The wisdom of the UN keeps us thinking | NAAEE
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The wisdom of the UN keeps us thinking

The United Nations Environment program turns 50 this year and continues to guide us and help us grow. This quote from their website was something I thought worthy of discussion, "Spiritual values drive individual behaviours for more than 80 per cent of people. In many countries, spiritual beliefs and religions define cultural values, social inclusion, political engagement and economic prosperity."

I was stunned by 80%. It is much higher than I would have ever expected. As an environmental scientist, I have to say this really deflated my proverbial (biodegradable, enviro-friendly) balloon. I have always been a facts first type of educator. Am I wrong in this approach? Should we try to educate others through the feel-good, spiritual connections and throw all of the fact-based learning to the wind? I do educate faith-based communities and this totally has me rethinking my approach. I would love to hear what you all think as I try to work through this "crisis of approach."

P.S. - Happy 50th Anniversary, UNEP! We appreciate your continued wisdom and relevancy.

Re spiritual values driving individual behaviors vs fact based learning ... As environmental educator 40 years, and a Catholic, I say both are necessary to move the needle forward to taking the actions needed to mitigate climate change, slow biodiversity loss and other environmental issues that we face. My "go to" in this is the letter to the world (called an encyclical) written by Pope Francis in 2015 - Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home.

Read it if you haven't and ... check out Chapter 6 where Pope Francis calls for the need for Environmental Education!!! Further, with the encyclical, he clearly says we need: the facts of science, dialogue among all people of good will, an understanding and belief in our interconnectedness and kinship with all of creation and solidarity within the human family. Further he asks us all to hear the the cry of the earth, the cry of the poor and vulnerable, and the cry of our youth and those who will come after us. He speaks of integral ecology where both social, economic, political, and environmental issues must be looked at holistically.

There is more to unpack, but ... an important takeaway In Laudato Si' is that what is needed is "eco-conversion", that process where hearts are softened and the intellectual connections between heart and mind can be made to motivate us to act.
Whether we follow a faith tradition or a moral compass, what ultimately can motivate us to act are those things than can soften our hearts - awe and wonder at the beauty of the natural world - grief and sorrow in the face of environmental destruction or the suffering of the poor in sacrificial communities or the anxiety of the young and concern over future generations - or deep seated moral beliefs and feelings about the land shared by family, community members and elders.

We need more voices and more and more faith communities have been working to mobilize, speak up and act. That's good news and ties to what your data of the 80% suggests. We in the environmental education field in the secular realm have often felt like we are pushing peanut up a hill with our noses and I am not suggesting that working in the faith based arena will be easy either. However, we need every ally we can get. Pope Francis and other faith leaders are standing up and we need to grab the hands of those who are willing and say, "Do you need help explaining the science or exploring the natural world? We environmental educators can help with that!" While those who are leading and participating in the church, synagogue or mosque, can help us and their faith community to explore the journey of eco-conversion, the moral imperative of wise decision making/lifestyle choices, and an understanding that Creation is God's great gift of love. So don't ditch the science or the spirituality. Working together could be a partnership made ... in Heaven.