a Environmental Education Volunteer.  Maybe it's because as Americans we place a high value on jobs, image and self-worth, that an ice-breaker for us consists of "...and what do you do for a living?"  (note: I think this ice-breaker is considered rude in Europe and in Spanish, it sounds really awkward, the way projecting your values in a second-language would sound).  At any rate, I've lived in Mexico for two years, and I've learned a thing or two about the environment, Environmental Education and culture.

A year ago it occurred to me that Environmental Education is needed more in the United States then it was in Mexico, and I still agree.  Simply by its proximity to the US, there's no hiding our high standard of living in the US, and all the waste it generates.   It is said that there are many Mexicos because the Mexico of 70 years ago still exists, and the culture of northern Mexico contrasts with that of the south, of the east and the west.  Mexico is as modern, as it is traditional, as it is colonial, as it is futuristic, as it is rich, as it is poor--it is all of these things sometimes within a one hour bus ride.  So how do you tell poor Mexicans to stop an environmentally detrimental activity, when its a matter of human life and survival.  A friend and I once talked about how to convince a rural desert villager to save water using environmental technologies like Eco-Latrines, when the villagers know that urban citizens 45 mins away are living modern and desirable lifestyles that include toilets--let's be truthful, would you give up your commode for an Eco-latrine to save water? Does being in the  middle class make you more entitled to the use of natural resources, like water?  Why should the poor be more environmentally conscience in their quest for upward mobility?     

Critical habitat in the San Blas Mangroves is lost one homestead at a time.
There are many beautiful and unique aspects of culture, but I believe consumerism, political negligence and corruption is too pervasive.  The complacency of the under-educated and under-represented leads to irreversible changes in the landscape.  I'm seeing and reading about the end of the world daily.  The last free-flowing river will regulated one damn at a time, forests will be cleared one tree at a time, mangrove wetlands will shrivel one day at a time.  In the midst of this slow-motion apocolypse, the national conversation  revolves around drug violence and soap operas.  

It's impossible to say whether better education, quality food, efficient government, and if gender/ethnic/racial equality would be enough to save people from themselves.  There will still be human follies like avarice and idleness, but the stakes keep getting bigger.  Environmental degradation is a result of poverty, corporate and personal greed, and increasing population demands.  The environment IS a social issue; true in the US and true in Mexico.

I'm trying to keep abreast of the political scene in the US.  I just heard the snipit of Romney's Acceptance speech at the GOP Convention where he touts that he cares about people, while Mr. Obama cares about the environment...  My discovery in Mexico is that people are part of the environment, and human development depends on the exploitation of natural resources.  We are inextricably linked to the environment.  I'm saddened by the current administration's approval & construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which will transport tar sand from Alberta to the Gulf.  I wish I had the courage of the GreenPeace activist who Occupied a Russian Artic oil rig a few months ago; the world is shaped by people like him...and like Sandra Fluke, Lilly Ledbetter, MLK.  

I recently delivered a presentation at the Statewide Environmental Education Forum.  When posed with identifying the challenges of Environmental Education and how to fix it, my opinion was that it needs to become part of the national conversation, and needs to infiltrate broadcast television commercials, kids shows, documentaries and variety shows.  My premise is that kids are learning more through a soap opera then they are at school (fact), and that more households own televisions then do washing machines (fact).  Mexicans love television, and corporations are using television to manipulate politics, brand name preference, and encourage desired behaviors...why not use this brainwashing tool for environmental justice?  For those not confronted with the choice of hunger v. conservation, making environmental decisions is a matter of integrity, civic responsbility, and conforming to social norms.  If we can project environmental-social norms on television, then people will conform--or at least that is my idea.
The little boy that I tutor in his back yard.
Squatters invading the mangrove on the edge of town. 

When I started tutoring earlier this year,  this was still mangrove.