Creating environmental awareness

Take a closer look at the first goal of Environmental Education and what can be done to create a greater sensitivity toward the environment.

We can all appreciate a full moon rising, autumn colors, aurora borealis and other natural phenomenon. Envision the thrill of a 5-year-old watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon or high school students watching sturgeon splashing on rocks as they complete their spawning. Imagine your own excitement spotting a newborn whitetail fawn or seeing an osprey dive on an unsuspecting fish. According to Michigan State University Extension, these types of events heighten our environmental awareness and foster a hunger to learn more about the natural world we live in.

The very first goal of Environmental Education (EE) as determined by the Tblisis Declaration of 1977 is awareness. The goal states, “To help social groups and individuals acquire an awareness and sensitivity to the total environment and its allied problems.” This often takes place for most people at a very young age when new events and discoveries are common. However, we should never lose our awe of these natural events and the excitement they display!

Fostering this excitement also includes development of sensitivity toward the environment. It is difficult to care for something that is disconnected from us or has no relevance. Why should we care for something we know little about? In developing environmental awareness, an opportunity exists to provide a connection to the outdoors that leads to a better understanding and care for the natural environment.

Once a connection to the natural world is made, greater discernment can be made about its associated problems. It is easier for a first grader to understand why clean water is important when she is unable to swim at the beach. Likewise, adults develop a greater appreciation for the outdoors when they are aware of the issues that have a negative effect to them. Knowing “scientific facts” is one thing, but having a sensitivity and awareness of the natural world can lead to a greater understanding and care for the environment. Famed author and environmental activist Rachel Carson once said, “It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a steady diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

Environmental awareness begins at an early age and is then reinforced throughout our adult lives. A fear exists that we are losing some of our sensitivity toward the environment as our society becomes less engaged with the outdoors. Do your part! Spend more time outside and take along a young person. Watch for the simple events that make our natural world work and share in the excitement that comes with it.

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