October 24, 2014 08:29 UTC

Science & Technology

Knowledge Does Not Lead to Action on Environment

This April 19, 2013, file photo shows the Mendenhall Glaicer in Juneau, Alaska. More than two-thirds of the recent rapid melting of the world’s glaciers can be blamed on humans. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
This April 19, 2013, file photo shows the Mendenhall Glaicer in Juneau, Alaska. More than two-thirds of the recent rapid melting of the world’s glaciers can be blamed on humans. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

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Knowledge Alone Does Not Lead to Action on Environment
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Monty Hempel is a professor of environmental sciences at Redlands University in California. He studies ecological literacy -- or ecoliteracy, for short. Ecoliteracy is the ability to think about and understand the natural processes that make life possible. 

Monty Hempel says ecoliteracy gives people knowledge about environmental problems. But he says it does not always work to get them to change their behavior.

“Ecoliteracy is a phrase invented to describe the kinds of knowledge that we need to operate sustainably in the society in which we live. And that means with the environmental life-support systems that provide sustenance for everybody, not just humans, but other species.”

Mr. Hempel wrote part of the Worldwatch Institute’s latest State of the World report. His chapter is called Ecoliteracy: Knowledge is Not Enough.

“Some people think that ecoliteracy is just a green form of science literacy. And what I have tried to ask is whether that’s enough. In other words, what an ecologically-literate person needs to know might include things like the cycles and the flows, the energy systems, all of those kind of things that we would call the science of ecology.”

In other words, he says, simply knowing about environmental problems does not lead people to do something about them.

“That doesn’t seem to lead to action to protect our environment -- to protect our life-support system to the level that we need to. Just because we know a lot about the environment doesn’t mean that we actually act to save it.”

He adds that people may not be very worried about environmental problems if they seem far away.

“Some people call it psychological distance. A lot of climate issues are worse in the Arctic and most of us don’t spend time in the Arctic. And so, there’s a certain distance. But there’s also a distance that’s happening in the world as it urbanizes -- people spending more time in front of screens and less time out in nature. We become, if you will, disconnected from the natural systems that used to be the key to success for a human being.”

He says that, in the past, it would be hard for individuals to find food, water and shelter if they did not understand their environment.

“We give it less thought and perhaps we give it less importance in our own lives.”

Professor Hempel says learning about nature would help people balance their lives. And he says it might even help reduce the number of people in the United States who are overweight, especially children.

“To help children discover the wonders of nature. To help children discover what it is when they take a breath. They can probably thank the ocean for every other breath they take because of the oxygen that’s produced there.”

He adds that children should learn about nature in school.

“One of the things that I think ecoliteracy would help us do is to bring back -- through experience -- those wonders of encounters with wildlife, with other creatures than ourselves. And that that would actually contribute to our learning.”

Most scientists agree our climate is changing. But Monty Hempel says there is not such agreement among non-scientists. He says too many decisions are affected by money and politics rather than science.

“How do we go back to a governance system that can actually use science to help us solve problems? That if we had a kind of system of governance that allowed us to incorporate what we know in science -- and to respond to it -- we would all be better off.”

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was based on a report by VOA science and health reporter Joe De Capua in Washington. It was written for Learning English by Christopher Cruise. It was edited by George Grow. 

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Words in the News

protectingadj. to guard or defend something (or someone) against harm

ecologicaladj. related to the environment

problemsn. questions or situations with unknown or unclear answers

overweightadj. weight over and above what is considered normal or required

agreementn. the act of agreeing

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in the News. In the comments section, write a sentence using any of these words and we will give you feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

 

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by: José Maria de Oliveira from: São Paulo-SP, Brazil
09/02/2014 1:25 PM
I need to get a very efficient personal trainer to help me on my physical exercises. I need to lose 10 Kilos. This overweight is making sick.


by: Dela from: the Czech Republic
09/01/2014 5:20 PM
Particularly children need to be taught to perceive and appreciate amazing natural miracles. It is true, nowadays children are spending a lot of time in front of screens instead of getting near the nature but to bring up children correctly depends not only on teachers in school, mainly the parents have the important mission helping children discover wonders of nature, the woods, mountains, sea or wildlife and another species of interesting often threatened creatures. I suppose, if the children learn to understand, protect nature in this way then they will never suffer from overweight, moreover, they will be able to také care of environment in the future surely. It is a high time people stopped continuous disturbance of ecological tender balance and began to solve problems about environment seriously. All of us should try to become connected with natural systems again.


by: Rodrigo from: Brazil
08/30/2014 10:13 PM
It’s very easy to talk about environment,but only few people have courage to change our world.


by: Honoria from: Dominican Republic
08/30/2014 2:07 AM
you exposed a good point about our environmental problems... many decisions and solutions for thouse problems are handle by politics. We know that the most of time, the money is over the other things


by: torisugari from: somewhere
08/30/2014 12:58 AM
Also, same system of life-science is happening in the body of overweight children.
They should learn about it and effort to be good health themselves.
We don't need to set the study theme far away from ourself.
Let we know, just if we eat less than now then world ecosystem will become more good!
Just only that!


by: Maria from: Smolensk, Russia
08/29/2014 6:46 PM
Enviromental issues were given wide media coverage. Both science journals and magazines often report on natural disasters, sewage and etc. Also some books are devoted to ecological problems. This literacy aims to inspire people to take part in meetings on environmental issues or lead people to do something about ecology. Some conservationists persuade people to save energy and water in their houses. They advise to insulate home to prevent heat losses. Environmental activists suggest manufacture using environmentally friendly sources of energy. Children and teenagers study ecology and at school and are teached how food may affect their health. Knowledge of dietetics may reduce risk of overweight.


by: Nguyen Van Khoi from: Hanoi, Vietnam
08/29/2014 3:07 AM
An importance is that most of politicians are not scientists. In developed countries, there is preference on science before making decisions; not it is in developing countries. In any way, ecoliteracy still help people realise their behavior decent or not.


by: Haryono from: Indonesia
08/29/2014 2:28 AM
Ecological knowledge is very important to know what are happening around our life everyday. From that recognitions, we can know how we can protect general environment which is deteriorating. That is a protecting themselves.


by: lola from: brasil
08/29/2014 12:04 AM
I completely agree with the article.We spend so much time focusing in the created life by the politicians and society and far away from nature. Nature is around us, the sun, the cloud, the rain and humain beings are part of the it. We have to take account this in case we have to spend so many time inside doors...always the nature embrance us and ask to be part of it. The politician agreement never get forward if we dont feel that nature and we are one


by: Melina from: Lima Peru
08/28/2014 10:19 PM
they should be thankful of the warning about the nearby earthquakes in your city.
In my country un earthquakes destroyed Pisco a city of south of our country Peru,never were us warned ,and in nowaday cannot recover yet.
everybody must reflexionation about the importance of be prepared to face an eventuality like the explosion of volcano ,earthquakes etc

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