Education is the key to sustainability - Veterinary Practice
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Education is the key to sustainability

Our conservation correspondent suggests that getting children involved in ecology is essential for the greater good.

SOMETHING I WAS ALWAYS INHERENTLY CERTAIN ABOUT is that children need to spend time outdoors in the natural environment in order to grow and develop into balanced adults.

I consider I was lucky that as a child, a family walk in the country on a Sunday afternoon was pretty much compulsory until the age of about 13 or 14. I also consider that my own children were lucky to grow up in the country and my wife was an ardent believer in outside play.

She would far rather take the kids for a picnic and paddle down at the river on a sunny day than pack them off to nursery for a couple of hours, something that the nursery teachers didn’t necessarily agree with.

Seeing our kids’ adventures now on Facebook, snorkelling and diving with sharks, rays and humpback whales, I think her stance has been vindicated in the best possible way.

She continued this approach when she became a primary school teacher and she was forever tempting the wrath of her headmistress for bringing frog spawn into the classroom or autumn leaves for the kids to make collages with. And when she began taking them out of school to survey insect populations in local orchards, it was a real battle to justify the educational value of what she was doing.

Now though there is increasing evidence that outdoor learning has a real and measurable impact on children’s development and that it should be formally adopted into the national curriculum. By linking it to learning outcomes, it would not be seen as an “add on” but as something that was a core part of a child’s education.

Fundamental to sustainability

Educating children in ecology and environmental sustainability is fundamental if we are to stop and eventually reverse environmental degradation. And while there will be some people who give no value to such education, there is increasing evidence that degrading the planet’s resources will eventually lead to degradation of the human race.

Climate change is the obvious case in point, causing extreme weather conditions that may lead to increased flooding, drought, crop failures and rising sea levels.

But there is a lot of interest also being shown in how loss of biodiversity impacts on the support and wellbeing of human societies. We are all reliant on natural processes as diverse as crop pollination, the carbon cycle and the decomposition and recycling of waste.

Worrying conclusion

Scientists have come to the conclusion that losing more than 10% of the biodiversity in any one ecosystem places it at risk and that the knock-on effects are difficult to predict and likely to occur over extended periods of time.

It is alarming therefore that a report in the magazine Science states that 58% of the Earth’s land coverage now falls below this “safe” level of biodiversity loss with average global biodiversity levels having dropped to 85% of the previously unaffected ecosystem.

The reduction of biodiversity will further reduce the resilience of ecosystems to respond and adapt to environmental changes such as global warming.

It is against this background that we should see the education of children in environmental matters as the key to a sustainable future. Of course we still need engineers and doctors and economists and every other trade and profession that keeps society ticking over.

But all these professions and trades are going to need to operate within the context of and with an understanding of sustainability if we are to positively change the way we deal with the world and secure its long-term future.

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