Challenging dominant worldviews through outdoor education is key to preventing climate disaster

Framing humanity and nature as separate created the climate crisis. Teaching our youth the opposite can end the cycle of environmental damage.

The rapid rate of global industrialization within the last two centuries has caused greater climatic changes than any other period in history. The globalized economy relies on the exploitation of natural resources—desecrating forests and polluting water systems—to meet consumer demand for goods and services.

This practice has altered the way we perceive the natural world. Rather than seeing the Earth as inherently valuable, we see its value in the resources it provides us. This Western worldview encourages a one-dimensional take on the environment, overlooking the ways in which humans and the planet are interconnected.

This perspective has both historic and philosophic roots. Renee Descartes’s concept of dualism split the world between the realm of mind and matter, seeing humans as separate from and superior to nature. Contemporary philosophers such as Val Plumwood connected these notions to the climate crisis, suggesting the dualistic view was fueling environmental exploitation.

The consequences of this dualistic framework can be seen in heat waves, flash floods, and other natural disasters occurring with greater force and frequency than ever before. The Earth cannot sustain this level of exploitation.

To prevent further disasters, we must change our collective understanding of the natural world and our place in it—and this change starts with our youth. They are the generation that will inherit our hurting planet and play a crucial role in determining future climate action. If society’s fractured view of the environment can be mended through our next changemakers, our planet’s future stands a much better chance.

Outdoor education holds the key to this healing.

Merging learning with nature would instill greater respect for the environment in children, as they will be encouraged to think more holistically about the world around them. Outdoor education is proven to provide extensive benefits to students, including increased motivation, reduced stress, and higher academic achievement. Furthermore, it fosters a deep respect for the natural environment.

Using nature as a classroom can show students that learning occurs everywhere and at all times. Instilling curiosity in our youth will set them up for success and encourage them to question the frameworks through which the world is understood.

Above all, outdoor education gives students the chance to connect with nature in ways they may not otherwise experience. As urban sprawl eats up existing greenspace, engaging with the environment is becoming increasingly challenging.

Schools should prioritize the many opportunities and benefits outdoor education presents, changing their programming to rekindle the innate connection between children and nature. 

As soon-to-be parents, teachers, and professionals, we must push for an elementary curriculum prioritizing outdoor education to reframe our relationship to the environment and raise the next generation of changemakers.

Leah is a third-year Concurrent Education and Global Development Studies student and The Journal’s Assistant Video Editor.

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