The Ecological Society of America (ESA) held its first ever Ecology and Education summit to address environmental literacy on October 14–15 in Washington, D.C. The summit, “Environmental Literacy for a Sustainable World,” was co-chaired by Dr. Meg Lowman, Nature Research Center Director at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and ESA’s Vice-President for Education and Diversity. The summit brought together educators, scientists and policy professionals from a wide variety of sectors — including academia, business, agriculture, government, healthcare, religion and media — to focus on environmental education and opportunities for progress.
“Environmental literacy is essential for creating a sustainable society,” says Lowman. “As we move into a technologically advanced future, our understanding of Earth’s systems and how humans play into those systems is increasingly vital — the more the Earth processes, the better prepared we will be for environmental changes and future resource management.”
The summit featured two keynote speakers, five panel discussions and two breakout sessions in an effort to generate discussion and initiate advancement for creative action.
In his keynote address, “Eyewitness to Global Warming,” Will Steger — the National Geographic Society's first Explorer-in-Residence — recounted his experiences observing the effects of global climate change. Steger has traversed tens of thousands of miles by kayak and dogsled for more than 40 years during expeditions; these include a trip to the North Pole and TransAntarctica in the 1980s, accomplishing the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean in a single season and tackling the North Pole solo in the 1990s.
Will Allen — former professional basketball player, urban farmer and “hero” in the 2010 edition of Time Magazine’s 100 World’s Most Influential People — talked about the current state of the urban agricultural movement in his keynote address “Growing Food and Community in the City.” Allen, 2008 recipient of the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation’s “genius grant,” recently joined First Lady Michelle Obama in launching “Let’s Move!” Obama’s signature leadership program to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. In 1993, Allen started Growing Power Inc., a national nonprofit organization and land trust to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Allen trains community members to become community farmers, assuring them a source of healthy food.
Panel discussions included:
- “Learning about complexity and change: New foundations for environmental literacy,” where participants explored the advantages of using the faith-based community to help further the message of environmental literacy.
- “Turning the tide: Building a green society through learning and doing,” which explored the use of the media and social networking to engage young people in the importance of environmental literacy.
- “Seeing our world inside and out: Harnessing new technologies for environmental literacy,” a panel that merged experts in the fields of mathematics, gaming and engineering to come up with new strategies to attract young people to the idea of environmental literacy.
- “Fostering lifelong learning skills: Empowering best practices in effective teaching and learning,” which explored teaching methods in diverse learning environments to foster environmental literacy ranging from virtual worlds to Indian reservations and K-12 inner city youth.
The ultimate goals of the summit:
- Bringing together diverse national organizations to seek best practices, avoid redundancy and increase efficiency for ecology and environmental education for ALL audiences
- Create one voice on issues impacting environmental literacy
- Spotlight transformational advances in ecology and environmental education
- Develop a decadal plan of action to advance environmental literacy
The decadal plan of action is currently in process as a major outcome of the summit. Attendees prioritized 20 achievable actions, divided into committees, and hope to make “actions” (not a white paper) the product of this summit. Stay tuned for progress reports on this action plan.