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Why Trump’s Election Reaffirms the Growing Need for Educators in Sustainability

Life in the Trump era is disorienting because established facts have become subject to debate, and crucial progress toward a more sustainable future has been halted or undone.

It's abundantly clear that we need people who are committed to educating the global population about the reality of climate change. Climate change and environmental collapse are existential threats to global civilization, and our global disregard for sustainability fuels our global disregard for human beings and for equality.

Read on to learn why environmental educators are the crucial link between the current chaos of our social and political life and the better future we know is possible.

We are disconnected from nature

Environmental education —formal and informal education directed at school children in and about the environment— has become essential to the future of the human project.  

In 2005, Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the increasing disconnection of children from the natural world. In the years since, this phenomenon has dramatically accelerated with a generation that has grown up in an indoor world, on personal screens, that is fast becoming majority urban. The unavoidable, everyday immersive environmental education that most people who were born in the last century experienced as children and young adults has largely disappeared.

Why does this matter?

Recent research has confirmed the benefits of learning in and about the environment. According to a summary of the research, these include:

  • Enhanced knowledge in science, mathematics, reading, writing, and more
  • Emotional and social skills, such as self-esteem, character development, teamwork, and leadership skills
  • Environmentally friendly behavior, such as reducing water use, increasing recycling, and participating in community cleanups
  • Academic skills, such as critical thinking, oral communication, analytical skills, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking
  • Motivation to learn, including enthusiasm for and interest in school
  • Civic interest and engagement, including feelings of civic responsibility, feelings of empowerment, and ability to take action

While environmental education (EE) inside and outside of schools has been filling this important gap created by a nature deficit, today’s politics have elevated the importance of EE work to mission-critical.

Trump and the rise of fake news

Trump’s presidency has unleashed an unprecedented assault on the nation’s environmental protection and resource stewardship laws. In the eighteen months since taking office, Trump’s EPA has initiated the roll-back of more than 75 environmental rules and regulations, and the US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords—the only nation in the world not participating.  The civic engagement that is motivated by EE on behalf of the environment will be critical to rebuilding a better environmental protection framework post-Trump.

This rebuilding will not be easy. Affected industries will fight re-regulation tooth and nail.  Like the original laws that were passed in the 1970s and 1980’s, a 21st-century policy framework for protecting the environment will have to rely on the environmental commitment of a new generation.

Moreover, the rise of a “fake news” culture will complicate the rebuilding process. In many ways, the climate denial movement—heavily funded by fossil fuel interests—was the gateway drug to political tolerance for fake news.  Since the early 2000’s, right-wing politicians consistently and publicly denied the science of climate change, leaning instead on an industry-manufactured stew of half-truths and misrepresentations. With Trump’s election, climate denial became official US policy, embraced by many of his political supporters.  Beyond climate, Trump has now ushered in, very quickly, the practice of dismissing any inconvenient truths from environmental science and, for that matter, easily documented facts such as size of inauguration parades or the level of European tariffs.

We need eco-literacy

Trump’s election was enabled by the rise of the fake news industry. This in turn was made possible by social media outlets that bypassed traditional media and the set of professional ethics that had guided reporting for a century.  Today’s rising generation requires core eco-literacy—a basic understanding of how living beings are interrelated—to be able to sort truth from fiction. They need this in order to stand up for a sensible framework to protect the earth for people alive today, for future generations, and for all the other creatures on the planet.

The research has demonstrated that EE delivers not only an understanding of how the world around us really works but a whole suite of sought-after learning outcomes. In the coming decades, we will have to rely heavily as well on the love of nature that EE can instill to renew our national commitment to environmental protection and ensure for all of us a sustainable future.

Learn more about the education and skills you need to build a better and greener future

in our free resource: A Crash Course in Sustainable Development. 

Explore the Resource 

About the Author

Eban Goodstein

Eban Goodstein

Dr. Eban Goodstein is an economist and the Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the MS and MEd programs at the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue. Goodstein is the author of three books and numerous journal articles focused on climate change, sustainability and green jobs.