Initial Publication Date: September 17, 2019

Contagion Education - A Vital Tool

Jody Sackett, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium

Contagion Education: A Vital Tool

Although past cultures exhausted local resources in their race for developmental success and dominance, it truly accelerated during the Industrial Revolution and has been galloping faster ever since. While the Roman Empire destroyed forests and carelessly mined for metals, there simply weren't as many people on earth to have a sweeping effect. Now, however, with billions more residents on earth, global expansion, rampant consumerism, and the engineering ability to operate on an immense scale, limited resources are being exhausted, while environmental impacts multiply. A change in focus is urgently needed to ensure sustainable methods and goals are adopted before it's too late; this will allow us to still promote development but not at the expense of future generations. However, that viewpoint is not yet universally recognized nor even a consensus. Perhaps the best way to achieve such recognition is through "grass-roots" education from the ground up, spreading outward.

With the Information Age firmly ensconced, it would seem that everyone would already know the consequences of global industrialization. Everyone should be aware that worldwide resources are being drastically depleted, resulting in climate change, species eradication, irreversible damage, and even poverty. But we all know environmental ignorance persists, whether or not intentionally. While the information is accessible, perhaps it needs to actively taught to be effectively digested. Having facts available is not the same as recognizing that the old ways are destructive and we need to transition to new sustainable models. Passive knowledge doesn't always translate into compelling change.

As an informal educator at New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (located in a national seashore park), I'm blessed with teaching a wide variety of students. They come from many states, diverse races, and unique cultures. Ages range from the very young to seniors. Some students are wealthy and others struggle financially. My classes often consist of just a few dozen students, but they all love the natural environment here. Some students are aware that the current global developmental trajectory is unsustainable, yet others believe we should continue full speed ahead. I am always amazed at the wide range of understanding. Yet I'm also always pleased that most students are open to learning about new ideas and approaches for protecting our resources while still continuing effective economic growth and development. They may not embrace the sustainable methods or ideas right away, but at least we are having the conversation, and that will stimulate the beginning of change. An open-minded lively discussion of how we can maintain the equilibrium of balancing resources and development, including specific options, can be enlightening. Some students have reported back to me how what they learned drastically changed their outlook and lifestyle, and they have convinced their friends and family to adopt new solutions as well; I like to think of this as the "contagion approach," spreading ideas outward from the source. Other students remain unconvinced - but at least they are now thoroughly aware of the issue. Making a difference through education, even on a smaller scale, can eventually exponentially increase widespread comprehension and issue recognition.
I'm looking forward to learning more details about the concept of sustainability and its many facets. Bringing back that knowledge to share with my students and co-workers will enhance our programs and ideally result in the realization that sustainable consumption and production is the ultimately the only viable alternative.

Downloadable version of this essay

Contagion Education: A Vital Tool (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Sep16 19)