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Vol. 7 No. 1 - January 2001

Why Eco-Education?

By: Kamla Kulshreshtha and P. Pushpangadan

We live on this planet by the courtesy of the earth's green cover. Plant biodiversity is our natural heritage, which we have to preserve for posterity. The plants, particularly the higher plants, constitute the key elements of the I ife support system, forms on the planet earth. We depend on plants not only for food, medicine, clothing and shelter but also for the precious life sustaining oxygen. Plants have fed the world and cured its ills ever since life began on earth. Plants protect fragile soils from erosion, maintain atmospheric balance and regulate water supply for agriculture and prevent desertification. Now we are destroying them at the rate of 50 acres every minute. During the past 50 years or so, there has been an unprecedented acceleration of environmental deterioration. There is now convincing evidence that the health of our planet is severely endangered. Urgent action is warranted to check this destructive trend and adopt sustainable living style. Tropical rain forests, with their rich and varied biodiversity, are the lungs of the planet earth, yet, we destroy a tropical rain forest three times the size of Switzerland every, year.

The conservation of earth's natural resources, particularly its biodiversity, should be our top priority. Conservation is essentially a human initiative to establish a state of natural harmony between man and the nature. Natural resources may be renewable and non-renewable. Renewable resources are represented by soil, range lands, forests, fish, wild life, air and water; whereas, non-renewable resources include fossil fuel and metallic and non-metallic minerals. In the recent years, there has been a rapid depletion of our natural resources/ biodiversity due to:

1.      Increasing demand for biological resources due to galloping population and economic development.

2.      Failure of people to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, mainly due to lack of basic knowledge about earth and its resources.

3.      Failure of people to appreciate the consequences of adopting inappropriate technology in our daily life.

4.      Failure of economic markets to recognize the true value of biodiversity.

5.      Institutional failure to regulate the use of biological resources resulting from rapid urbanization and changes in property rights and shifting cultivation.

6.      Failure of governments to address the problem of over exploitation of limited biological resources.

7.      Increased human migrations, travel and international trade.

It is now evident that because of lack of proper awareness, the man has been indiscriminately exploiting and interfering with the nature and as a consequence, he has to pay for this lapse. Forests are disappearing, plant species are threatened with extinction day by day. If the current trends are any indication, close to one billion people in the cities will be denied access to shelter, clean water, safe air and other basic human needs. There is an imperative need for international cooperation to meet this challenging problem, as no single country has all the expertise required to tackle all environmental issues. As the old Red Indian song says .... "The head bone connected to the collar bone, connected to the back bone", so are the components of the environment - they are intricately interrelated, interconnected, interdependent and interacting with each other at all levels.

Because of galloping population and depleting resources, environmental pollution is increasing at an exponential rate; the chances that any technological breakthrough will solve them in foreseeable future are rather bleak. It is the time for all of us, regardless of our economic and social status, to get together and do whatever we can, to ward off this threat. Our minor attitudinal changes will help in averting a major disaster and small actions at individual level will enable us to overcome the threat successfully. We should take a pledge - we will pass on our children a better environment than what we inherited from our parents. Are the governments alone capable of fighting pollution? No, it needs the active cooperation and sincere efforts of all people. What is needed is a sustained and well-planned education and awareness so that the message percolates down to the lowest strata of the society.

Botanical gardens are ideal places to impart informal education to public as thousands of people from different walks of life visit gardens for recreational purposes. Taking this fact into consideration, a garden-based environmental education programme is being launched by NBRI at Lucknow for the general public. To start with the program aims to target mainly women and children. In our cultural background women play a key role in shaping the course of development of the family. It is they, who decide the up-keeping of the house, its cleanliness, hygiene, the choice of food, the method of cooking, disposal of waste etc. The children also pickup their habits in life mainly from their mothers. So, it is extremely important to educate the women. If we educate the women, it will affect in the way children are brought up in the environment and the society they live in. We can complement and supplement the same by offering in too much environmental education to children in the garden.

The environment education must begin at home and at the primary school level. Firstly, children should be trained to observe and enjoy the bounties of nature that surround them, like trees, flowers, butterflies, birds, animals, hills, beaches, and even stones. At the secondary level, the students should be made aware of renewable natural resources, land use patterns, soil conservations etc. At still higher level, the universities can play a significant role in conducting studies and research in natural, physical and engineering sciences. Our motto should then be "April Showers bring May flower”.

Awareness of any problem is one thing and taking effective action to tackle is another. The environment education is necessary for promoting harmonious relationship between man and environment. It is the process of recognizing values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary among man, his culture and his biological surroundings. The perspective has to be integrated, inter-disciplinary and holistic in character.

Way back in 1899, a botanist named Patrick Geddes of Edinburgh established an Education Institute, "The outlook Tower", which was meant for the study of the environment. C.J. Cons and C. Flatcher followed this tradition by arranging demonstrations of environmental education by organizing theatres in the form of postman, washer man, fisherman etc., in the school classrooms under the program 'Activity in the School'. Later in 1908, a physical-geographical programme was launched "Man and Nature". In 1965 at Keele University, Germany, the 'Environment Education' was introduced for the first time as a subject. It has continued since then and 1970 to 1980 has been considered as "decade of the Environment".

After the Stockholm conference of 1972 on 'Human Environment and Development', many remarkable things have happened. An enormous upsurge in people's concern about the environment resulted in the creation of environment ministries in a large number of countries of the world and dozens of global and regional environmental treaties have been signed. The establishment of world-wide networks to monitor and assess environmental degradation, to save the seas and manage fresh water, and to slow down ozone depletion efforts to global climate change, reflect growing global concern about environment.

Work on Eco-education at the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow

Thus a Women-centered and Children-oriented environment awareness programme was formally launched at NBRI on the occasion of World Environment Day on 5th June 2000. The main objective action programme under this, are "Herbs for all and health for all and Plants for all and Wealth for all". As similar programme was successfully experimented earlier in 8 villages of Kerala by Dr. Pushpangadan and his team at Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (1993-98), Thiruvanathapuram. Botanic Gardens can also develop special awareness programmes for women in many critical areas of environment protection, waste disposal, health care, food and nutrition, plant based income generation etc. Healthy population is the real wealth of a nation and it is the collective responsibility of Government, individuals and NGOs to ensure the community's health and food security.

NBRI is shortly going to present, a novel garden gift, meant especially for women and children, and physically handicapped and visually impaired people. The gift package includes action oriented training/workshops for women on kitchen management, a children's natural history laboratory, a cyber-garden cafe for the blind. The natural history laboratory would enable children to experiment with nature and learn about the flora and fauna. Kitchen management training will be aimed at inculcating among women, the concept of raising a healthy family by making optimum use of items available in their kitchen and other resources around them.

A unique programme, which is to be developed for the first time in the country, is the garden meant especially for the blind, that is, a "Touch, feel and smell garden". Plants having pleasing aroma, having different textures like smooth, coracious leaves are being planted in the garden with legends written in Braille system for the blind to read and understand and know about the plant world and their importance in maintaining life on earth. Such specialized gardens meant for disabled are found only in a few places in the world, that is, New York (America), Warsaw (Poland), Berlin (Germany) and Kyoto (Japan).

NBRI also plans to develop a garden area to provide eco-education to housewives/working women, particularly those belonging to the middle and lower income groups and rural poor, under-privileged and backward communities. The idea is to develop a special - education - cum - training - cum - recreation centre in the garden, for downtrodden and neglected sections of the society.

Dr. Kamla Kulshreshtha is Scientist and Dr. P Pushpangadan is the Director at the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow - 226 001, India.

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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