Environmental Education and Public Awareness: A Panacea for Forest Sustainability

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Published on International Journal of Forestry & Plantation
Publication Date: December, 2019

Bose Folashade Ishola, Samuel Olusola Oyewole & Esther David
Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria
PMB 5054, Jericho Hill, Ibadan, Nigeria

Journal Full Text PDF: Environmental Education and Public Awareness: A Panacea for Forest Sustainability.

Our environment has several global issues that has raised major concerns in recent years. Numerous local and international conferences and seminars have discussed issues affecting our environment and the future of man’s existence on earth if the appropriate measures are not taken. One of such conference is “Rio 92”. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) tagged Earth Summit, raised strong recommendations emphasizing environmental education. A well informed populace would improve sustainability in our world. Therefore, educating youths and adults about the environment will help in identifying and developing an environmental ethic and social consciousness in the people. Education as a lifelong process provides experience for solving problems. It is therefore wise to foster forest sustainability through environmental education.

Keywords: Environmental education, Sustainability, Environment & Forest sustainability.

The growing environmental issues all over the world has made it necessary to embrace Environmental Education and Public awareness to forest sustainability process. Environmental Education focuses on regenerating man’s interest in preservation, conservation and improvement of the environment before it is too late and reaches the point of no return. Environmental education is generally a means of developing students’ skills and knowledge to deal with current environmental issues, increasing students’ critical ecological awareness of both local and global environments, increasing environmental literacy, fostering and encouraging responsible citizenship, developing and teaching personal, civic and global responsibilities, and generally helping to prepare students for adopting sustainable life styles (Alexandar, 2012).Environmental education is a process that allows individuals explore environmental issues, engage in problem solution and take action to improve the environment; helping individuals develop a deeper understanding of how their actions impact on their environment and through this develop skills to make informal and responsible decisions (Lasonen et al., 2009).Forest sustainability and Global sustainability have been found to possess similar goals and objectives, which is to create a conducive environment for present day man and his generations to come. According to Ekins etal. (1992), Sustainability is defined as the integration of ethical, economic, social and ecological aspects of human life into a coherent view of the world so that current and future generations of people and other living organisms may continue indefinitely. Global sustainability specifies that virtually all humans, once born, live to adulthood and that their lives have quality beyond mere biological survival. It can also be perceived as the persistence of all components of the biosphere, including those with no apparent benefit to humanity.
Forest sustainability is defined as the process in which forests are used to produce goods and environmental services that increase, or at least maintain, the welfare of people living today, while protecting for future generations the environment and natural resource base on which future production will depend. Formerly known as the World Commission on Environment and Development, The Brundt land Commission Report (12) defined Sustainable Forestry as “managing our forests to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by practicing a land stewardship ethic which integrates the growing, nurturing and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air, and water quality, and wildlife and fish habitat” (Clark, 1997).
With an ever increasing need to create awareness of the resulting effects of all man’s action on his environment, Public awareness on appropriate environmental behavior, organized events and programs for environmental education trainings, conferences and so on, as regards the environment and sustainability will lead to an improvement in the sustainability culture of individuals, as well as improve overall economy growth and development. Helping youth and adults identify the values and cultural assumptions underlying different perspectives is particularly important in challenging the dominant technological worldview and in developing an environmental ethic and social consciousness. Hence the incorporation of environmental education into primary and secondary school curriculum in Nigeria is a practical technique of increasing people’s awareness of the danger of environmental issues. This article, therefore, seeks to show that Environmental education and public awareness in all areas of forest sustainability will help people take a combined responsibility for the deteriorating environment and begin to take appropriate actions to save the earth.

2.1 Concept of environmental education and Public awareness
The concept of Environmental Education has had a long international history leading to its current definitions and strategies for engaging the public in sustainable, environmentally responsible discourse and its strategies are flexible and influenced by environmental, political, economic, and cultural realities. Education is an essential tool for achieving sustainability. According to Alexandar (2012), Environmental Education is one of the most effective tools for increasing the general level of public environmental awareness, developing skills for solving environmental problems and maintaining and improving the quality of life and the environment. Environmental education empowers learners by enabling them to participate in a sustainable future. Education and training are needed to save the biodiversity and species extinction. Environmental education takes a multidisciplinary approach to the study of human interactions with the natural environment. Environmental study is a key instrument for bringing about the changes in the knowledge, values, behaviors and lifestyles required to achieve sustainability and stability within and among countries. Environmental education is aimed at enlightening people about nature and environmental issues.
Motions passed towards Environmental education were passed from as early as the 1970s. The World’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education, organized by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) was convened at Tbilisi, Georgia (USSR) from October 14 – 26, 1977 (Tbilisi Declaration, 1977).

Table showing Conferences for Environmental education
1968 UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Conference in Paris calls for environmental curricula, training and awareness development.
1970 UNESCO and IUCN provide initial EE definition.
1970 U.S. creates the Environmental Education Act.
1972 Human Environment Conference in Stockholm sparks UNESCO & UNEP funded EE Programme.
1975 Belgrade Charter proposes initial EE goals.
1977 First international EE congress at Tbilisi—EE goals and objectives established.
1980 World Conservation Strategy declares sustainable development as important for conservation.
1987 Tbilisi+10 in Moscow provides an opportunity to evaluate EE progress.
1987 Brundtland Report provides globally recognized definition of sustainability.
1992 Earth Summit in Rio develops Agenda 21, the first global agenda for sustainable development.
2002 Johannesburg Summit on sustainable development refines 5 target areas.
2005– 2014 UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).
2007 4th International Conference of EE in Ahmedabad, India, focuses on the DESD.

The objectives of Environmental Education as outlined in UNESCO-UNEP (1989) are to
1. Awareness: EE should aim at sensitizing public by creating awareness about the total environment and its problems. This will help people gain insight into certain alternatives to environmental problems identified.
2. Knowledge: EE should aim at helping individual and social groups acquire experiences and knowledge about their environment and its associated problems. According to Martin (1975), learners should be made to identify the main features of any local environment where he finds himself, explain how these features interrelate, how they contribute to the character of the neighborhood and perceive where modifications to the environment might be made.
3. Attitude: This objective should deal with helping the individual and social groups acquire social values, strong feeling of concern for the environment and motivation for actively participating in its protection and improvement.
4. Skills: This objective is aimed at making people acquire skills for identifying and solving environmental problems and also help individual seek a balance between short and long range implications when taking environmental decisions.
5. Participation: This is aimed at helping individuals and social groups develop a sense of responsibility and urgency regarding environmental problems to ensure appropriate action to help solve these problem. Participatory objective will ensure that everybody become actively involved in solving environmental problems at all levels rather than leave the solutions to only environmentalist.
Among the historical documents signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was Agenda 21, a non-binding action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development (Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education, 1977), through which countries committed themselves to promoting sustainability through a great variety of means, including education (Tilbury et al., 2002).
According to the Tbilisi Conference (1977) the following principles of environmental education should:
• consider the environment in its totality, natural and built, technological and social;
• be a continuous lifelong process, beginning at the pre-school level and continuing through all formal and informal stages;
• be interdisciplinary in its approach;
• examine major environmental issues from local, national, regional and international points of view;
• focus on current and potential environmental situations while taking into account the historical perspective;
• promote the value and necessity of local national and international cooperation in the prevention and solution of environmental problems;
• consider environmental aspects in plans for development and growth;
• enable learner to have a role in planning and provide an opportunity for making decisions and accepting their consequences;
• relate environmental sensitivity, knowledge, problem- solving skills and values to every age;
• help learners to discover the symptoms and fear causes of environmental problems;
• emphasize the complexity of environmental problems and thus the need to develop critical thinking and problem- solving skills;
• Utilize diverse learning environments and a broad array of educational approaches to learning/teaching about and from the environment(Elagba et al., 2006).
Academic institutions across the world have put together several motions to encourage the inclusion and implementation of environmental education studies and sustainability courses as a part of the curriculum for students in several stages of their education. It is also believed that this awareness and incorporation of Environmental education into all curriculum at every grade create a more comprehensive treatment of environmental issues (Jekayinfa et al., 2008).
Various strategies have been proposed for the introduction of environmental educationinto school curricula and into non-formal education. These include the following:
1. Introduction of environmental studies as a distinct and special subject, taught by specially trained teachers.
2. Introduction of environmental issues into the various traditional subjects
3. The re-orientation of the subject matter in the traditional schools to be in accord with the scope, aims, objectives, strategies and guiding principles of environmental education.
4. The re-evaluation and re-structuring of the entire contents of various subjects to incorporate environmental education
5. Integration of the contents of the various subjects within the framework that relate to the major environmental problems (Saminathan, 2015).
The educational principles that reinforce support to the inclusion of environmental education in school curriculum specified by Ambast (1990) include the following:
1. Environmental education helps in programming learning experiences from ‘simple to complex’.
2. EE helps in sharpening the development of observational skills and hastens the transition of ideas in an individual’s mind from indefiniteness to definitions.
3. EE helps children to proceed from concrete to the ‘abstract.
4. Environmental education helps the ordering of learning experiences from ’empirical to the rational’.
5. An outcome of the foregoing principle for educationists is that education should help the child in ‘process of self-development’.
6. Education of any individual must follow ‘the same sequence as existed in the education of mankind,’ considered historically. This means that the genesis of knowledge in the individual should follow nearly the same course as the genesis of knowledge in the race.
7. The next important educational principle is the pleasurable excitement. This principle can be appreciated by one who has seen the becoming faces of students and the intense delight on them when they are exposed to new things.
8. Environmental education makes an individual’s education ‘Problem-based’, through understanding the environment, the hazards of pollution, the destruction of wild life, the dereliction of land, etc. and the need to save mankind from extinction.
9. Environmental education has its ‘social relevance’, its relevance to man’s interaction with his physical and social environment, its relevance to changing human attitudes which curve man to hate man and beget hatred on one.

Exchanges and gatherings between young people’s groups, where they can share similar experiences, actions, strategies, and success stories, as well as build friendships, can be inspirational and motivating experiences. Young people often identify the friendships that they forge in their group and opportunities to have fun together as intrinsic rewards of participation, along with the satisfaction of seeing that they can make a difference. Mutual support and friendship need to be recognized as not just means to effective group functioning, but from a young person’s perspective, valued ends in themselves (Chawla et al., 2007). In making an effort to make students aware of environment, the integration of environmental education is possible if teachers have a will to introduce it in a quite natural way while teaching different curricular areas at primary, secondary and higher education level. There is an essential need for each individual to develop an awareness of protection and preservation towards environment.

2.2 Relationship between Environmental education, Public awareness and Sustainability
Environmental education aims at improving individual perception about the environment, giving better insight to environmental issues with proper balancing of resource use and the economy, leading to better informed people. Environmental education has evolved over the years from a once small field of environmental interpretation to a growing discipline that educates, trains and develops awareness about environmental issues among people, leading to solving these issues.
Sustainability concept is built around the notion that the actions we take now will affect the future we get. Global sustainability arose in response to concerns about human impact on the environment. There is need to safeguard the future of generations to come. It is clear therefore that sustainability aims at making man more accountable for his actions.
We can see a close relation between Environmental education and sustainability process.
1. Both have one vision, which is to improve our world for future generations.
2. Create a balance between economy, ecology and society.
3. Encourage responsible actions for better environment.
4. Empower individuals with knowledge, skills and information.
Environmental education raises awareness of issues impacting the environment through actions taken, so an aware public is better equipped for sustainability.

3. Role of environmental education in forest sustainability
3.1 Improvement in Deforestation rate
Forest sustainability involves man’s efforts towards the acknowledgement, relationship and sustainability of values which are associated with forests (Alexandar, 2012).Through the introduction of environmental education, the rate of deforestation can be reduced and education on afforestation practices can be disseminated. Tropical deforestation is responsible for roughly 20% of world greenhouse gas emissions, causing it to be a contributor to global warming and for carbon dioxide to linger in the atmosphere. Generally, deforestation has impact on several aspects, such as Water Cycle, Soil, The Economy and numerous others. Improved water cycle can be accomplished through education about the effects of man’s actions on the environment, and awareness on how deforestation has several adverse effects. Trees extract groundwater through their roots and release it into the atmosphere, consequently when part of a forest is removed, the trees no longer transpire this water, resulting in a much drier climate. The dry soil, resulting from reduction of groundwater leads to lower water intake for the trees to extract. As a result of deforestation, soil cohesion reduces, thus erosion, flooding and landslides ensue. Deforestation generally increases proportions of soil loss, by increasing the amount of runoff and reducing the protection of the soil from tree litter. Tree roots bind soil together, and if the soil is sufficiently shallow, they act to keep the soil in place by also binding with underlying bedrock. Utilization of forest products including timber and fuel wood has historically played a key role in human societies, comparable to the roles of water and cultivable land. Developed countries continue to utilize timber for building houses, and wood pulp for paper. In developing countries almost three billion people rely on wood for heating and cooking. Damage to forests and other aspects of nature continually reduces living standards for the world’s poor and reduce global GDP. In 1995, economic growth in developing countries reached nearly 6%, compared with the 2% growth rate for developed countries. As our human population grows, new homes, communities, and expansions of cities will occur (Saminathan, 2015).Educating Communities and their traditional leaders can play an influential and decisive role on how indigenes act, particularly in rural areas. Education of these leaders through environmental campaigns demonstrates a commitment to environmental protection (Agboola, 2014).Therefore, Environmental education and public awareness can be used to ease the effects resulting from deforestation on all these factors. Environmental educators would work to involve individuals in schools, nature reserves, non-profits and different groups to raise awareness of environmental issues and sustainability. This is accomplished through organizing events, activities and programs, participating in fundraising activities and sometimes, data analysis, enlightening the next generation about the environmental issues and how they can help (What is an Environmental Educator, (2019). This is because the primary objective is to achieve a healthy environment for man, which is particularly essential for sustainable development (Hopkins et al., 2002).

3.2 Reduction in Pollution level
Environmental pollution is defined as the undesirable change in physical, chemical and biological characteristics of our air, land and water. Noise pollution, Air pollution, Water pollution, Land pollution, are all different aspect of pollution to the environment and are aspects where the influence of environmental education is necessary to improve the sustainability culture of man. Deforestation increases soil erosion; thus valuable agricultural land is lost. Solid wastes from household and industries also pollute land and enhance land degradation. Solid wastes include things from household waste and of industrial wastes such as ash, glass, peelings of fruit and vegetables, paper, clothes, plastics, rubber, leather, brick, sand, metal, waste from cattle shed, night soil and cow dung, and so many other sources (Saminathan, 2015). Due to urbanization, noise in all areas in a city has increased considerably. High level noise is a disturbance to the human environment. People can be sensitized on the effects of residing adjacent to highways, the effects of prolonged exposure to high level of noise and understanding that chronic exposure to noise leads to noise-induced hearing loss and contribute to cardiovascular effects leads to better. Whenever there is any imbalance in the ratio of these gases, air pollution is caused. Some sources of air pollution are Natural sources (such as, forest fires, ash from smoking volcanoes, decay of organic matters), Man-made: sources (due to population explosion, deforestation, urbanization and industrializations). Environmental education reveals how certain Human activities release several pollutants in air, such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrocarbons (HC), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), lead, arsenic, asbestos, radioactive matter, and dust. Major threats come from burning of fossil fuels, Thermal power plants, automobiles and industries. All of these activities of man eventually leads to Global warming, which is a consequence of greenhouse effect caused by increased level of carbon dioxide (CO2). Education on Water pollution generally shows how human-induced changes can affect water quality. Water is said to be polluted when there is any physical, biological or chemical change in water quality that adversely affects living organisms or makes water unsuitable for use. Environmental education on the sources of water pollution helps people identify the diverse sources, mainly factories, power plants, etc. Discharge of pollutants directly or indirectly into water sources causes harmful effects such as various water borne diseases, such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, jaundice, etc., destruction of water bodies, which hinders the self-purification process in the rivers or water bodies. Adequate knowledge of this helps to reduce the level of water pollution in any geographical location.

3.3 Bio-diversity loss
The continuous loss of biodiversity due to over exploitation, habitat degradation, deforestation and land pollution has posed serious threat to the very existence of the mankind. It has been calculated that if this trend continues, about 1/4th of the world species may be extinct by the year 2050. This is why the conservation of biodiversity has become one of the most pressing environmental issues. Thus the challenge is for nations, government agencies, organizations and individuals to protect and enhance biological diversity, while continuing to meet people’s need for natural resources. The goals of Environmental education gives us access to resources, motivation, and knowledge, and consequently, we can better protect our environment and to build a sustainable future for ourselves and our children.
Agboola (2014) highlighted actions that can be taken in an assortment of areas to increase environmental awareness and education about all the aspects discussed above, such as:
1. Creating awareness among Community leaders, Traditional Leaders to cause influence in the activities of indigenes. Education of these leaders through environmental campaigns establishes a guarantee to engage in environmental protection activities. Reaching out to tribal, religious, and community leaders can often help a government organization or non-governmental organization (NGO) educates the people on environmental issues. Community leaders can help communication problems and bridge the cultural division that stands in the way of outreach efforts.
2. The use of Media Outlets in environmental education is important because it is through newspapers, magazines, radio, and television that people become more aware and Awareness is a positive step in environmental education towards the achievement of sustainable environment.
3. Journalists, Scientific groups and non-governmental organizations all play a major role in environmental public education and awareness processes. It has been accepted that with the help of well-informed communication professionals, proper information exchange among scientists, communities and non-governmental organizations, significantly increases public awareness of environmental issues.
4. Use of radio, videos and Television can help to disseminate more educational content to masses compared to several other resources.
5. Other approaches to promoting environmental education and public awareness include introduction of guiding frameworks for sustainable environmental education, information centers, environmental raffles, useful for fund raising events towards environmental conservation and environmental holidays.
6. Inclusion of Environmental education into curriculum of students at primary, secondary and university levels, to encourage their environmental knowledge at an early age. This will create acceptance among young people.

4. Policy strategies towards inclusion of environmental education and public awareness
Environmental education can also be influenced by government fiscal and administrative policy decisions. In the U.S., EE implementation occurs within many different departments and is shaped by the executive and legislative branches of government, through presidential appointments and congressional funding appropriations. In India, for instance, the government provides financial and administrative support for the Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), which represents a unique partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Forests and an NGO conducting a number of ESD focused projects nationwide (24).
The Nigeria government has been proposing various strategies to such as abatement measures, legislation and policies to improve awareness among citizens. However, it appears to be that several of the previous strategies proposed were aimed towards control and treatment rather than prevention of environmental issues (Thathong, 2012). Effective implementation of environmental education needs to be carried out for increasing the knowledge of the populace and thereby inculcating a positive attitude and behavior towards the environment. Nigeria among other African countries began to realize the role of environmental education in solving environmental issues. In 1990’s the Nigerian Ministry of Education embarked on National Environmental Education program in schools towards sustainable development (Norris, 2016). In this regard, in Nigeria, the National Educational Research Development Council (NERDC) now the National Educational Research Council NERC (1992), proposed the goals and objectives of EE in the country, and they include
1. To enable young people to participate in decision making related to environmental issues
2. To enable learners to develop operational understanding of some of the basic concept and processes relating to environmental issues e.g. pollution, deforestation
3. To develop the ability to enquire into problem situations associated with the environment
4. Taking into account social and cultural factors of the people and suggesting solutions
In achieving these goals, environmental education is taught in schools as an infusion of several environmental education themes into existing school subjects in the primary and secondary schools in the country (Robinson, 2013).
If society is to address forest sustainability, there must be a balance between scientific methods and data presentation explaining these complex issues. This balance can be achieved through simple representation of information to the public which leads to heightened individual imagination and enthusiasm. This will encourage individual investigative skills to know more and make better decision to strengthen the sustainability process. The target group of people who need forests for the resources they provide, need to be educated about alternatives available to them

5. Conclusion
It is evident at this time, that forest sustainability is not just a government concern. Each individual has a responsibility to protect the environment through decision making. This can be achieved through providing environmental education and public awareness to everyone in societies, both young and old. This would promote individual initiative and participation in sustainability process.

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