Green Education: A Solution for the Environmental Crisis And for the New Green Economy
By Dr. John Peterson, PhD, FPA-BM Chairman of the Board
In recent years, the effects of global warming and climate changes are impacting our planet in an unprecedented way, providing a need for greater awareness and solutions to the environmental crisis (DeGalan & Middlekauff, 2008). This same awareness provides a demand for the creation of a new “green” industry that brings with it new career opportunities. The future is in the hands of a new generation of students, and it is our job as a society to support them through education, including a greener education, in order to prepare them to lead the development of solutions to the environmental crisis. Currently, there are many outstanding initiatives for green implementations. This paper will provide an environmental scan to examine the initiatives in education and the green jobs of tomorrow. Based on this investigation, this paper presents a plan to strengthen green education.
Rationale for Green Education
Most people assume that “green is good;” however, there is very little effort to act on this assumption. This is potentially a dangerous situation afflicting society. The Ginsberg Center at University of Michigan provided data that stated, “with only 6% of the world’s population, Americans generate 35% of the trash and consume 35% of the world’s resources,” and “80% of all the oil discovered in North America to date has already been extracted” (Ginsberg Center, n.d.). Today, there is a need to bring the environmental crisis inside classrooms and to increase pressure on the federal government and society to raise the number of “green jobs.” A green education can accommodate this need and provide students with opportunities to the emerging green industry. Holeywell (2011) reported that advocates see environmental education as a fit for the new green economy. As part of this goal, there is a growing enforcement of science and math in green oriented schools in order to prepare students for this new economy. The strong rationale existing to provide green education are fighting environmental crisis and preparing students for the new jobs created by a green industry.
Defining Green Education
The Nevada Natural Resource Education Council (NNREC) defined green education, also known as environmental education, as:
A process aimed at developing a world population that is aware of and concerned about the total environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, attitudes, motivations, commitments, and skills to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones. (Nevada Natural Resource Education Council, 2005, para.1)
Objectives of an Environmental or Greener Education
According to the NNREC the main objectives of an environmental, or green, education is to assist individuals or social groups to become aware, and sensible, to the environment and its problems as a whole, to increase a diversity of experiences, and to obtain a basic comprehension of the environment and its related problems. Green education also provides students the motivation to participate actively in environmental progress and safety. Environmental education exists to help students identify and solve environmental problems by creating opportunities to engage in solving them (Nevada Natural Resource Education Council, 2005).
Elder (2009) explained that, because of the accelerated interest by the Obama administration in the transition to a clean energy and greener economy, there is a priority in helping higher education play a critical role in making this transition a reality. This effort is monumental and public engagement is vital. According to Elder, “a broad base of literate citizens must help” (p.108) from implementing changes in business and personal practices to students understanding “the complex connections and inter-dependencies between the environment, energy sources, and the economy — connections that underpin the concept of a clean energy, green economy” (p.108). One of the crucial objectives of a greener, sustainable education is to generate new ways of thinking and learning about solutions for the environmental problems, and to raise awareness to the political agendas brought by the connection between economy, energy, environment, and the social well-being.
Environmental Scan on Factors Influencing Green Education and Green Economy
There is a need for green education. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) believes that green education is essential. USGBC plays a major role in “greener” architecture education, by making resources available to educators and professionals in the architectural, engineering, and construction fields. The U.S. Green Building Council (2011) gives special attention to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) education, where they provide an expert group of passionate professionals in the field working as faculty. Allenby (2005) referred to the need of combining economic discourse development with environmental discourse to prevent that, if they do not align, one would overcome the other. This implies that constructing a culture of sustainability in the traditional economic system will lead to a benefit to humankind by preventing natural disasters and at the same time strengthening the economy. A market need already exists for qualified skilled labor in green industries. According to Muro, Rothwell, and Saha (2011), green or clean or low-carbon economy is defined as “the sector of the economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit” (para.1), and it remains broadly celebrated as a source of economic renewal and potential job creation. Yet, Muro et al. (2011) criticized the clean economy as “hard to assess” (para.1). These authors suggested that these green jobs have been difficult to isolate and count. However, they are present in all sectors of the U.S. economy. This clean economy has continued to stay under the radar perhaps because of a lack of standard definitions and data, which affect the knowledge of its nature, size, and growth at the critical regional level (Muro et al., 2011). In order to address this issue the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute worked with Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice “to develop, analyze, and comment on a detailed database of establishment-level employment statistics pertaining to a sensibly defined assemblage of clean economy industries in the United States and its metropolitan areas” (Muro et al., 2011, para.3-4).
According to the results of the research, the clean economy employs approximately 2.7 million workers, including a large number of jobs spread across a variety of industries (Muro et al., 2011). Between 2003 and 2010, the newer “cleantech” (Muro et al., 2011, para.6) segments created an impressive elevated quantity of job gains outperforming the nation during the recession (Muro et al., 2011). Characteristics of a clean economy include being manufacturing and export intensive (Muro et al., 2011). It is also important to note that today’s concern with unemployment justifies investments in the clean and sustainable economy, because it offers more job opportunities and better pay for low and middle skilled workers, than the national economy as a whole. Average wages were 13% higher in green collar occupations, although workers with relatively little formal education are occupying an inconsistent percentage of green jobs (Kujac, 2011; Muro et al., 2011).
Green Education Leadership
The Green Education Foundation (GEF) is one of many organizations leading the global commitment for green education among K-12 students and teachers. GEF, a non-profit organization, provides curriculum and resources to support critical thinking about global environmental concerns and solutions (Green Education Foundation, 2011a). Another significant leader in the fight for green education is The Green Schools Initiative (GSI). The GSI was founded in 2004 by parent-environmentalists who “were shocked by how un-environmental their kids’ schools were and mobilized to improve the environmental health and ecological sustainability of schools in the U.S.” (GSI, n.d., para.1). These organizations of concerned citizens are global, and are willing to fight for the cause of green education. Yet , for the most part, they lack the opportunity. Education can create this opportunity. As Newman (2011) explained, education brings together all the ways to develop values and sustainable lifestyles, for this and future generations, by “raising public awareness and training, and to critically improve ethical awareness, attitudes, skills, and behavior on sustainable development” (p.8).
Brief SWOT Analysis of Green Education and the Job Market
It is necessary for any educational institution to look closer at the internal factors of strength and opportunity, and the external factors of weakness and threats (SWOT) of the green job market prior to offering educational programs. As in all programs offered by an educational institution, green education must align with the needs of students. Strengths justifying green education relate to the increasing demand by society to create alternative solutions to the environmental and economical crisis the nation faces. These demands also supply an opportunity for a new green industry. According to Slywotzky, Wise, and Weber (2003), the green industry is growing faster than traditional agriculture and construction industries, with an estimated growth rate of 10 to 15% annually. The opportunity for green education is tied to the prospect of a long term growth in the green industry (Slywotzky, et al., 2003). Weaknesses preventing the success of green education include the slow engagement from educational organizations and society at large. Green Education Foundation (2011b) explained, “cultural changes are often imperceptible, occurring slowly over generations, accumulating through smaller, seemingly unrelated events” (para.1). A major threat to the acceptance of green education resides on the new behavior children are adopting, by spending longer periods of time indoors and not engaging with nature (Green Education Foundation, 2011b). There are many different causes for this behavior, and it is not on the scope of this paper to discuss them.
Proposed Plan to Stimulate the Growth of Green Education
Simple Solutions Leading to Jobs
To stimulate the growth of green education, leaders should start by creating simple campaigns, and then developing these campaigns to a full body of coursework with curricula designed specifically for sustainability. Hu (2011) at The New York Times’ education section reported an example of a simple and efficient campaign,
Simple yellow Post-it notes with the message ‘When not in use, turn off the juice’, pointedly left on classroom computers, printers and air-conditioners, have helped the Mount Sinai School District on Long Island save $350,000 annually on utility bills. (Hu, 2011, para.1)
Hu explained further that minor adjustments in the way energy is consumed could make a big impact on savings, as several districts similar to Mount Sinai has found. Leaders in these districts are creating policies to go green in order to save money, and they have no choice in this economical crisis, when budgets for schools are continuously being reduced. This new awareness for the efficiency of sustainability has generated an increase in job opportunities as well. Some states have also started programs to finance school conservation efforts and to create local contracting jobs. Most recently, Oregon passed legislation in June to provide school districts with low-interest loans and grants for school efficiency improvements. Washington State started a similar grant-based program in 2009 (Hu, 2011). Climate change, solar and nuclear power, water and air quality, population growth, our fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels, and agriculture and food supply are critical environmental problems. However, according to Hollander (2004), developing economically and advancing technologically will reduce harms such as lack of food, air pollution, deforestation, and land degradation. Also, it will improve public health, supply clean water, and satisfy energy supplies.
A Mandatory Green Education
Education is the link to economic development and technological advances, more specifically green education. There should be a mandatory sustainable and environmental education in K-12 and higher education, and the crediting agencies, as per example the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) should demand this as a requisite for accreditation.
A Green Zone
A “green zone” around the metropolitan areas that would allocate the new green industry, free of taxation and with stimulus packages, should exist. The green jobs created by these new pollution-free and sustainable factories and shops would stimulate the economy, and provide potential entry-level green collar job opportunities for recent graduates of career colleges and high schools offering coursework based on green curriculum.
These are simple ideas, and for them to happen a strong political effort by community leaders and by the society as a whole should take place. Nevertheless, what we see is a retrograde speech and an old-fashioned prejudice against innovations, perhaps supported by the strong industrial corporations with profit interests tied on the “status quo” of the current economy. Yet, there is hope: as explained by WebEcoist (2011):
American leaders have yet to sign the Kyoto Protocol or earmark serious funding to green-collar jobs and sustainable technologies and energy. But American citizens have taken it upon themselves join a global movement, to learn more despite the gridlock in Washington; to conserve, to drive the development of eco-friendly consumption, to buy hybrids or use mass transit, even to telecommute. More and more people now recycle, compost, ‘go organic’, grow gardens and understand the connection between saving money, improving health and helping the environment. More people are interested in technology and efficient living than ever before. And more and more people are becoming curious about the natural world in all its majesty and strangeness (para.14).
Green education is fundamental in training students for the job opportunities brought by a green economy and is important in creating consciousness among future generations around the need to conserve the environment. The key for human survival connects to the survival of the planet. Today, there is a growing understanding on the environmental crisis, and as shown in this paper, a plausible solution relates to a greener education. There are many new opportunities in economy, which exists when traditional industries embrace alternative solutions to the economical crisis, such as the creation of clean energy and the investment in sustainability, as this paper focus explains.
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The FPA-BM has as Chairman of the Board Dr. John Peterson, Ph.D. A leading education specialist for over 15 years, Dr. John Peterson is a published author and the creator and implementer of several undergraduate and graduate programs. Emphasizing practical access to learning methodologies, Dr. Peterson has developed curricula focused on online and face-to-face training, optimizing new technologies for the benefit of his students’ achievements in real-world careers. In addition, Dr. Peterson is an experienced consultant to the requirements of the Florida Department of Education regarding the licensing and compliance of new institutions.