Why should we mainstream environmental education?
Environmental issues' importance will continue to grow during this century. Whether one looks at seemingly mundane local issues of increasingly complicated waste disposal, the impact of new government environmental regulation on established businesses, or worldwide challenges like water shortages, perpetual hostilities near vital resources, and the undeniable disappearance of glaciers and polar ice, nearly everyone has a strong opinion and feels they have a personal stake in the outcome.
Yet it saddens me that so many Americans don't seem to have an adequate understanding of what science is, or understand the role of scientists, to engage and respond in a sensible way to the environmental issues that face all of us. It isn't up to scientists to make decisions for us.
Many supposedly educated people (including some of fellow teachers) believe that science and technology will soon remove these issues from our upward path. And why not? For the past century, threats of famine and disease have been largely swept away for us. Vaccines, agricultural chemicals and refrigeration provided deux ex machina solutions to 20th C people, at least in industrialized countries. Why can't we expect technology to provide a similar transformative event soon?
The answer is that our current challenges regarding resources, waste and energy are fundamentally different from those earlier challenges, because today's challenges run afoul of the principles of matter and energy conservation. (You know - the laws that say that matter and energy can't be created or destroyed.) Our present course is not sustainable. And our current traditional science education does not equip most of our students to recognize that it's not sustainable.