Humanity: Today & Tomorrow|Apr 20, 2013 4:01 AM| by:

The Green Invention

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In this article we will discuss briefly the institutional interventions of which the Environmental Education is the most important in a long-term perspective. But other institutional interventions like law and regulation, government policy, poverty-eradication, work of NGO’s are also necessary.

Towards a Holistic Environmental Awareness

Awakening by Education and Enforcement by Law are the two main forms of institutional intervention. To be effective in the long-term all institutional initiatives have to be founded mainly on Education. A complete environmental education should have four components or aims. First is the cognitive, a scientific or intuitive understanding of the ecology of Nature with an emphasis on awakening the individual to the unity, harmony and interdependence of life in Nature, and also in Man and Nature. Second is the attitudinal: inculcating  positive, healthy, harmonious and friendly attitudes to Nature free from all forms of negative attitudes like violence or fear or the urge for exploitation. Third is the emotional or experiential dimension which means leading the individual to a living contact with Nature and an emotional, aesthetic or spiritual communion with Nature. Fourth is the practical; providing people with whatever knowledge or information required for taking the right green decision or in other words, in choosing the cleaner, greener and the ecologically more healthy or efficient alternative. However the actual educational package has to be tailored to the needs and nature of the audience with an emphasis on one or more of the four aspects of environmental knowledge.

In other words, the integral ideal of environmental education is to internalise a clear perception of the laws and process of Nature, especially the laws of unity and interdependence in the thinking mind; create the capacity for a direct experiential contact with the living spirit of Nature in the emotional and aesthetic faculties which leads to a deep love for Nature; and finally provide, actionable knowledge for manifesting the understanding in the mind and love in the heart in work, life and decision-making and in organising the outer life in harmony with ecology of Nature. We must note here mere sentimental “love” for Nature is not enough. There must be knowledge in the mind which leads to an enlightened attuning with Nature. Without knowledge, “love” is a helpless sentiment and without true love, knowledge is a cold and barren thing which cannot produce any lasting results. In the Indian scripture Bhagavat Gita, the divine Teacher gives the highest status to the “knowing lover”, Jnani bhakta, of the Divine. The aim of environmental education should also be to shape such knowing lovers of Nature.

There are four major groups of audiences. First and the most important is the young mind in the school. Second is the adult mind of the leader, professional or the technocrat who takes major decisions on policy, resource-allocation or technology. In this category we have to include not only the present decision-makers, but also the potential or future decision-makers, who are undergoing training and education in professional institutes. The third is the consumer who buys products and services. Fourth is the uneducated low income people in the village who have to be shown the path to an eco-friendly economic development. There is considerable progress in imparting the scientific knowledge of modern ecology to students. However, much has still to be done, especially in terms of creative and innovative content, in the other three aspects of environmental education that is, in the attitudinal, experiential and the practical dimension.

Green Consumerism

In the West, environmental education of the consumer, called as “Green Consumerism” is a well-known phenomenon. The main tenet of green consumerism is that the lay consumer must have free and easy access to information which will help her to take the greener decision in all the choices she has to make as a consumer, like for example in buying a car or an electrical appliance or investing in a firm. All the power and potentialities of the modern multi-media and the new information and communication technologies have to be marshaled to educate and inform and inspire the masses to become the green consumer. In the West there is a vast amount of literature and information on the subject. For example, E/Environmental Magazine, US, has brought out a book which provides comprehensive information and guidance to consumers on how they can lessen their impact on the environment and live in an environmentally-friendly way. This publication covers a diverse range of topics from energy efficient water heaters, food choices, natural health care, natural-fiber clothing to environmental banking. Here are some simple principles and guidelines given by environmental experts on Green Consumerism, which can be applied by any individual who is interested in creating a better planet to live in for the future generation.

  • Reduce energy consumption wherever possible, for example, by switching off unwanted light and fans and idle electronics.
  • Minimise waste and recycle or reuse materials.
  • Minimise the consumption of products which requires large amount of non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and oil or which cannot be recycled or destructive to the environment, for example, paper which requires felling of trees, plastics, chemical fertilizers, leather goods.
  • Minimise traveling through carbon-emitting petrol or diesel vehicles like cars and planes; use walking or cycling for short-distances; use shared car pools.
  • Do a little bit of green research and consultation before arriving at a buying decision.

But green consumerism based mainly on buying green products, is not likely to have any substantial impact on the environment as long as resource and energy-intensive consumption increases either due to multiplication of wants or increasing population or both. So what is needed is a decrease or slow down of the energy intensive and environmentally destructive consumption. This requires a certain amount of renunciation and sacrifice of our material desires, comforts and enjoyments. As the environmentalist George Monbiot, points out, while the central demand of environmentalism is “that we should consume less”, green consumerism promoted in the media makes the consumers “congratulate themselves on going green and carry on buying and flying as much as before”. This may create an amusing and paradoxical situation where “the whole world religiously buys green products and its carbon emission continues to grow.”

However, green consumerism, whatever may be its shortcomings, should not be unduly discouraged or harshly criticised because of two positive factors in it. Firstly, the principle behind green consumerism that the lay consumer has to be awakened to green issues and act upon it with informed choices is healthy and helpful to the growth of the environmental movement. Secondly, it creates in the consuming masses a habit of listening and responding to green issues. What is needed to counteract its defects is to progressively awaken the consumer to deeper and broader issues and help one to make qualitatively better choices.