In the News

UT - Educating Planet Earth

August 19, 2014

Scientists and politicians have wrestled with climate change and other environmental issues with mixed results, Scripps scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan told international education officials Tuesday. Now, he said, it’s time for educators and religious leaders to join the debate.

“There is a need to re-orient our attitudes toward nature and ourselves to value natural capital,” he said, describing his proposal to factor natural resources into global economic calculations. “Educational and religious institutions can play a huge role.”

Ramanathan’s talk was the keynote address to the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction, held this week at the Town and Country Resort & Education Center. The event was sponsored by Alliant University and the San Diego Chapter of the United Nations Association, which works with local agencies to build support for U.N. programs.

The 16th international meeting highlighted the role of education in global peace and environmental stewardship. It drew 136 participants from 14 countries, and was held for the first time in the U.S. this year.

Guests in colorful African clothing and embroidered saris flew in from Nigeria, India, Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere to discuss how schools and colleges can prepare future leaders on topics ranging from human rights and conflict resolution to ecology, sustainability and climate.

“Throughout the globe it’s education that will bring peace,” Congressman Scott Peters told conference participants in an address Tuesday morning.

“I believe very strongly that we can deal with climate change in a way that doesn’t hurt our prosperity, but instead enhances it,” he said later. “The only way we can do that is through education.”

Sudesh Ahlawat and Preeti Jain, administrators at the Jain Innovative Senior Secondary Public School in India, said the school showcases sustainable practices such as composting, recycling all used paper products and reclaiming used bottles and CDs for class projects.

“We make our own manure (from compost) for the school flower beds,” Jain said. “And we wash our school buses with buckets, not hoses.

In Turkey, Bengu Aksu Atac, a professor at Nevsehir Haci Bektas Veli University, said she trains future English teachers to choose reading selections with an eye toward environmental education.

“While teaching reading you can choose text and stories from the natural world, about animals, because children are adventurers and explorers of the natural world,” she said.

Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, talked about efforts to reduce climate emissions by bringing clean energy to the poorest 3 billion people in the world.

After discovering the role of chlorofluorocarbons, black carbon and other short-lived pollutants in climate change, he formed “Project Surya” to introduce clean cooking stoves and solar lanterns to families in India, Africa and other regions through a voluntary carbon market.

Earlier this summer he led a workshop of the prestigious Pontifical Academy of Sciences, to consider how stewardship of the planet can produce more stable economic and social conditions. Describing himself as an eternal optimist, he said he believes people can act now to slow warming, and said there are workable business models for doing it.

“This profound, likely existential problem can still be solved, but it will require greater cooperation among people,” he said.