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Sustainable Design for a Bountiful Future

Originally appears in the Fall 2010 issue

You already know the bad news. The future of life as we know it on planet Earth is in peril due to a perfect storm that we have cooked up for ourselves. The convergence of growing world population and climate change is already upon us. The good news is that, unlike collapsed civilizations of the past, for the first time in the history of our species we are well aware of the scope of the challenges that civilization faces. We currently possess the knowledge and technology to set ourselves on a better trajectory. According to Lester Brown, author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, a positive outcome for humanity will require immediate progress toward these four goals: stabilizing world population at eight billion or lower, achieving an 80% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, eradicating extreme poverty, and restoring the natural systems that we depend for our survival – especially topsoil, aquifers, grasslands, fisheries, and forests.[1]

What do these global perils – and the solutions that they cry out for – mean for classroom teachers? Our students will be neither motivated nor inspired with the prospects of doing nothing or just getting by. Providing basic literacy in the language and concepts of sustainability may be the single most important thing teachers can do to gain both perspective and focus amidst a storm of global problems. Education for sustainability (EfS) upholds the moral standard of caring for the needs of others and the future by attending to the triple bottom line of environmental health, social justice and economic opportunity.

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Ben Wheeler is the Global Studies and History Teacher at Explorer West Middle School, a Peer Educator (Facing the Future) and 2009 World Educator (World Affairs Council) in Seattle, Washington.