This year’s theme of the Global Education Week, promoted by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe and celebrated between 15 and 21 November 2021, is “It’s our world, let’s take action!”. The chosen topic, whose focus is meant to be on encouraging sustainable lifestyles with the help of educators across the continent and not only, relates directly to the United Nations sustainable development goals aiming, among others, to eliminate the phenomenon of extreme poverty, reduce social inequalities and combat the threat of climate change by 2030.
Protecting the environment seems to have become one of the most neglected responsibilities of our society. The lifestyles, choices and priorities of the contemporary citizens, based on consumerism and acquiring material possessions, are mainly responsible for resource depletion, unprecedented levels of pollution and extreme short-term and long-term consequences of human activity culminating in global warming, climate change and the greenhouse effect, which, accelerated by deforestation, the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the ozone layer, allow the ultraviolet and infrared solar radiation not only to increase the temperature on earth, but also the number of health-related risks for all living organisms. Some of the most serious consequences of these man-generated phenomena are: permanent ocular damage in some species, damage to immune system, skin cancer (including malignant melanoma) and major transformations of the environment which alter the quality of life and life expectancy in general, threaten the survival of numerous species and the balance of the whole eco-system.
Since some of these effects are not visible to everyone, ignorance and indifference still make a blissful pair and a lot of individuals and authorities continue to deny the obvious, embracing skeptical philosophies and careless, irresponsible attitudes. However, the signs are here for those who are reasonable enough to acknowledge the fact that urgent measures need to be taken in order to keep under control, as much as possible, the causes leading to extreme weather phenomena such as violent downpours, major storms, heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons etc. as well as the undeniable melting of the glaciers and its observable impacts on our planet, one of which is the progressively rising sea level.
Statistics show that, on average, the sea level has risen about 20 cm in the past 100 years and recent scientific predictions expect more rapid flooding rates in the near future. Experts warn us that each year, in Europe, almost 800,000 people die prematurely as a result of exposure to air pollution and the same “silent killer” is responsible for over 7 million deaths annually around the world. Every family is dealing with pollution-induced diseases or even loss of life, the most tragic cases of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases involving two of the most vulnerable minority groups- that of children and the victims of poverty.
So, what can we do as educators to bring a relevant contribution to our local and global community and influence significant changes in the world in terms of a more sustainable, safer and more equitable future? Personally, I believe in the power of personal example as well as the potential of informative, eye-opening lessons and educational projects which can become invaluable sources of instruction leading to friendlier actions towards the environment and more responsible attitudes and decisions.
Each of us can have a positive impact and our lifestyles and choices combined can make a remarkable difference. It is in our power to promote an eco-friendlier living by reducing the amount of resources we use and the waste we produce every single day. We should also limit the amount of plastic we buy, avoid harmful chemicals and adopt greener, more natural methods and products of cleaning our homes and for our own personal hygiene. Reusing and recycling will also save lots of energy and resources and re-gifting the things we do not intend to use may become not only a generous deed in our humanitarian experience, but also a small gesture which will benefit the environment since the already existing product is going to be put to good use by someone else. Another advantage would be to relearn the value of sharing and caring and devote our knowledge and skills to a noble cause: that of creating authentic opportunities for the achievement of the development goals, genuine human solidarity, able to successfully bring about poverty and hunger eradication through global cooperation.
Last but not least, by educating ourselves not to fall into the trap of consumerism, by fixing instead of throwing away the repairable possessions, by purchasing only the necessary, not spending excessively as a type of therapy or for the fun of it, we might serve the natural world of the present well enough and help create a better place for the next generations. Let’s all become a drop of wisdom and awareness in the ocean of life, let’s all work together to create a ripple effect able to awake self-preservation-oriented mindsets and actions and ensure survival, safety, equity and well-being on earth for millennia to come!