Introduction

In his recent book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond poses the following question in the context of Australia's contemporary environmental problems [1]:

On the one hand, the development of environmental problems in Australia, as in the whole world, is accelerating exponentially. On the other hand, development of public concern.is accelerating exponentially. Which horse will win the race?

Implicit in this quote is the notion that the expansion of knowledge and thus awareness of environmental issues may well lead people and policy-makers to pursue more sustainable types of behaviors and policies that will leave a smaller ecological footprint on the earth. Environmental education (EE) is almost universally seen as an important component of an effective policy framework for protecting and managing the world's natural resources and environment [2]. Some even suggest that we evaluate environmental and ecological research in terms of its capacity to shape the behaviors of the public and the decisions of policymakers [3].

Social scientists have long argued that knowledge "is essential if citizens are to discern their real interests and take effective advantage of the civic opportunities afforded them" [4]. They see a direct link between knowledge and behavior, with people who have higher levels of policy relevant knowledge being more likely to engage in behaviors consistent with that knowledge. While there is a substantial body of empirical literature identifying the link between environmental knowledge and pro-environmental attitudes [5-7], many argue that simply raising environmental awareness is insufficient to bring about change. Therefore, EE must also directly promote the need for personal and societal environmentally responsible behavior [8-10].

Because the entire human species shares a single, interconnected ecosystem, finding acceptable solutions for environmental and natural resource education and awareness efforts require a cross-cultural, multi-national and comparative perspective. As Sheldon Kamieniecki observes, "Regardless of where people reside, nearly everyone has experienced threats to the environment and his or her health. Often, these problems are transnational and require binational or even multinational cooperation to solve them" [11]. Therefore, this chapter employs an international and comparative approach—as opposed to an exclusively North American outlook—on contemporary national and international EE and awareness efforts.

However, while we understand that many environmental problems and their solutions are transnational, the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme suggests that how individual nations reach this awareness and develop concern for the environment will be influenced by other, more specific, development priorities [12]. It is not uncommon for developing nations to place greater emphasis on issues such as basic nutrition, disease, shelter needs, and clean drinking water.

Because these more immediate survival and infrastructure concerns are of such priority concern, government officials and public agencies in these countries may not accord much weight to environmental and natural resource issues in the course of their development work [11].

Therefore, different approaches to EE and awareness may be warranted. This is not to say that efforts for EE and awareness are not warranted in the advanced industrial countries. However, the more affluent countries tend to have addressed many of the foregoing problems rather well, and therefore place emphasis on health and well-being, protection of natural resources, and ozone destruction [12]. We also see an increased concern among many of these nations for biodiversity and endangered species. In addition, postindustrial societies have become increasingly concerned about environmental conditions in the developing world. According to Uday Desai, this growing concern is due in part to the realization that lifestyles in advanced industrial countries are affected by the environmental degradation taking place in the developing world. Desai also suggests that another reason for this concern is "the heightened recognition that the earth's natural resources are finite and that the existence of modern industrial societies depends on the continuing availability of these resources" [13].

In addition to addressing EE and awareness issues in developing and advanced industrial countries, it is important to examine the rather unique political and socio-economic situation present in the post-Communist nations. The state of the environment in the former Soviet Union and Communist Eastern/Central Europe was horrendous and helped lead to the collapse of the empire. As Barbara Jancar-Webster has stated: "The principal issue that became symbolic of the arbitrary and dictatorial nature of the Communist system was the environment. In every East European country and in republics of the Soviet Union the population rallied to demand the end of the regime which had brought them to the brink of environmental catastrophe" [14].

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many observers and academics predicted better environmental conditions due to the demise of political and economic centralization and the growth of markets, which would encourage the more efficient use and allocation of natural resources. However, in reality the collapse of Soviet Communism "left behind a legacy of ecological destruction and declining health conditions in all the territories of the former Soviet Union" [15]. Given the poor economic and social conditions facing many post-Communist countries, not to mention continuing political instability and a relatively recent understanding of how to educate people about the relationship between society and nature [16], there is a patent danger of continued environmental destruction.

Again, we point out these regional variations as they reinforce the idea that a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing environmental knowledge and awareness will not be effective. A more informed strategy should include both a transnational as well as area-specific components in its design.

This chapter will examine these and other issues. We begin with a review of literature on why EE and awareness is considered important for adopting more sustainable behaviors and policies. Next, we turn our attention to the current state of global environmental awareness. Finally, we present various approaches that have been suggested to increase global environmental awareness and education in developing, post-Communist, and postindustrial countries. We conclude the chapter with a discussion of future prospects and trends concerning the state of global environmental learning.

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