A Closer Look: Some Facts and Resources for Sustainability (Educator background and resources)
· Environmental Protection and the Human Footprint: Air pollution, global warming, deforestation, water contamination, and other harmful circumstances put our planet’s sustainability at risk.
o For more information on the top environmental concerns, visit Green Living at greenliving.lovetoknow.com/Top_30_Environmental_Concerns
· Global Leadership and Collaboration: Sustaining and protecting our environment and livelihoods are shared priorities across the world. The United Nations Environmental Programme works to promote effective responses to international environmental challenges and foster cooperation on environmental issues among the international community. The group’s six priority areas include climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, harmful substances, and resource efficiency (United Nations Environmental Programme).
o To learn more about global leadership to protect the environment, visit www.unep.org.
· Global Warming: Carbon dioxide and other gases warm the surface of the planet naturally by trapping solar heat in the atmosphere, which keeps our planet habitable. Global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil and clearing forests, all of which have dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, therefore forcing temperatures to rise. We're already seeing changes. Glaciers are melting, plants and animals are being forced from their habitats, and the number of severe storms and droughts is increasing (The Evidence).
o To learn more, consider viewing the documentary An Inconvenient Truth or visiting www.climatecrisis.net.
· Population Growth and Overpopulation: Human population rates have significantly increased over the past two centuries, largely due to medical, technological, and economic advancements. This rapid growth has been associated with environmental changes including:
o Increasing greenhouse gas emissions that may produce dramatic climatic change, and the destruction of tropospheric ozone
o Toxification of the soil, air, and water
o Environmental degradation such as deforestation
o Loss of biodiversity, or the planet’s range of life forms (Demographic Transition: An Historical Sociological Perspective)
· Preservation of Natural Resources: According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, over the past half-century “humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel.” The assessment found that about 60% of the ecosystem services evaluated are being degraded or used unsustainably (Overview of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment). New York State is rich with natural resources, including water, timber, and natural gas, and there are many ways in which young people can take action to protect natural resources in their communities.
· Role of Government: The U.S. government plays a tremendous role in environmental protection and building a sustainable future.
o To explore ways in which young people can learn more about the government’s work and getting involved, visit the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/epahome/citizen.htm.
· Urban Environments: Urban planning is a process by which professional planners guide the development of a city or town so that it furthers the welfare of its current and future residents by creating convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive environments. Any aspect of a neighborhood that is not part of the natural environment is called the “built environment.”
A Closer Look: Thinking for Sustainability
Addressing sustainability requires systems-thinking, or a perspective that requires consideration of the whole, parts of the whole, and how these things relate to one another. For example, when thinking about pollution, the systems-thinker considers local pollution and its impact on other communities, countries, and the world, as well as how worldwide pollution may affect the local community.
Per The Cloud Institute, there are several “Habits of Mind” that support sustainability (Education for Sustainability). They include:
· Understanding of Systems as the Context for Decision Making: The extent to which one sees both the whole system and its parts as well as the extent to which an individual can place one's self within the system.
· Intergenerational Responsibility: The extent to which one takes responsibility for the effect(s) of her/his actions on future generations.
· Mindful of and Skillful with Implications and Consequences: The extent to which one consciously makes choices and plans actions to achieve positive systemic impact.
· Protecting and Enhancing the Commons: The extent to which one works to reconcile the conflicts between individual rights and the responsibilities of citizenship to tend to the commons.
· Awareness of Driving Forces and their Impacts: The extent to which one recognizes and can act strategically and responsibly in the context of the driving forces that influence our lives.
· Assumption of Strategic Responsibility: The extent to which one assumes responsibility for one's self and others by designing, planning and acting with whole systems in mind.
· Paradigm Shifter: The extent to which one recognizes mental models and paradigms as guiding constructs that change over time with new knowledge and applied insight.