What do Vandana Shiva and a teddy bear have in common?

July 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

I assume all of you know what a teddy bear is, and I hope some of you have an idea who Vandana Shiva is. For those who don’t, she’s an Indian environmental activist and globalization critic. She gave the closing speech at this year’s Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (DWGMF) which I attended last month. For a stream and transcript of her impressive speech, click here. One paragraph at the very beginning of her speech caught my attention in particular:

And in ‘72 we had a horrible flood and the women came out and said these trees protect us.  They prevent the landslides, they prevent the flooding, they give us food, they give us fodder, they are our mothers and you can’t cut them and they created one of the most amazing movements that became my university of ecology.

Why? Not only because it’s a great story about courage, but also because I had heard it before – at work. After high school, I volunteered at a local environmental education centre for a year and now, four years later, I still work there as a freelancer. We mainly teach elementary school kids about issues in sustainability, climate change and environmental protection, and one of our most popular programmes is Teddybear’s Picknick: The children and their teddy bears are sent on a quest to discover the meaning of swaf (shelter, water, air, and food) with the help of various fun activities and games. One of the acitivies is a story about a girl in India who stands up against timbers who try to chop down the forest surrounding her village. She and the other villagers all hug a tree and refuse to let go – because they know their lives depend, to a certain extent, on those trees

It’s nice to hear the same story being told in two seemingly different contexts. But it also goes to show how closely related these contexts are: While the DWGMF is concerned with a global, more political context, environmental education centres break down those complex global issues and pass them on to the next generation.

The German environmental movement of the 1980s had one important slogan: “We’ve borrowed planet Earth from our children.” The children from back then are grown-ups now and have come to realize that they – that we – too have borrowed this planet from our children. This is a great responsibility for our generation as it’s our task to create a more sustainable planet. I know that sustainability has become an annoying, overused buzzword lately, but I’m using it in it’s very basic meaning: We have to respect planetary boundaries in order to make sure that the “effects of our action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life.

Environmental education plays a key role here: It’s not enough for my generation to realize that resources are finite. We have to sensitize our children for the idea of sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those eco-warriors and I don’t think that sustainable living should be imposed upon the people by a higher authority. No. What I mean is that responsibility for the planet should be considered as important as responsibility for our bodies – we remind our children to brush their teeth before bed, but we don’t remind them to turn off their electric devices.


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