Education: Cop 16 Takes Aim at Children

Today, I attended a side event on UNFCC Article 6 (Education, Training, and Public Awareness) aimed specifically at children.  This session focused on the urgent need to educate young people on the issue of climate change and sustainability.  In the words of the panelists, young people are the key to sustainability in the future.  There was a strong consensus that non-sustainable behavior is not an inherent trait, but rather is learned during the formative years.  As such, the discussion centered on the unique opportunity presented by the 2.2BN people in the world under the age of 18.  Through education at an early age, civilizations around the world can better understand the subject of climate change and be coached in ways to make small personal contributions (suggestions included recycling, walking or biking instead of always driving, and taking shorter showers to name only a few). 

I have to admit that during the session, I couldn’t help but be skeptical of the effectiveness of education alone.  It may be that my business school education is dulling my sense of non-economic analysis, but ultimately, I feel that changing behavior will come not from education but by changing incentives.  Certainly, education is very important and individuals around the world should be made aware of the consequences of their actions.  This is a worthy goal in and of itself and will change behavior on the margins.  At the end of the day, however, in matters of convenience or expense, I do not believe that education will change behavior in a meaningful way.  Can education really get people to take shorter showers or bike somewhere instead of driving?   

That said, I do not want to trivialize the very worthy goal of climate change education for young people, particularly in developping nations.  Education in any capacity, particularly climate change, is an extremely worthy goal and is a global imperative if the world is to meet the needs of future generations.  I was surprised, however, of the extent to which education was treated as the end goal, rather than as a step along the way.

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2 Responses to Education: Cop 16 Takes Aim at Children

  1. Paige Smith says:

    Mother nature also has her own cycles which affect climate change and have nothing to do with anything else. The earth periodically heats up and cools down regardless of who inhabits it at the time. Yes overdevelopment and overuse of man-generated energy sources can add stress to the environment, and reducing wasteful lifestyles is practical and necessary for healthy cohabitation and clean resources. So in that regard, everything you report from the conference is worthy. I think you are correct that education alone doesn’t do much. It is not sufficient to learn something, it is necessary to live it. Across the glove, most people don’t have the funds to afford organic food or electric cars, especially those from third world countries where education of any kind is less available. Being reminded of how wasteful an average day can be is humbling. Thank you for reminding me to try harder.

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