It is a little known fact that we are in the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The Decade, which began in 2005, was proposed by the United Nations (UN) in 2002 (Resolution 57/254). The resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, was designated as the lead agency responsible for the Decade's promotion (see, UNESCO 2006). As part of its contribution to the Decade, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) published its Sustainable Development Action Plan under the title Learning for the Future in 2006. In this chapter, I examine the tensions and controversies around the term 'Education for Sustainable Development' (ESD) and why it is important that all teachers understand some of the many connections between education, the environment and sustainability.
Before we go any further, it is worth noting that the word 'environment' is itself contested. Writing in 1996, the Canadian researcher, Lucy Sauvé (1996), summarized different ways of conceptualizing the environment, and indicated how they were related (see Table 24.1). It should be evident from Sauvé's taxonomy how a science teacher, a geography teacher, a warden of an environmental education centre, and the head of education at a natural history museum might use quite different conceptualizations of the environment. These different views of the environment might well affect how they teach and what they teach.