President-elect Obama declared many times during his campaign that a clean-energy/green economy would be “my number one priority when I get into office.“, noting that this “can be the engine that drives us into the future in the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades." Plowing significant money now into the transition to a green economy would be a smart move, giving Obama a triple word score: immediate economic stimulus, action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and long term sustainable development.
If Obama takes this direction (as many think he will), it will be a major and unprecedented step in our direction. But so far, he has stopped a half step short of us. Obama asserts that his plans would create five million new "green" jobs – but who exactly will fill these new green jobs? Our current workforce is unprepared and unqualified to take on many of them. While Obama’s statements make clear that he understands the need for a great deal of green job training, he has been relatively quiet about the corresponding need for “green” education. And that’s exactly where our challenge and our opportunity lie.
Can we convince the Administration and Congress to support “education for a green economy"? With a few well crafted position papers and some time on the Hill talking to leaders – and assuming that the federal government does take an epoch-making move towards a green economy, “education for a green economy" seems like a relatively easy pitch. Unlike the perception of environmental education in many quarters as being a worthy subject but not as relevant and urgent as subjects like science, math and reading, it directly addresses our top national priority in good times and bad: economic development.
In other words, the term “education for a green economy” potentially has greater mainstream societal appeal than the term “environmental education”. Making a serious commitment to global competitiveness and innovation appeals to a wide range of stakeholders, including Americans concerned with security and energy independence issues, economic development, climate change, and the environment; those blue-collar workers and citizens calling for increasing investment in new green jobs; parents, students, and teachers; clean technology and green venture capital firms; and the academic community.
What is “Education for a Green Economy" and what would it look like?
It would be the study of interconnected economic, environmental and societal systems. It would be a somewhat bigger frame and tent than the term “environmental education”, at least as the term is commonly understood. It would include key concepts and components of what most people understand to be environmental education, as well as energy education, climate education, ocean education, environmental economics education, and even geography education. It would put the focus on understanding a big part of the solution (a green economy), rather than just understanding the problems (global warming, pollution, loss of habitat and biodiversity, etc).
“Education for a green economy” would be similar to sustainability education in many respects, but a bit more sharply and clearly defined. And it would avoid the difficulties and misunderstandings inherent in the term “sustainability” by putting focusing attention on the outcome: preparing people with the knowledge and understanding to make this great transition.
This moment is a truly unparalleled opportunity for environmental education – if we can make the easy connection between a green economy and green education for those who have yet to connect these dots, and if we can more widely align the current theory and practice of EE with a green economy.
Comments are welcome.
Jim Elder, Campaign for Environmental Literacy