ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE IN TACKLING ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION
By Prudence Nhau
Climate change and other forms of environmental disasters are among the defining challenges of our time. Much of the adult population today has participated in the pollution of our society yet most have a worldview that nature and the survival of humanity are separate.
In Zimbabwe, we see this apathy expresses in attitudes and a lack of knowledge about the environment. People often dismiss the contribution of climate change, and others relish the opportunity to stay ignorant of their own impact on the deterioration of the environment. How are we to stop environmental degradation if we do not understand how we fit in with our surroundings? This leaves environmental educators with a big task.
Deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, excessive firewood harvesting, intensive livestock grazing, and land conversion to agriculture are some of the main causes that have significantly contributed to land degradation in Zimbabwe. Droughts, floods, and natural disasters brought on by climate change have further exacerbated the problem.
Environmental degradation according to the Oxford dictionary is the
"Depletion or destruction of a potentially renewable resource such as air, water, soil, forest, or wildlife, by using it at a rate faster than it can be naturally renewed".
It has been increasingly described as an urgent challenge because humans depend completely on the natural environment for survival. However, most have argued that our interactions with the environment do not reflect this awareness despite the fact that studies have repeatedly shown that environmental challenges such as air pollution, soil erosion, water pollution and scarcity, affects health and productivity in the long run. What this means is that more efforts need to be made in managing water sources, soils, forests as well as wildlife as this could be the key to economic growth and survival.
In Zimbabwe, I believe these efforts are hampered by a lack of knowledge. However, I believe a rights-oriented approach to environmental education may be a solution. Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013 which deals with environmental rights is a good point of departure. It states:
"Everyone has the right -
(a) To an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and
(b) To have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that-
(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;
(ii) promote conservation; and
(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
In addition to rights, the constitution emphasizes corresponding responsibilities by outlining how the public can protect the environment. Among these are preventing environmental pollution, conserving natural resources, and utilizing them sustainably. The sustainability of our environment will affect the quality of life today and into the future, so communities must be educated on responsible enforcement of their environmental rights. LGF places a high priority on protecting and restoring the natural environment through increased social awareness and extensive campaigns.
BENEFITS OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION:
i. Mind change is achieved. When people perceive themselves as stewards of their environment, environmental sustainability can be achieved.
ii. Environmental information is accessible to women and youth and participation in environmental decision-making is encouraged.
iii. Agroecological approaches and practices are promoted within communities due to a growing awareness of land degradation and its effects.
iv. Education will result in a greater impact on environmental policies in the long run.
In conclusion, through education people can learn that access to natural resources entails more than just the ability to use them, but also the responsibility to protect and sustain them. Providing environmental education helps local communities work towards ensuring environmental sustainability by putting knowledge into practice.