Rants on Ecology, Sustainability, Becoming Green

The root cause of the majority of environmental problems lies not in surface manifestations such as carbon dioxide and ozone, but with social and cultural factors that encourage people to consume far more than they need. Environmental education can be divided into two main kinds: micro approaches, which the majority of current approaches fall under, and macro approaches, which are currently emerging. Micro environmental education considers environmental problems in terms of surface manifestations, and proposes micro-changes such as recycling to address them, without adequately questioning the possibility of a cultural shift away from consumerism. This form of environmental education typically seeks to change the behaviour of social actors by building and appealing to their environmental conscience in the expectation that they will act rationally. It is argued here that this expectation fails to recognise that social actors are subject to plural rationalities and that their behaviour is driven by complex interrelationships with other social actors. As a result, micro environmental education, despite its best intentions, often fails to adequately address and change the environmentally unsustainable behaviour of the social actors it targets.

This thesis firstly aims to uncover why micro approaches to environmental education exist and persist. Primary qualitative research with environmental educators drawn from formal, free-choice and accidental channels of environmental education was conducted and is presented alongside a review of the historical development of environmental education. The second aim of this thesis is to argue against a reliance on micro approaches to environmental education and environmentalism in general and propose instead that environmental education becomes embedded within a wider macro approach. Macro approaches seek to change behaviour through the development of a critical understanding of interrelationships among social actors, leading ultimately to environmentally positive changes in them. Findings from the primary research also help reveal the conditions necessary for macro approaches to emerge from the current environmental education infrastructure. The thesis concludes that macro environmental education is both necessary and possible and calls for further research into its development and practice.

 

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