Photo from Globe and Mail. Photo by John Raedle.
Well, it happened. Following 70 years or so of scientists (I generally think of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring as a beginning point in this conversation in the West) telling us that human activity is inflicting catastrophic damage on all systems on this planet, mainstream media, whether consciously or unconsciously, has started to report regularly our relationship with our home.
On Friday June 17th and Saturday, June 18th, the Globe and Mail, perhaps because the earth is in revolt and stories of destruction are so prevalent and ubiquitous, seemed to devote most of its reporting to ecological issues. Here is a sampling:
Earthquakes Shake Alberta Town’s Faith in Fracking
Come Hell or High Water: The Disaster Scenario that is South Florida
Preparing Cities for Changing Climate – Before it’s too Late
There was also an interactive game included on the web version of the Globe and Mail on how to prevent a city from succumbing to the effects of climate change: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/can-you-future-proof-a-city-play-game/article25560486/?from=25552300
Crop Expert Norm Hall on how Drought is Hurting Prairie Farmers
Saskatchewan Wildfire Evacuees Anxious for All-clear to Return Home
All of these articles and associated catastrophes came at the same time that Canada’s Premiers, government leaders of our ten provinces, wrapped up meetings concerning energy and the environment. While there was some recognition that externalities, like greenhouse gases, need to be regulated, accounted, and diminished, most of the talk was about how to export Canada’s nonrenewable energy and generate revenue.
The House on CBC had extensive interviews with various premiers: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thehouse/premiers-clash-leads-to-unprecedented-energy-agreement-1.3154480/rachel-notley-seeks-balance-between-economy-environment-1.3154493
And then a pipeline, owned by Chinese-owned Nexen, spilled 31, 500 barrels of bitumen essentially into a tributary of the Athabasca River on Treaty land: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/nexen-says-crews-working-around-the-clock-at-spill-site/article25549619/
And yet the conversation we have at the school level, the school board level, and perhaps in wider educational circles, rarely reflects the need for ecologically literate citizens. in 2015, we are still confounded and confined by discussions advocating for 21st Century skills, better math skills to keep up with Singapore, and/or fictitious notions of “grit.”
Ecological literacy will become the new pedagogical push in the 21st century, it’s just a matter of when. It is comforting that both the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg faculties of education offer courses in sustainability to future and current teachers, and it is further encouraging that more and more students are volunteering to take these courses.
Despite this flicker of light, the conversations, literature, and practice in the classroom does not focus on sustaining and protecting the very thing that sustains all life — the biosphere. At what point to we, as educators, begin to shift our focus from outcomes of the past to outcomes of survival, justice, and equity? On what side of history do educators want to be on?
My hope is that this latest publication of the Globe and Mail will push public discussion, both within and outside of the realm of education. I hope it pushes us to understand that short-sighted mission statements, empty five-year plans, and our propensity to give lip-service to forces like ecological literacy are tiresome and destructive. Action is required, now. As teachers, let’s make ecological literacy the new imperative in 21st century learning and stand up to those who would roll their eyes or scoff.