News / Science & Technology

Report: Knowledge Alone Won't Spur Environmental Action

This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Two new studies indicate that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)
This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Two new studies indicate that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua

When it comes to protecting the environment, talk is cheap. Redlands University Professor Monty Hempel says a sense of urgency is needed before people are willing to act to protect the health of the planet.

Listen to De Capua report on ecoliteracy
Listen to De Capua report on ecoliteracyi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Hempel says ecological literacy – or ecoliteracy for short –addresses the knowledge deficit about environmental problems. But so, far, he says, it’s not affected the behavior deficit.

“Ecoliteracy is a phrase invented to describe the kinds of knowledge that we need to operate sustainably in the society in which we live," he said. "And that means with the environmental life support systems that provide sustenance for everybody, not just humans, but other species.”

Hempel has written a chapter in the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2014 report called "Ecoliteracy: Knowledge is Not Enough."

“Some people think that ecoliteracy is just a green form of science literacy," he said. "And what I have tried to ask is whether that’s enough? In other words, what an ecologically literate person needs to know might include things like the cycles and the flows, the energy systems, all of those [kinds] of things that we would call the science of ecology.”

It’s been said that knowledge is power. But the environmental sciences professor says that’s not always the case.

“That doesn’t seem to lead to action to protect our environment – to protect our life support system – to the level that we need to," Hempel said. "Just because we know a lot about the environment doesn’t mean that we actually act to save it.”

He said people may not be very concerned about environmental problems if they occur far from their homes.

“Some people call it psychological distance. A lot of climate issues are worse in the Arctic and most of us don’t spend time in the Arctic," Hempel said. "And so, there’s a certain distance. But there’s also a distance that’s happening in the world as it urbanizes -- people spending more time in front of screens and less time out in nature. We become, if you will, disconnected from the natural systems that used to be the key to success for a human being.”

In the past, he said, if a person could not read the surrounding environment, he or she would have difficultly finding food, water and shelter.

“We give it less thought and perhaps we give it less importance in our own lives,” he said.

Hempel said getting back in touch with nature would help people re-balance their lives – and may even help reduce the U.S. obesity epidemic, which is now affecting the nation’s youth.

“To help children discover the wonders of nature. To help children discover what it is when they take a breath. They can probably thank the ocean for every other breath they take because of the oxygen that’s produced there,” he said.

Hempel said getting back in touch with nature should become part of the formal education system.

“One of the things that I think ecoliteracy would help us do is to bring back -- through experience -- those wonders of encounters with wildlife with other creatures than ourselves. And that that would actually contribute to our quality of life – that would contribute to our learning,” he said.

While the vast majority of scientists agree on climate change, Hempel said there is a great deal of polarization among the general public. He said too many decisions regarding climate may be swayed by money and politics and not science.

“How do we go back to a governance system that can actually use science to help us solve problems? That if we had a kind of system of governance that allowed us to incorporate what we know in science -- and to respond to it -- we would all be better off,” he said.

Hempel said the future can seem scary because there’s so much that’s not known about the effects of climate change. But he added that it’s time to put aside denial and fear when confronting major problems. 

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid