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The Human Touch

Environmental education

Image source: www.stlawu.edu

It might seem obvious, but because environmentalists frequently focus on big issues relating to the non-human world, it’s sometimes easy to neglect the human element in our work as environmental educators and communicators.

This “human touch” is best expressed in our people skills – our interpersonal (or relationship-building) skills and our ability to work effectively with groups.

Most university degrees in biological science or environmental management tend not to emphasise knowledge, skills and practice in effective group work.

And yet – in the big bad world beyond the hallowed halls – much of our environmental efforts operate within communities of diverse people.

The peril in focusing on environmental knowledge at the expense of people-skills is the tendency for environmentalists to immerse in the problem, rather than solutions. Working with people is the space for social change, for identifying and creating the solutions that help enhance the ways in which people relate to the natural world, themselves and each other.

While we advocate for environmental gains, being human for a nonhuman world is about recognising and responding to the “social” in social change for sustainability.

As Les Robinson & Andreas Glanznig say in Enabling EcoAction (2003): “To “save our planet” we need to focus our understanding and professional skills on human beings, human society, and its economic and political systems”.

Indeed, as environmental educators and communicators, it could be argued that to achieve social change, our people skills and understanding of human psychology are more critical than our environmental or scientific knowledge.

From team building and group facilitation, to conflict resolution and negotiation skills, our ability to facilitate change is firmly embedded in our ability to relate to, influence, and support our fellow human beings.


Image source: www.warren-wilson.edu

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