For 200 years, students have been urged to learn the 3 R’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. In recent years, thinkers of various political persuasions have proposed adding a fourth R including running, relationships, religion, race, rithms (for algorithms), respect, road safety, ritalin, rifle-shooting, revolvers and (appropriately) resuscitation.
There is another 4th R that is even more essential if we are to survive the 21st century. It is the knowledge of ecology, of how our planet works, and how to regenerate healthy ecosystems from the atmosphere and the rainforests to the microbiomes in our own guts.
Profound ecological ignorance
Because of our profound ecological ignorance, coupled with simple greed, species are disappearing off the planet every day. Since 1970 the global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 60%, and continue to decline. In Germany’s Nature Reserves almost 80% of the flying insects have disappeared in just the last twenty-five years. In Puerto Rico’s rainforest 98% of the ground insects and 80% of the forest canopy insects have disappeared in the past 35 years, causing a collapse in bird populations. Globally, one in eight bird species is threatened with extinction, caused by the clearing of forests for farmland, the use of pesticides by farmers and increases in local temperatures due to global warming.
We are also in a global climate crisis. These crises are not ‘risks’ – they are stark and dangerous realities. Hence my belief that every young person must be taught the basics of ecology and a good understanding of regenerative solutions.
Ecology 101 in every school
In the normal way a proposal to require Ecology 101 in every school would be submitted to some committee and have to await the next major overhaul of the curriculum. In BC this has just been completed, so the next review may be decades away. Under BC’s new curriculum a student must obtain 80 credits to graduate including science, numeracy and literacy – but no mention of ecology. The requirements are full of great intentions – “a collective mandate to develop the educated citizen,” which includes “the ability of students to analyze critically, reason and think independently, and acquire basic learning skills and bodies of knowledge” – but no mention of ecology. No need to understand how Nature works, or how we can solve the terrible crises we have created.
The urgency is such that we cannot wait: we need a faster way to bring ecological literacy into the core curriculum – and I know of such a way. If Canada’s top-ranked universities for teaching environmental science – UBC, McGill, Toronto, Alberta, Waterloo, SFU, Guelph, Saskatchewan, Dalhousie and Ottawa – were to agree that starting in two years time, every student applying for a place must have passed an approved course in in Ecology and Climate Solutions, every high school in Canada would be forced to scramble. So would schools in China and India, which sent 265,000 students to study in Canada in 2017.
The crises are on us, now
Two years would allow six months for ecological and climate solutions experts to create such a course, a year to train the teachers, and six months for schools to incorporate it in the curriculum. There is no time for a multi-year consultation. The crises are on us, now.
The beauty of such a solution is that it sidesteps the lengthy process of curriculum development. It would push Canada into the global spotlight, and put pressure on universities around the world to do the same. Once the course had been created, it could go further. It could raise the expectation that anyone running for public office might reasonably be expected to have passed it, and that anyone applying for a managerial job in a government, business or bank might have done the same.
We need to abolish ecological and climate ignorance once and for all. We need a clear understanding of ho to achieve ecological regeneration. The younger generation is going to have to do the heavy lifting to solve these crises we have created, and they need to be equipped for the task.
Guy Dauncey is author of Journey to the Future: A Better World Is Possible, The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming, and other books. His website is www.thepracticalutopian.ca.
First published in The Green Gazette, Spring 2019