by Mark Caddey, AAEE President
Today Me: I feel like environmental education has been archived to history…
Yesterday Me: …yes, it did some great stuff in the past, our governments acknowledge its importance, but…
As the Australian community is faced with conflicting messages about sustainability and environment, it is important to talk about the changing role community and organisations play. The challenge is how do we keep our voice for good environmental education policy and practice heard.
From the perspective of AAEE as a member organisation, it appears there is a lack of diverse high level professional and community input and advice to governments and decision-making bodies.
Our successive governments supported various councils, bodies, advisory groups providing of ongoing feedback on environment and sustainability issues. The members of these organisations were listening to the wider community, their local networks, work-places and organisations.
Collier and Smith (2007) describe significant national structures designed to support Environmental Education with their collective scope including research bodies, program, in formal and community education. Including the National Environmental Education Council (NEEC), established in 2000 as a central element of the Australian Government's National Action Plan for Environmental Education, it facilitated projects like AuSSI facilitated through the NEEN.
In NSW, the Council on Environmental Education set an agenda of coordinating across a range of organisations it lasted less than 10 years.
These groups are all but now extinct and the important role they played in helping set public policy is now gone.
One of the last activities of the National EFS network (nearly 10 years ago) was to support ACARA with developing the Sustainability cross-curriculum priority, strong and active councils still exists for the Great Barrier Reef but is mostly focussed on the science. Beyond this there is little at a national level.
So what has happened to all these advisory bodies, councils and working groups?
Just as quickly as these bodies emerged in the 2000’s they disappeared in the 2010’s. Were they an inconvenient reminder of how things should be done or a victim of the current move to ‘small government’.
Today’s advice about projects and contentious issues now mostly comes from news polls, focus groups. Fast, reactionary, superficial, and if community consultation is undertaken the process of making final decisions has limited visibility is poorly evidenced or justified.
So what is this call to action?
Association and members must respond to every opportunity to provide input to planning and proposed projects. Hold government, organisations and business to account on a policy and planning promises that appear to slip.
AAEE had recently submitted a response to a review of climate change policies and will be working collaboratively to respond to the refinement of sustainability in the Australian curriculum between now and 2020. Each chapter must also respond to program inquiries and policy development.
Community action for environmental protection is also facing new challenges with the current Australian Government reviewing the tax deductibility status of all environment groups in Australia with a broad mission that these groups:
‘spend a majority of their money directly on either the protection and enhancement of the natural environment or the provision of information or education, or the carrying on of research, about the natural environment.’
The review of AAEE by the Registered Environmental Organisation body last year concluded that AAEE does comply.
Organisations like Greenpeace, Get up!, have been threatened with losing their tax deductibility status as they actively lobby and protest against projects and development that will damage the environment and Australia’s long term sustainability.
Knowledge is power
It is still an important part of our democratic society to have environmental issues and conflict brought into the public arena where things can be more thoroughly scrutinised and where things must also pass the ‘pub’ test. It’s not about tipping the balance always in favour of the environment, it’s about messages and evidence. At the moment that does not exist.
Collier G. and Smith P (2007) The Australian Association for Environmental Education: A Professional association adapting in a changing world. Paper: Durban South Africa