“Education is the most powerful path to sustainability. Economic and technological solutions, political regulations or financial incentives are not enough. We need a fundamental change in the way we think and act.” Ethics is, according to Savater (1995), the art of living well, of knowing how to live. To have, practice, and manage the art of living well is ought to provide a good life. A good life implies choosing, which for those with less academic resources is more difficult. Our well-being depends on the existent biodiversity and on ecosystems’ prosperity. However, people still choose to deplete natural resources, affecting other species, hence reducing biodiversity, and even annihilating it.
The 2000-2010 decade was productive in ideas, congresses and documents about how the loss of biodiversity jeopardizes our future. It is the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and of the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (MEA). The MEA (2005) highlights the fact that society does not understand completely how biodiversity and well-being are linked. Most people recognize that their lives depend on natural functions, which provide fresh water, food, shelter, fibers; but people take the benefits they take from Nature for granted. In developed countries, schools teach how important it is to preserve biodiversity. Of course, in these countries, native biodiversity has been deeply affected by the development of societies through centuries. We became aware of the importance of preserving forests, dealing with waste, and purifying water to drink. Schools in developed countries have projects like ECOSCHOOLS, and most (if not all) subjects (English, Geography, History, Informatics, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, etc.) incorporate themes related with the Brundtland Report (1987) and the Agenda 21(1992) themes. Whereas developed countries have been improving their school systems and acquiring experience in teaching and creating experiences related with biodiversity and sustainability, debating about science and ecology, which are complex issues for kids, teenagers and even adults, developing countries are struggling to bring more children to school, to build better schools, to train more teachers and to improve subjects’ curricula (see “progress of goal 4 in 2017” at SDG 4 (2015). Because people’s future will depend on how they relate to ecosystems, it is urgent to provide strategies to empower teachers and learners on a global basis.
“Biodiversity change is inextricably linked to poverty, the largest threat to the future of humanity identified by the United Nations”. The contribution done here addresses the concern of empowering society to understand the link between biodiversity and human well-being in such a way that almost every aspect of people’s lives could be conducted by a better philosophy of choosing healthier ways of relating to ecosystems’ functions, services and species. Our way of living is not yet oriented towards sustainability, and the only way to improve it is by reaching as many people as possible through education. “Education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfillment and sustainable development.” Science, as an institution, has been concerned with these issues and debates a way to “translate economic and socio-cultural values of ecosystems services into monetary values” to make people understand better its importance. Science is still deciphering how biodiversity is linked to ecosystem services, while the United Nations (UN) assesses governments on their efforts to reach Sustainable Development targets related to climate (SDG 13), biodiversity on land (SDG 15) and sea (SDG 14) goals, among others).
Education through life is also an ambitious goal, and, perhaps, still far from reach in many parts of our world. But, the effort of providing information to adults will help people ask more questions and search for answers.
A basic curriculum for children can be used and adapted to adult’s need of learning more about science. “Education transforms lives and is at the heart of UNESCO’s (2017) mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development’. Education about conservation ecology is important to improve human relation with natural goods and benefits. Only through education will it be possible to improve the human relationship with ecosystems. The public and governments’ interest in reverting the pressures on wild species is increasing, as Rands etal (2010) emphasize, but not effectively to halt biodiversity loss .Perhaps due to the fact that, like climate change, ecology’s complexity demands more understanding and compliance from governance and policy, sponsors, markets, education systems, and from common people. “Education systems must be relevant and respond to rapidly changing labour markets, technological advances, urbanization, migration, political instability, environmental degradation, natural hazards and disasters, competition for natural resources, demographic challenges, increasing global unemployment, persistent poverty, widening inequality and expanding threats to peace and safety.”
Human-wildlife conflicts another example show the complexity of the human need to use ecosystems and compete with other species. For humans, other species have different value. Some are just to contemplate, while others provide material goods (many of which have been prohibited to collect).Elephants are poached because of their ivory, and though it is prohibited to hunt them, many poachers still take the risk, because of the profit generated in the market. Many elephants are also killed because they are feared and destroy goods. But in all cultures they are seen as symbols of nature, used as flagship species. Beyond the problems they cause, elephant’s species are gardeners of the ecosystems, and they are classified as keystone species, hence, they play an important role in the ecosystems, which humans cannot afford to lose. Conservation ecology is a multidisciplinary field that depends on understanding peoples’ beliefs and needs (sociology, anthropology), how ecosystems function (ecology, biology), and how society experiences their time and space (economics, political science, communication science, education science). What can we do, as a global society, to help preserve species like elephants, and people? A general science curriculum for the first nine years of school that emphasizes themes related with human well-being and ecosystems conservation, that enables the debate of complex questions like “what can we do to mitigate ivory poaching?” Poor countries need to be creative in finding solutions. Rich countries need to be supportive and share know-how. For now, our concern is delivering a curriculum for seven years of schooling that conjugates Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geology in one single subject: Natural Sciences.
To make a difference in a child’s life is to empower that child to become free to choose and act, feel and seek security in the environment, have access to basic materials, healthcare and information in a society that enables good social relations among people and that respects ecosystems and other species (MEA, 2005) . Educating children from an early age in Science themes will increase their capacity to ask important questions, and to seek answers through their adult life. The Incheon Declaration has the goal of providing nine years of quality education to every child in the World. Whereas some countries have the means and the experience of good practices, underdeveloped countries struggle with many problems, including having a task force which is either unprepared or not large enough to guarantee nine years of studying for every girl and boy.
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