Ecological viability of small Pacific islands: which lessons for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?

Authors: Matthias Kowasch*, University of Graz
Topics: Geography Education, Resources, Pacific Islands
Keywords: Education for Sustainable Development, Pacific island countries
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A1, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Considerable speculation has accompanied the discovery of about 600 stone images on Rapa Nui. Diamond (2011) linked the mysterious abandonment of these ancestral figures to ecological problems: the former inhabitants inadvertently destroyed the environmental resources on which their society depended. He called the collapse an “unintended suicide”. Another example of excessive exploitation of natural resources is the Pacific island state of Nauru, which became one of the richest countries in the second half of the 20th century due to its huge phosphate resources, but relapsed to a developing country. Which lesson can students learn from over-exploitation of natural resources? While recognizing the need to legitimize learning for sustainability, Sauvé et al. (2007) cautioned against imperatives for rapid educational re-orientation towards sustainability, wherein the need for action discourages critical thinking. But the desire for social change seems to be very strong in education in general. Everybody supports sustainability but in fact, ESD often fails to challenge business as usual and supports economic primacy. The main research question of this paper is whether such examples of excessive resource exploitation do not cry for more sustainable behavior. By defending the “good cause”, does ESD hinder students to develop their own ideas and to act themselves? Does the moral character of ESD lead to lull students into a neoliberal way of thinking? The paper relies on literature review of resource exploitation in small Pacific island countries and on an empirical study with geography teachers and students in secondary schools in Austria, Germany and France.

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