Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Education for Sustainability - Facts For Everybody

Education for Sustainability - Facts For Everybody

Education for Sustainability - Facts For Everybody

Sustainability: “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems”. Education has a vital role to play in developing favorable attitudes towards sustainable way of life as well as for developing competencies to lead sustainable way of life.



Education: A Vital Input for Sustainability Way of Life

The definition made public in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development identifies sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
The document Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living –published in 1993 by IUCN, UNEP and WWF– defines it as “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems”.
Thus sustainable development is  linked to life style which respects the environmental limits and caters to the economic and social needs.
Sustainable development is a process which has to be carried out for many years into the future and education has a role to play in it.
United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)  has as its global objective the integration of the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning which will encourage changes in behaviour that will create a more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations.
Education for sustainability  has to be developed for everybody regardless of age. It is to be developed from a lifetime learning perspective and can use all forms of learning: formal, non-formal and informal.
The manual developed by Joseba Martinez Huerta advocates the following characteristics for the education modules designed for sustainability.

Education for sustainability must share the features of all quality educational experiences and  incorporatie the values of sustainable development into the teaching-learning process. 
Therefore, It has to be based on values, whereby they are explained, discussed and those most appropriate for sustainable development can be selected.

It has to develop critical thought, tackle dilemmas and prepare people to look for solutions to the problems.

It has to be  orientated towards action. Awareness alone does not lead to change. Beyond awareness, education for sustainability must promote commitment. The people educated must accept  participation in the decision-making, including the decisions relating to the environment and the learning method.

It has to adopt an interdisciplinary and holistic approach. It has to use multiple channels and didactic  resources (the word, plastic arts, drama, debates, experiences, etc.) to jointly construct the knowledge, thereby going beyond the mere transfer of knowledge.

It is  significant for those who are learning and for the community, integrating the didactic experiences into the personal and professional life.

It has to consider both the  local and the global scale when considering the problems of development.

Climate Change Issues


More than two decades ago the world scientific community began to alert us to the fact that the Earth was heating up at an unprecedented rate. The acceleration in temperature change will become exponential if measures are not adopted. When investigating the reason behind this acceleration, a direct link between global warming and the rising emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from industrialised human societies
is found.
The main green house gas emitted into the atmosphere by human beings is carbon dioxide (CO2) which comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), used to produce energy and for transport. Other GHGs are methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and perfluorated compounds.  This is principally due to the burning of fossil fuels and, to a lesser extent,  other reasons.
The adverse effects of the climate change are rising sea levels which pose a risk to those living in coastal cities, the salinization of aquifers, diminishing icecaps and the resulting risk for water supply to the populations who depend on the rivers fed by them, the extinction of species (up to 30%), a greater risk of heat waves and droughts in some areas, and torrential rains in others.
The production and consumption of energy from fossil fuels has a direct impact on climate change and the existing energy model must therefore change in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Combating climate change requires a shift towards a model of sustainable development based on efficiency of carbon emissions as well as a commitment to renewable energy. This is not easy as it requires a technological and sociological change, but  the habit of continuing business as usual is just not sustainable and hence efforts have to made to bring about the changes.
The scientific community warns that it is very important that throughout this century the 2ºC global temperature increase threshold over preindustrial levels is not exceeded. For this to be achieved, the CO2 eq. concentration must remain lower than 450 ppm which means that developed countries will have to reduce their emissions by between 25-40% by 2020, and 80% by 2050 as regards to 1990.
Currently a large part of the population associates “quality of life” with “high levels of consumption” of both energy and products. In order to combat climate change the link between these parameters must be broken. The Earth is telling us that we cannot continue with this model. If we do not pay attention to the symptoms and act accordingly, we will suffer the consequences. We still have time but we must be prepared to change.

Water Problem


The total volume of water on the planet is 1.3 billion km3, of which 97.5% is saltwater. Only a very small part –less than 0.01% or 104,590 km3– can be used directly by humans to satisfy their living requirements, their production activities and for the activities associated with the ecosystems which rely on it. The efficiency with which water is utilised is dropping. The present ratio is around 60% between water extracted and water used.
According to the United Nations, if current trends in water consumption continue, by 2025 two thirds of the population will be living under conditions of water stress. The shortage must not be exclusively attributed to a lack of water, but is in fact largely due to inadequate management, whether as a result of overexploitation or contamination of the resource.
It is calculated that close to 1 billion people still have no access to drinking water and over 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation systems.

Preservation of Biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity can be defined as the  variety in living beings.  The world is inhabited by millions of living beings, all different, and this diversity has benefits.

Why is biodiversity important?

Many of our daily activities would not be possible without biodiversity. Thanks to biodiversity, we obtain different services from nature .
Provisioning services: thanks to the ecosystems we obtain,amongst other elements, food and fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemical products, natural remedies, medicines and water.For example: throughout history humans have grown 7,000 plant species as food. Medicines to treat many human ailments are extracted from plants and animals.
Regulation services: ecosystems keep the air that we breathe clean, have the capacity to regulate the climate, control floods and the spread of disease. They are also essential for soil maintenance,plant pollination, purifying water, etc. For example: forests fix CO2 and produce O2. Roots hold the land together, maintain the soil, and also filters water that passes through it.
Support services: these services form the basis of all of the others. These include the food cycles of the ecosystems, the land formation, etc. For example: the ground contains different bacterium which decompose leaves that fall on the ground, dead animals, etc., and turn them into food which can be used by living beings. Were this invisible function not to exist, plants would not be able to extract minerals from the ground, and herbivores would have no grass to eat.
What is happening?

According to the most optimistic forecasts 27,000 species are currently lost every year due to human activity. In the past, without human interference, only about one species per thousand was lost per year. The current situation is that over a very short period, 12% of plants, 11% of birds and 25% of mammals have become extinct or have become endangered species. It is extremely clear that we are facing one of the most significant periods of destruction in geological history.
17 million hectares of jungle are lost every year and if clearance continues at this pace it is estimated by experts that 20% of all species would become extinct within the next 30 years.
What can we do?
Biodiversity is beautiful and useful. to look after. We still have time to take certain measures:
Responsible consumption: we have to use the resources offered by biodiversity, but we must use them in a moderate and efficient manner. For example, we should only consume those products which we need, avoid purchasing products just because they are in fashion or cheap, purchase local farm produce in order to guarantee that we maintain the diversity of autochthonous rural species, and remember that we consume a lot of raw materials unnecessarily by purchasing highly packaged goods.

Looking after local biodiversity: respect nature. Don’t throw litter, don’t break the plants etc. Leave them the way you found them so that others can also enjoy them. How much space do we want to take up?: we currently occupy a large part of the Earth for urban areas, roads and infrastructure, leaving no room for many plants and animals. We must leave some areas of our topography intact so that a minimum biodiversity can be maintained. This is the role played by nature reserves.
Control of invasive species: we must find them and help to eliminate them. They steal space from the autochthonous species and hinder the development of local biodiversity.
Look after the oldest trees in order to ensure their future existence: look after the fungi, lichen, birds, etc. which live on or in the oldest trees.

Ultimately, every day, we must look after living beings wherever they are.

Our Energy Consumption and Environmental Problems

Energy is essential for our current quality of life.
At  present, fossil fuels represent around 80% of the total, nuclear about 6-7% and renewable sources, including hydroelectric, no more than approximately 10%.
Environmental Problems
The main environmental  problems are  caused by the different by-products deriving from the combustion processes. They are: increase of the greenhouse effect and its subsequent impact on climate change, photochemical or dry smog, damp smog, acid rain, particles, and health problems due to the chemical compounds. These are all important, but at present perhaps the main concern on a worldwide scale is global warming due to the greenhouse effect produced as a result of human activities which increase atmospheric CO2 and CH4 .
The discussions about nuclear fission energy are essentially the risk of accidents and waste generation. The former can be minimized through adequate policies and technical actions, for example 3rd and 4th generation reactors and additional measures.
As far as nuclear waste is concerned, there are two main groups: low and medium activity, and high activity. The latter, mainly deriving from fuel used at nuclear power plants, has long half-life and high heat and alpha, beta and gamma radiation emissions, which makes it dangerous for hundreds of years. The big issue to be resolved is the waste elimination, although there is serious research being conducted into both storage and processing.

What measures can be adopted to rationalise energy
consumption without reducing the standard of living?

We must analyse energy –saving and efficiency measures capable of maintaining the same level of well-being and production, while reducing energy consumption–.
We must consider substituting more contaminating energy sources for others with less impact, in other
words, increasing the consumption of alternative energy.
These challenges require an analysis of the measures to be taken and a decision on who must perform the corresponding actions. There are of course different levels of action and responsibility. Thus, for example:
The international institutions prepare and apply agreements between states, setting good practices and granting aid.
The governments enact and apply laws, establish tax and subsidy policies, regulate the behaviour of
companies and individuals, and define and apply market regulations.
Industry offers certain goods and services, promotes innovation and technological change, and complies with
Individuals use energy, choose the type and quantity of the goods and services that they consume, and
contribute towards establishing social rules of conduct.
Different actions must therefore be implemented in a combined and simultaneous manner, such as:
Technological solutions: combined cycle power stations,  energy cogeneration and trigeneration, liquefaction
and gasification of carbon, sequestration and carbon storage techniques.
Domestic, industrial and institutional energy saving in their various activities: transport, green building, heating,
refrigeration, lighting, etc.
Increase in the use of alternative energies:
1. Free of greenhouse gas emissions: solar, wind,marine, geothermic, hydrogen.
2. Greenhouse gas emitting: direct biomass use, production of biogas, use of biofuels in transport,
use of waste products.
Only by adequately adopting all of these measures can we achieve sustainable development in the production
and consumption of energy. People can and must directly influence this dynamic by adopting attitudes and behaviour which lead to the efficient and rational use of energy, and indirectly by influencing international, national and even corporate policies by applying democratic mechanisms.

Soil Degradation and Measures to Prevent It

The term  edaphosphere refers to the vast regions of surfaced land of the planet covered by soils.
This soil is essential in order to maintain the biosphere and climate regulation. For example, soil sustains
farming production.

The services of the soil
Soil is essential for both the biosphere and people due to the services and functions that it performs.

Ecological services

•Production of biomass: food, fibre and energy.
•Medium which filters, regulates and transforms the matter that reaches it, protecting the water, the
food chain and human beings from environmental contamination.
•Biological habitat and genetic reserve for many plants, animals and organisms.

Services relating to human activities
•Physical medium which serves as a support for industrial and technical structures, as well as
socioeconomic activities.
•Source of raw materials: water, clay, sand, gravel, minerals, etc.
•Element of our cultural heritage, which contains essential paleontological and archaeological remains
for understanding the history of the earth and humanity.
Degradation and loss of soil resources
Soil is not a resource which can be renewed by humans. Its regeneration requires hundreds or even thousands of years. Soil degradation means that the resource is not lost, rather it deteriorates and loses part of its properties which affects its functions or “services” as referred to above. Loss of soil  signifies that the soil disappears.
Soil loss

If soil is not used by humans with care and wisdom it is lost, as in extreme cases where the underlying rock
surface is exposed through erosion, or when it is buried under cement or asphalt in the case of sealing.
Soil erosion can be caused by water, wind, ice or gravity. In these terms this refers to hydrological, eolic,
glacier - periglacier and mechanical erosion respectively.  In all of these cases, the external factor which exerts the most influence on erosion is the total or partial loss of vegetation cover which protects it from water droplets that would otherwise fall on it and destroy its aggregates, thereby deteriorating its sponge-like properties. Equally, the plant root networks help to retain the soil thereby slowing down the erosion process.
Sealing has only started to become a serious problem now that the number of the world’s inhabitants has risen exponentially, and with it the increase in housing, industry and infrastructure (reservoirs, roads, airports, etc.) required to build and maintain them. At present, millions and millions of hectares are buried under asphalt and cement, and in some countries this situation occurs in more than 20% of their territory. But the fundamental problem lies in the fact that these man-made works are usually carried out on the most fertile and productive soils –river banks, meadows, coastal plains, deltas, etc.–, competing with and displacing agriculture and natural ecosystems.
Soil degradation
In general, soil degradation processes are attributed to poor use of edaphic resources by humans. There are
many such processes and the most important of these are detailed below:
Loss of organic material: When land is farmed and the organic material which is lost is not replaced, the soil
aggregates end up disintegrating into their constituent particles, deteriorating their structure and therefore, the
edaphic properties.
Salinization and sodification: This refers to the processes which tend to increase the potassium and sodium salt content of the soil, to the detriment of other cations, like calcium, which are vital for plant nutrition. Under
these circumstances, the soil pH rises excessively high –above 8.5–, generating erratic uptake of the nutrients
required by plants. Frequent practices which lead to soil salinization are irrigation with relatively brackish water in climates with water deficits, improper fertilising, etc. Acidification: Acidification is also a process which
upsets the balance of nutrients. Most of the nutrients are leached out and are substituted by hydrogen or
worse still aluminium. In this case, the soil pH drops below 4.5 –very acidic– whereby nutrients become
very impoverished. When the aluminium ion ends up dominating, the pH potentially drops to 4, leading to
problems of toxicity. Practices and phenomena which lead to soil acidification are, amongst others: acid rain,
incorrect fertilising, restocking with acidifying forest species –for example conifers–, draining of semi-aquatic
coastal soils which sustain mangrove swamp vegetation, etc.
Compression: This is the loss of the soil structure, in other words, the sponge-like properties mentioned
above. Independently of the loss of organic material, plant cover or sodification which affect the surface
compression, there are other factors which affect the deeper horizons, such as the use of excessively heavy
farming machinery.
Contamination: Soil contamination is a very serious process which spreads like a plague throughout the
edaphosphere.  A distinction should be drawn between contamination and pollution. We use the
term pollution when an element which appears normally in the soil in moderate quantities reaches exaggerated and harmful levels. On the other hand, the term contamination should be reserved for those processes which lead to the accumulation of elements or compounds in the soil which are alien to it, such as insecticides, other synthetic compounds, and even radioactive substances. The contamination and pollution processes can be divided into local and widespread. The former refers to a large accumulation of contaminating elements in relatively small areas, called contaminated sites, whether due to uncontrolled dumping, accidents at chemical industry and nuclear plants, etc. Widespread contamination on the other hand, contains less contaminating or polluting substances, although over a very large area. An example would be the excessive use of fertilizers and insecticides in agrarian landscapes.

Although the contamination/pollution may appear to be a local process it may have global repercussions. The
edaphic medium amasses a certain capacity to absorb contaminants and/or pollutants, and if the threshold is
exceeded, it allows them to pass from the soil into the water and/or plants, and from there into herbivores and
then to carnivores and human beings. The World Health Organisation considers contamination/pollution to be the direct or indirect cause which leads to the most number of deaths in developing countries. The generalised abusive use of agrarian chemicals is one of the main causes of soil and water contamination. The contaminant-rich waters in turn flow into the sea and poison the marine trophic chain.

Desertification is the degradation and loss of soil in arid, semi-arid and dry/barren environments, i.e. in
those with scarce water resources. It is not therefore a process per se, but rather the phenomenological
manifestation of many other processes under certain environmental conditions. Under these conditions
the landscape becomes arid, losing plant cover and biomass, and a drop in the organic material and
biological activity in the soil.
Soil and Climate Change

The Earth’s climate has undergone constant changes since its origin, with climate variation being the norm,
rather than the exception. But we concerned about  global warming or climate change as  it is rapidly changing adversely  as a result of current pattern of  human activities.
Even at present, when considerable expanses of the Earth have lost a lot of organic material due to
agricultural and livestock activities, the amount of CO2 stored in the edaphosphere is far greater than that in
the atmosphere. If all of the CO2 and CH4 contained in the soil were to be mineralised and emitted into the
atmosphere, the resulting climate change would lead to the collapse of modern civilisation as we know it.
Hence, the soil can be a CO2 source or sink, depending on how we manage it.
However, human beings are not only exerting an influence on the carbon cycle, we are also affecting
many of the other cycles in the biosphere . One of the most seriously affected is the nitrogen
cycle. If we do not look after our soil then we will be unable to look after the biosphere; because their
persistence and health depends on us.
This is a collection excerpts of the manual for education for sustainability hosted on UNESCO website to provide materials to various educators for promoting it. The individual files of the topics are given under the concerned topic.  The files contain good visuals.
The full manual can be accessed from
Teachers and faculty members at various levels have to incorporate the ideas in this manual in their environment lessons and subjects.


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