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10 January 2021
05 July 2021
Revisiting justice in environmental and sustainability education: What pandemics (can) reveal about the politics of global environmental issues
‘Justice’ is inherent to environmental education (EE) from the beginning. The rise of the environmental movement walks hand in hand with other critical social movements from the 1960’s and 70’s that claimed for a more just society. In some geo-cultural contexts, justice is as fundamental a concept to EE as environmental protection and conservation, being an indissociable trait of EE’s identity. Meanwhile, a valid and sensible, yet sensitive issue remains central: To what extent is justice praxical in EE, or just academic performative abstract theoretical textualism? What are environmental laws and environmental politics doing not only to assign ecological justice as a goal, but to ensure that it happens? Adding a more-than-human perspective and acknowledgement for the agency of nature: How well would our current environmental laws and environmental politics respond to the question ‘what is in it for Nature’?
In 2020, the world was hit by the COVID-19 viral pandemic which unleashed a global crisis of unparalleled proportions. Never before has an equivalently urgent lethal problem struck all corners of a digitally connected Earth, where information travels at the speed of light and the limits to global communication are fewer than ever before. Big data about the evolution of the pandemic are collected daily, and are made available to the public on the world wide web – pretty much at the same rate and speed as all sorts of fake news and badly interpreted, or simply made up, data. Scientific discoveries are shared almost as fast as they have been proven. All of this data (including the ‘fake’ data) have a performative effect in the way individuals, private enterprises and local governments make decisions on how to deal with the pandemic. But even though the big data are shared globally, local politics of the pandemic are still formulated in particular geo-cultural/historical contexts. In general terms, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic having the same cause—the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—geo-cultural/historical particularities are highly significant in the ways in which the pandemic affects specific localities; subsequently, also in the way local/regional politics target the problem.
The politics of the pandemic becomes, thus, a window, or magnifying glass, through which ‘new’ questions can be formulated and ‘old’ questions can be revisited in different geo-cultural contexts. It is also one of those rare opportunities where a big volume of data can be collected on a phenomenon that is circumscribed by a specific, and relatively short, timeframe. As the actions, symbolisms and representations are (re)created or (re)constituted in this context, an important question needs to be a constant: How much are these analyses also circumscribed to the contextual specificities of the pandemic, and how much can be transferred to future, post-pandemic contexts? Another possible related inquiry is if we have evidence that the pandemic is symptomatic of bigger environmental issues, like climate and population. Future valuation, evaluation and validation is key. For example: Regarding non-human agency and social change, do we have solid, empirically based examples where the agency of the non-human changed EE and EER? Are there potential ecopedagogical drives in social change brought forth by non-human agencies? These questions can reach as far back as human history goes, but they can be objectively addressed within the specific timeframe of the COVID-19 pandemic: Firstly, is there a drive for long lasting social change brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic? Or are the (fast) changes brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic only provisional, being circumscribed to the timeframe of the pandemic? Secondly, in either scenario of long lasting or only provisional change, is it environmentally just?
Considering the key points above related to the politics of the COVID-19 pandemic, in this special issue (SI) we seek to formulate ‘new’ questions and revisit ‘old’ ones regarding ecological justice in EE and EE research (EER). At this point, a key question to be asked is: Do we see evidence of an international community that is prepared to deal with the pandemic as an ecological issue (systemic, composed of vital inter-relations), or as a discourse that is built around an economic, technological rationality that prioritizes saving the economy unfettered by concerns for saving lives?
(ii) Possible foci
‘Normality,’ as the reasonably unquestioned state of affairs, requires stability. A state of anomaly will always challenge the status quo. These are rare situations where change happens at a fastened pace, as quick adaptations are needed to deal with the state of anomaly. And when social structures are jolted by change (even if provisionally or contingently), latent social problems tend to become more visible, especially when economic structures are shaken.
As a state of anomaly, the pandemic pushes (as an action of non-human agency) individuals, private enterprises and bodies of government to promote changes that cause distress in the social dynamics of the everyday. As the tissue of social cohesion is challenged, collective actions will unveil what is primarily and urgently important to a particular society. In 2020, a resounding question became highly relevant in local, regional, national and global contexts: What do the collective actions that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic unveil about what is primarily and urgently important in current societies?
For this SI, that general question inspires a series of more specific questions, some of which deal directly with EE and others of which are tangentially related to EE, but it would be up to the authors to make the connections with EE:
- How are (aesthetic-ethical-political) representations of nature changing as a result of COVID-19? How do the collective actions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic influence our relationship with nature?
- EE was founded in the 1960s to respond to a specific set of environmental issues. Since then, new issues have come to the fore and old ones have intensified (e.g., climate change; species extinction; air pollution). What should be expected from EE as a response to COVID-19? How do the collective actions that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic deal with current environmental issues? Is there a danger that the collective response to COVID-19 mute out the response to other environmental problems?
- ‘Pandemic could decimate environmental, outdoor science education programs.’ That is the title of an article published in the Berkeley News webpage on June 15, 2020. The article exposes how the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the survival of organizations that provide outdoor environmental and science education to K-12 students, with a high number of them announcing uncertainty about their capacity to reopen. The pandemic is also a new challenge for outdoor and environmental education programs in various education contexts, many of them already facing difficulties given the high cost of EE curriculum (e.g., cost of field trips and outdoor equipment). Simultaneously, educators in conventional K-12 settings are being encouraged to simply hold classes outside on a regular basis during the pandemic. Although arguably promising, this trend may further highlight and exacerbate pre-existing societal inequities; for example, schools in higher socioeconomic areas often have larger school grounds with higher student capacities and more natural features. What are the variations, adaptations, and adjustments of EE to overcome the restraints for outdoor and experiential education during the COVID-19 pandemic? And what could be learned from these examples, considering some of the older challenges, and the future, of EE praxis?
- How can EE theoreticians and practitioners incorporate COVID-19 and the topic of pandemics in general into their praxis to make EE more relevant to today’s world? How should experiential learning and interdisciplinarity be connected to environmental justice in the context of pandemics? What commonly occult/naturalized issues in EE and EER are unveiled by the collective actions that respond to the pandemic?
- Another timely debate regarding ecological justice and COVID-19 relates to the digital world: (a) Under the pandemic, children and youth are spending more time than ever exposed to the digital world; how is this hyper-exposure to the digital world affecting their relationship to nature? Given that many environmental problems have continued unabated, how will children get to care about these issues if they are not exposed to them first-hand? Regarding the ‘privilege of access’ to nature during the pandemic—who holds it; how is it different from pre-pandemic times; and under what conditions does it occur? (b) The other side of the coin relates to children from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds and from the Global South who have limited access to the digital world. This digital exclusion can become a new form of colonialism and social stratification. Tying (a) and (b), how will digital inclusion and exclusion affect EE and EER in the coming years? (c) Relatedly, in terms of pedagogy, what are we learning about the possibilities and limitations of online, remote teaching, and how does it help us rethink contemporary EE and the digital universe? How is technology (and the access to it) used to enact and ratify the ‘privilege of access’ to nature? And how is technology being used to cope with the lack of access to nature?
JEE welcomes a different set of questions not included in this proposal that addresses the larger interrelationship between justice, COVID-19 and EE/EER.
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Individual preliminary working titles and abstracts (500 words) should be submitted to the SI Editors via Email ([email protected]; [email protected]) by January 10th, 2021. Abstracts should be based on the SI call (background and possible foci). The SI Editors will review the 500-word abstract proposals and communicate with individual authors on preliminary acceptance or non-acceptance by late January 2021. Intensive author drafting of ms. is expected between February and June, 2021. First full draft to be submitted by no later than April 4, 2021. At least 2 timely reviews from the SI Editors should be anticipated by authors in April/May/June, before submission to ScholarOne on July, 2021.
The following elements are strongly encouraged in the elaboration of potential contributions to the SI:
- International geo-epistemological representation (proposal must appeal, simultaneously, to local and global audiences).
- Empirical representation (non-idealistic examples as ‘grounded’ ways to praxis, preferably acknowledging different world contexts).
- Geo-cultural and historical contextualization (local/regional/national/global).
We aim for 8 papers of 6000 words each (including references, tables and any additional information), and a short Introduction authored by the Editors so as to provide the background, purpose, rationale and sequence of the SI. The expected publication date for the SI is November, 2021.
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