Photo: A.Tedeholm/Azote

What environmental education is missing

Time for a bigger picture, not just how nature works, but why we need it

If there is ever a book that singlehandedly can claim to have made the world aware of environmental degradation, it is Rachel Carson's famous book of 1962, Silent Spring.

Hailed as one of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century, the book not only opened people's eyes to the human imprint on nature, it inspired the development of environmental education, a discipline which today has developed in many different directions and is turning into a research field in itself.

Missing the big picture
In a recently published article in In Factis Pax, centre researcher Cecilia Lundholm puts environmental education under the microscope and highlights aspects that are still missing from this field of study.

Lundholm highlights the need for students to better understand society and the interdependent relations between them as invididuals, government and business and how collaborative and mutual support between these is necessary in order to respond to environmental challanges.

She argues that environmental education is largely missing the interrelated issues of ecosystem services and human-well being. A more a more multidisciplinary approach is needed.

“Environmental education must help students gain societal understanding and the ways society can respond to environmental challenges. Particularly a better understanding of economics is needed, because it allows students to understand the relationship between the private, social well-being and the environment," Lundholm says.

“We are facing problems that are inherently complex and unpredictable. Students should therefore be introduced to systems dynamics thinking and how everything in a social and ecological system is connected."

The price of nature
She goes on to say that a better understanding of financial aspects and economics in general can help students assess and elaborate on means for dealing with environmental problems and sustain resources, because it gives them a better understanding of what costs and benefits are involved in the governance of natural resources.

“Its important to consider nature in terms of the services it provides and develop an understanding of why nature is essential and how we affect ecosystem services in different ways," Lundholm says.

This shift in focus generates another way of understanding how ecosystem services are crucial to human well-being by way of support (e.g. nutrient cycling), provisions (e.g. food, fiber, fuel), regulations (e.g. climate, flood) and culture (recreational, aesthetical).

“As human beings we ultimately depend on the services that ecosystems provide, the current loss of these goods constitute a real threat. Consequently, current times require us to build knowledge that could help understand environmental problems and society's complex ways of responding," Lundholm concludes.



Lundholm, C. (2011). Society's response to environmental challenges: citizenship and the role of knowledge. In Factis Pax, 5, 80-96.

About the author

Cecilia Lundholms' research interest concerns communication and learning about environmental and sustainability issues. In particular, the interest focuses on people's conceptions and learning about nature, society and the individual and the relationship between these.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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