Environmental Preservation Strategies for Educators

Article excerpt

Since World War II, Americans have enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity. However, many modern health problems seem related to this newfound prosperity. Can there be too much of a good thing? One American in 10 feels the automobile is the greatest invention ever.(1) Yet Commoner warns,(2) in nature there is no free lunch. What has been the environmental cost associated with automobiles or for that matter, what price has been exacted for the plethora of technological advances that followed World War II?

It may be unreasonable to expect Americans to give up automobiles or many of the now-essential technological devices that permeate daily life. Even so, environmentally conscious persons have become increasingly alarmed by the relentless onslaught on the biosphere.(3) Despite impressive efforts at legislating solutions to these problems, beginning in 1970 with passage of the National Environmental Protection Act, only a slight improvement in environmental quality has occurred. The few successes are noteworthy in that they provide instructive examples for a methodology useful in combatting the remaining problems. All the successful interventions have involved ceasing production of dangerous pollutants. (4)

Educators are urged to take advantage of their privileged role to enlist the support of young people in ameliorating potentially hazardous future environmental situations, while simultaneously reducing immediate risks. Elementary and preschool children comprise a population particularly susceptible to the deleterious effects of environmental toxins. Immature kidneys and livers are less efficient at degrading and excreting toxins; immune competence and central nervous system durability in children may not be comparable to that of fully mature individuals. Children's more rapid breathing rates and thinner skin allow absorption of greater percentages of pollutants per volume of body weight than occurs in adults. (5)

Establishing environmental preservation as a priority, classroom teachers can enlist students as catalysts in their communities to effect significant changes in personal habits and social policies. Cooperative learning, at its best, can involve teachers working in concert to address a variety of environmental issues through a wellintegrated curriculum.

PERSONAL ACTION

"Less is more" may sound like double-talk, but it is meaningful in an environmental context. Less technological dependence can lead to more environmental quality--cleaner air, water, and soil and more aesthetic pleasure derived from enjoyment of pristine natural settings. Students can brainstorm methods to reduce the strain on the biosphere, which may be aggravated by some of their family and community consumption habits. After appropriate classroom instruction about various environmental topics, ideas for improvement can be listed, developed, and implemented.

For example, nature produces no "waste." (2) One organism's waste yields building material for other organisms in the intricate web of life. This relationship is not the case for many artificial materials, most notably plastics, including the so-called biodegradable variety. (6) Students might list ways to substitute natural products for artificial plastics. Paper bags, cups, and plates, and glass jars, wooden and metal utensils, and cardboard containers can replace non-biodegradable plastic products.

A discussion of air pollution inevitably leads to an examination of fossil fuel use. A virtually endless variety of strategies is available to diligent students wishing to support reducing fossil fuel consumption. Walking and bicycling instead of riding in cars offers an option in some situations; distance or weather not permitting such an option, public transportation may be a viable alternative. Home energy efficiency can contribute considerably to reducing fossil fuel burning. Weatherizing homes, converting to fluorescent lighting, lowering thermostats, and turning off unneeded lights and appliances can have a major impact on reducing fuel consumption as well as on lowering energy bills. …