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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

The Basis of Change

The environmental crisis acknowledged throughout the world for the last 30 years constitutes the basis for a critical analysis of current development models. Recognition of the fact that economic growth has its limits paralleled a growing awareness of the serious mistakes arising from the division of knowledge into discrete disciplines. Academics and environmentalists have begun to call attention to the problems caused by over-specialization and compartmentalized forms of knowledge.

As a result, interdisciplinary approaches are emerging, based on integral, holistic visions, such as: the further elaboration of systems theory, significant advances in theories on complexity and chaos, increasing reference to prospective planning and construction of alternative futures identified through rupture rather than extrapolation from existing trends, make important contributions to holistic thinking about autonomy and direct democracy. The approach can also endow principles of sovereignty, participation and justice with ecological and biological meaning, while casting the concept of human rights in a logical evolutionary context. Human rights can now be expressed in terms of three generations, each emerging from an earlier conceptualization. The first refers to the value of life and freedom, with an emphasis on the civic and political rights of citizens; the second, relates to the value of equality, where all economic, social and cultural rights converge; and the third concerns the “new rights” or rights constructed on the value of solidarity, such as the right to development, to peace and to environmental health.

With respect to this issue, points 1 and 3 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development set forth two important principles:
Principle 1: Human beings are at the center of concerns regarding sustainable development. They have the right to a healthy and productive life, in harmony with nature.

Principle 3: The right to development should be exercised in such a way as to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations equitably.
In order to promote education for sustainable development, we must translate these two principles effectively into our own circumstances, taking the environmental situation as an axis, i.e., focusing on the relationship between society and nature, and highlighting the ways in which the current development model steers these relations in unsustainable directions. In the end, we seek to arrive at proposals for actions which result in the effective enforcement of the rights cited.

Latin American environmental thought has produced a meaningful basis for understanding the acute aspects of nonsustainability and their repercussions in terms of destruction and crisis. We should therefore explore this approach in depth and transform it into explicit proposals that can, in turn, serve as central contributions to the achievement of sustainable development. Analytical support for the regional school of thought about environmental action must arise in the educational sector, which is best prepared to formulate it, together with all other sectors.

Opening real and lasting spaces for interdisciplinary and intersectoral work, consolidating the construction of new knowledge and progressing in the development of knowledge dialogues furthers the evolution of conditions that are optimal for the analysis of our own realities. These actions are means of translating the increasing globalization into synchronic proposals that recognize and strengthen what is local, in accordance with the positive aspects of global integration.

The principles and practices of environmental education clearly converge with those of education for peace, human rights and development. Together, both approaches demonstrate a constructive road toward the consolidation of educational processes designed to lead society toward sustainable development models and to direct socioeconomic change away from the destruction of natural resources and the impoverishment of populations.

Thus, the basis for action fostering change is congruent with resolving the environmental crisis created by irrational development models, the negative impact of the crisis on our countries and on the quality of life of our populations. Most importantly, action for change will come through the reorientation of education toward an appreciation and awareness of our own realities; the creation of a space to allow for meaningful participation, and the recognition and exchange of knowledge from ancestral cultures and traditional educational processes, our own biodiversity and cultural identity.

Challenge for the Future
  • To strengthen and broaden the definition and the scope of environmental education for sustainable development through participation processes, a renewed appreciation and recognition of our own realities, and analytical processes addressing the impact of the environmental crisis on the region.