Towards a Holistic Environmental Awareness

An integral approach to environmental education.

Awakening by Education and enforcement by Law are the two main forms of institutional intervention. To be effective in the long-term all institutional initiatives have to be founded mainly on Education. A complete environmental education should have four components or aims. First is the cognitive, a scientific or intuitive understanding of the ecology of Nature with an emphasis on awakening the individual to the unity, harmony and interdependence of life in Nature, and also in Man and Nature. Second is the attitudinal, inculcating a positive, healthy, harmonious and friendly attitudes to Nature, free from all forms of negative attitudes like violence or fear or the urge for exploitation. Third is the emotional or experiential dimension which means leading the individual to a living contact with Nature and an emotional, aesthetic or spiritual communion with Nature. Fourth is the practical, providing people with whatever knowledge or information required for taking the right green decision or in other words, in choosing the cleaner, greener and the ecologically more healthy or efficient alternative. However the actual educational package has to be tailored to the needs and nature of the audience with an emphasis on one or more of the four aspect of environmental knowledge.

In other words, the integral ideal of environmental education is to internalize a clear perception of the laws and process of Nature, especially the laws of unity and interdependence in the thinking mind; create the capacity for a direct experiential contact with the living spirit of Nature in the emotional and aesthetic faculties which leads to a deep love for Nature; and finally provide, actionable knowledge for manifesting this understanding in the mind and love in the heart in work and life and decision-making and in organizing the outer life in harmony with ecology of Nature. We must note here mere sentimental “love” for Nature, which can write only nature-poetry is not enough.

There must be knowledge in the mind, which leads to an enlightened attunement with Nature. Without knowledge, “Love” is a helpless sentiment and without true love, knowledge is a cold and barren thing which cannot produce any lasting results. In the Indian scripture Bhagavat Gita, The divine Teacher gives the highest status to the “knowing lover”. Jnanibhakta, of the Divine. The aim of environmental education should also be to shape such knowing lovers of Nature.

There are four major groups of audiences. First and the most important is the young mind in the school. Second is the adult mind of the leader, professional or the technocrat who takes major decisions on policy, resource-allocation or technology. In this category we have to include not only the present decision-makers, but also the potential or future decision-makers, who are undergoing training and education in professional institutes. The third is the consumer who buys products and services. Fourth is the uneducated low income people in the village who have to be shown the path to an eco-friendly economic development. There is considerable progress in imparting the scientific knowledge of modern ecology to students. However, much has still to be done, especially in terms of creative and innovative content, in the other three aspect of environmental education, that is, in the attitudinal, experiential and the practical dimension.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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