Conclusion

In the beginning of this chapter, we cited a passage from Jared Diamond's recent book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed [1] concerning the massive increase in global environmental awareness at the same time we are facing massive global environmental problems. This poses the question on the utility of environmental awareness and learning if it does not lead to sustainable behaviors and lifestyles. Similarly, the UN World Youth Report 2003 states that [56]:

Environmental education has grown steadily in recent years. However, questions remain concerning its impact. During the past three decades there has been massive growth in environmental awareness in many countries.but has humanity come any closer to achieving a sustainable society?

As discussed throughout this chapter, EE is seen almost universally as an important component in our quest for a sustainable world. Because everyday citizens and other non-expert stakeholders are either directly or indirectly involved in behaviors that affect the environment, increasing levels of environmental literacy and thus awareness is the first step in changing behaviors and developing support for public policies that promote sustainability. However, as the quote above indicates, EE itself is not sufficient. It must eventually lead to change in behavior and policies.

Even if people and policymakers are provided with the best available scientific knowledge concerning environmental issues, it does not mean that action will follow. While it was once assumed that there was a linear relationship between scientific knowledge and environmental policy—i.e., improved environmental decisions with more and better inputs of scientific knowledge—the actual relationship has been more complicated as science has become "politicized" [87,88]. By the 1990s, scientists were producing enormous amounts of environmental knowledge, discovering and publicizing global warming, atmospheric ozone depletion, declining biodiversity, etc. However, some policymakers, citizens and other interests questioned the validity of this information (primarily for political and economic reasons) and argued that we should wait for "better" science in order to stall action or ignore the problem [88].

Arguably, this could complicate efforts at EE because it raises uncertainty about the content and substance of environmental curricula.

While most of the information and data presented in this chapter indicates that global environmental awareness and concern is relatively widespread across different cultures, regions, and levels of development, there are still many additional challenges as well. In much of the developing world there are problems with both formal and informal EE due to poverty, low levels of literacy, underdeveloped school systems, lack of trained teachers, limited mass media infrastructure, and generally poor economic conditions. In many post-Communist countries there have been some laudable efforts in the formal education sector.

However, poor economic conditions, political instability in some countries, a lack of trained teachers, and an under-developed civil society sector with few NGOs constrain EE efforts. In the postindustrial countries, there is widespread environmental awareness and very sophisticated and innovative formal and non-formal education efforts in place. However, as discussed above, despite widespread public concern for the environment and enormous efforts at EE in most postindustrial countries, the connection to the adoption of environmentally sound behaviors remains weak. While there have been major policy initiatives alleviating many types of pollution and the adoption of many sustainable practices, such as recycling, citizens in the postindustrial world are still the largest consumers of natural resources and energy in the world. Certainly, there needs to be additional EE efforts aimed at narrowing this attitude-behavior gap.

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