ECOLOGY AND EDUCATION

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The many debates on ecology often use and abuse data and statistics. We try to convince people to stop eating meat by showing, with figures, that a kilo of beef requires 5 or 10 times more water than the same amount of energy in cereals. We try to convince others by comparing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by an electric or manual toothbrush… As if environmental issues were reduced to addition and multiplication. This singular approach undoubtedly betrays the inability of our societies to address the root of the problem. Because it is now clear that the issue is elsewhere and that what really matters cannot be conceptualized with statistics. One can only observe the complete lack of effectiveness of this avalanche of figures since nothing changes. Despite the apparent objectivity of the numbers (which is supposed to convince everyone), there are always more cars (even in our countries), always more air transport users (even in our countries), always more electricity produced and consumed, houses as well as smartphones… If nothing really changes, it may be precisely because by using these numbers and these learned calculations, we fail to discuss the real issue. How are our societies capable of instituting individuals who are profoundly ignorant of what keeps them alive? How can a society lead its citizens to be — in adulthood — still unaware of the ties that bind them to their environment? If nothing changes, it is not because we are insensitive to the objectivity of numbers, but rather because our psychic construction — our way of spontaneously perceiving the world — is based on the complete absence of consideration of the links we weave with our environment.

The first task is to change this spontaneous representation of our being as well as the relationships we have with our environment. It is clear that education, which could — and should — take on this role, does not take these considerations into account and thus participates in the creation of consciences that are ignorant of the links that connect them to their environment. Indeed, what do we teach children in our schools? They are taught mathematics, history, physics, chemistry, biology… They are taught the rules of mastery so that they themselves will be able, in the near future, to reproduce this mastery. In other words, they are trained, 32 hours a week, to become good technicians. However, they are told little or nothing about the consequences of this control. While some teachers may, of course, bring up these topics in their classes (such as in ethics, religion, geography and social studies, or even science), this learning is not part of the curriculum (except in an anecdotal way) and will only be brought up if a teacher feels like it. Our teaching — which supposedly wants to train to objectivity and knowledge — is therefore content to explain how to master without ever mentioning the now impressive amount of knowledge accumulated on the many deleterious impacts of mastery. This is how the national education system simply denigrates a whole section of scientific literature. To approach the nuclear issue is limited, in most cases, to explaining the operation of a reactor such as the physical and chemical properties related to fusion and fission. There is little or no mention of the impacts of the nuclear industry: from the extraction of minerals, to the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters, to the storage of waste and the many controversial projects (such as those at Bure in France), to the exponential growth of electricity which, uninterrupted since the end of the Second World War, has necessitated the use of such forms of energy.

In the same way, if we explain to our children the principles of kinetic energy and the mathematical equations allowing to calculate the speed of a car, nothing — or almost nothing — is said about the disastrous consequences of the automobile. Indeed, it rarely deals with fine particle pollution, as well as the frightening impact of hydraulic fracturing or oil exploitation which, since its origins, has not ceased to destroy territories such as in the Amazon or in Nigeria. Finally, nothing is said about the numerous externalities linked to the use of chemistry in agriculture: such as the generalized pollution of our environment by synthetic molecules, the decrease in human fertility or the increase in chronic diseases… To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be pointed out that some professors address these subjects, but the time they spend on them is not comparable to that used to describe the physico-chemical processes at work, for example, in a nuclear reaction. It should also be emphasized that the point here is not to criticize teachers — who do a remarkable job — but rather to show the strength and hold of the « bias » of education in our societies. Knowing the world in which we live does not simply imply knowing its laws… Knowing the world in which we live also implies — and above all — understanding the links that connect us to our environment. Unfortunately, this work is not done and these links are not sufficiently explained. In so doing, education maintains denial and contributes to the development of consciousness disconnected from reality. The national education system is thus a powerful ally in the perpetuation of the existing model. Far from its primary vocation, it does not serve to « liberate », by enlightening consciousness, but to chain humans in the making to the pursuit of mastery through the perpetuation of the technical relationship we now have with our environment.

However, it would take very little for the National Education System to return to its original vocation. It would be enough if we spent as many hours learning the laws of the universe as the consequences of mastery. But above all, school should become the place to learn about the specificities of life on Earth. We would then help our children understand who they are and what kind of world they live in. We would learn about the numerous and multiple interactions that every living organism has with its environment. We would finally understand that our environment is not simply a support, to be cut and chopped at will, but THE condition of our existence. They would thus be initiated to the specificity of their being and their world. And, in doing so, one would take into account all the scientific literature and not only that which allows for mastery. Literature which, for about fifty years now, has not ceased to demonstrate that our relationship with the environment is viscerally destructive and deeply nihilistic because it is based exclusively on submission and domination. By taking into account this imposing literature, one would thus train them to objectivity… Isn’t this finally the role of any education in democratic societies?

Julien Lebrun, teacher and essayist

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