Towards a Sustainable Future

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BY DOROTHEA ARNOLD

The world that we live in is incredibly complex.  With the environment undergoing significant changes, populations rising and social inequalities pervasively running throughout the world, I am left overwhelmed at times at the sheer scope of it all.  People talk of ‘change’ and being the ‘change’ and I have fully embraced such terms throughout my teen years as a fervent advocate for social change and justice.  Traveling around the world and working in under served communities around the globe taught me so much about the reality of life for so many people less fortunate than myself.  I will never forget the humidity of the various airports I entered as a wide-eyed idealistic girl, back sweating with the load of my rucksack weighing me down.  The colors were vivid and my smile was a permanent fixture until I saw the devastation and poverty in communities of El Salvador and Kenya.  I was gifted with great opportunity to experience life-changing things throughout this period of my life and I will never forget it, for even now it influences my practice as a growing outdoor educator, researcher, writer and of course upon my own daily reflections.  But, what to do with such experiences and feeling of deep emotions and the anger that filled me towards the inequality and poverty that I saw…  For years it haunted me and until more recently, I could not find a light at the end of the tunnel of feeling helpless at the vastness of the world’s problems and how it would be possible to make change.

I refer to change being a metamorphosis of sorts.  The kind that takes generations of transformation.  The culmination of this type of metamorphosis would end with deep embedding of the necessity and need for a real, true and deep global shift towards whatever cause people are striving for.  Recent discussions with Chuck Hopkins the UNSECO chair in education for sustainable development, was not only an incredible learning experience but left ruminating perspectives in my mind about the future of our planet.  Over the past 20 years, we have been building perspectives in science, philosophy, research and theories about sustainability and how we are to address climate change.  Organizations and movements such as 350.org are at the forefront of the social media/public outcry for people to pay attention and make some changes in their own lives to be sustainable.  In my opinion, and others in the environmental realm, it is essential that we ‘change’ or metamorphose to live more sustainable lives.

For some this movement towards sustainability means eating less meat, buying clothes from stores that work with artisans and give them fair wages, drinking coffee sourced from fair-trade and organic relationships, supporting local organic food producers or farmer’s markets, and using products that are ‘eco-friendly’ and biodegradable.  But this is not the only answer.  I believe we must work towards changing the way that we teach our children about the environment and the world.  The inter-connectivity of earth systems must be a part of our education systems and we must teach in ways that will re-connect children and adults with each other and the world.  If we are to live sustainable lives, it must be embedded into our practice and lifestyle.

As the sun and rain shift the skies apart in Edinburgh, these thoughts continue to light the trail behind the work that I am trying to do through this MSc programme.  It is through my experiences outdoors and learning about the environment, gardening, farming, social justice and sustainability that I have come to realize the depths of the degree to which we must take the leap towards a sustainable future.  This all may come of incredibly idealistic and maybe even a bit like preaching, but I think it is important to continue this conversation.

In the end, I am left thinking of the possible influence of outdoor education and outdoor learning upon others, for I learned to come to peace with frustration through spending time in nature, as Wendell Berry describes in his poem The Peace of Wild Things. “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.  I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.  And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Recommended books:  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and Fields of Green edited by Marcia Mackenzie, Paul Hart, Heeson Bai and Bob Jickling.

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