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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs