conclusion: a crossroad

"Even the most casual reading of the earth's vital signs immediately reveals a planet under stress. In almost all the natural domains, the earth is under stress -- it is a planet that is in need of intensive care. Can the United States and the American people, pioneer sustainable patterns of consumption and lifestyle, (and) can you educate for that? This is a challenge that we would like to put out to you."

Noel J. Brown
Regional Office for North America
United Nations Environment Programme
National Forum on Education about the Environment October 1994

THE CONVERGENCE OF A NUMBER OF TRENDS AND EVENTS in recent years suggests that a unique opportunity to advance education for sustainability has arrived. On the one hand, the field is benefiting from increased attention from professional societies, continued surges of public concern over local and national and international environmental issues, and ongoing engagement by nongovernmental organizations and federal agencies. In addition, the impetus provided by the Earth Summit, the National Science and Technology Council, and the President's Council on Sustainable Development is catalyzing increased public attention to education for sustainability. This trend is fostering interdisciplinary linkages among the natural and social sciences. Achieving a sustainable future will not happen unless our educational system graduates citizens and specialists who understand the interconnections among the environmental, economic, and social disciplines.

Today, education for sustainability is positioned to enter the national stage as a priority for the coming decade. Taken together, the initiatives and framework laid out in An Agenda for Action  offer a starting point. The hope is that the Agenda  will stimulate further dialogue and action on these initiatives.

The overarching goal is to infuse the concepts of sustainability into all learning from structured schooling in formal education settings to lifelong learning in nonformal programs. Education for sustainability can help prepare our society for a fast-paced world of rapid scientific, social, technological, workforce, and demographic changes.

Increasingly, citizens young and old are flooded with information. On the Internet, for example, they can find information about global-scale environmental changes like global warming, loss of biodiversity, and the ozone hole; how human activities contribute to these changes, how they are inter-related and how they affect ecosystems and human health. The most up-to-date scientific information is more readily available than ever before. The key question, however, is whether citizens will be able to understand how to use this information. Education is a vehicle that can ensure that technology and the capacity to use information are available to everyone.

Education is our bridge from the past to the present and from the present to the future. A deep recognition of the importance of education is the necessary first step if we are to achieve the level of democratic participation envisioned by this country. Infusing the concepts of sustainability throughout learning experiences will help foster that awareness. Involvement of educators, government, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations working toward common goals will lead to an understanding of multiple perspectives and informed decision-making.

How we meet the future is in our hands. Education for sustainability provides an opportunity to craft the future we want for a sustainable America.

Go to Chapter 5  Go to Endnotes  Return to Table of Contents