Dean Gus Speth on Changing Education for the Environment
James Gustave "Gus" Speth, is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy
From 1993 to 1999, Dean Speth served as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Insti-tute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality; and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.
Throughout his career, Dean Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation, including the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation’s Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America’s Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Environmental Law Institute, and the Blue Planet Prize. Publications include The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment; Worlds Apart: Globalization and the Environment; and articles in Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Environmental Science and Technology, the Columbia Journal World of Business, and other journals and books.
Question: How can education incorporate environmental lessons?
Gus Speth: Well, when I started in this field in 1970 there was a-- we were so concerned about the problem and the immediate need to deal with the issues that were pressing at that time, that I remember we had this idea that we really-- education was too long-term. If we were dealing with grade school children, you know, that was so long before they would get old enough to be running the country. So we needed to act. And for that reason and others, the countries never really invested seriously in environmental education. Well, where are those children of 1970 now? You know, like my daughter, almost 40, and she was running around in her diapers at Earth Day in 1970, on the bowl in Washington, and now she's 39. And so we've never invested in a serious major way in environmental education. And unfortunately, you look at so many of, you know, the surveys of the level of literacy on environmental and energy issues in the public, it's depressingly low. So I think there's a huge education jump. There's also sort of a necessity to reverse this terrible trend of people disconnecting from the natural world. Even national park visitation is down, just over a significant period now, going down. And, surveys have been done of people's exposure to nature and learning from nature and it's going down too. So more and more people are in front of their machines of various types, and are not getting the enrichment and the learning, and the exposure to the natural world. So when Richard Louv came along and wrote, Last Childin the Woods, it really caught on. And in a lot of states now we have No Child Left Inside programs, and I think this is also very important. Adult education is very important. And I don't think we-- you know, it can be sophisticated, but it can also be sort of social marketing type education. People, I hope, will learn a lot in this large public service advertising campaign that Vice President Gore is sponsoring now. So there are a lot of different ways to learn, and we need to be spending a lot more time on that. I'm very partial to, you know, environmental studies programs in universities. That's my life now, and I really believe in it. I would like to think that if all the students in our colleges and universities came out of those institutions with a real environmental literacy, we wouldn't be anywhere near the problems that we are today. And if an earlier generation of people, even those who went to Yale had got a environmental education and, say, in the class of ‘68, then maybe we would have a more environmentally-enlightened administration today.
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