Nature education is crucial, let’s fund it

Dimitri de Boissieu is a trained ecologist and teaches nature and the environment. He is the author of Bolivia, the ecological illusion (Écosociété editions, 2019) and co-author of Go out ! In nature with a group (Ecologists Editions de l’Euzière).

Dimitri de Boissieu

The health crisis we are experiencing today proves that all activities of general interest, such as culture, education, social work and the environment, are absolutely crucial to our well-being. Nevertheless, one of the axes that public authorities have totally neglected for decades is nature and environmental education for all at all ages of life.

However, many studies conducted by educators, scientists and journalists have already shown that regular visits to nature are essential for human well-being. See the writings of Louis Espinassous, of the École et nature network, of Sarah Wauquiez, of Matthieu Chéreau and Moïna Fauchier-Delavigne, of Richard Louv, and of Anne-Caroline Prévot.

The contact with the outdoors gives children and adults the opportunity to feel good, to have self-confidence, to achieve autonomy and creativity, to be healthier and less stressed. It develops a taste for collaboration with others and a certain empathy towards biodiversity and the planet Earth. Nature education also enables the acquisition of knowledge about the living world and the establishment of a strong emotional bond between people and their surroundings. It thus transforms our relationship with the world and builds a society that is more respectful of ecosystems and natural circuits.

Children learn about sustainability while sitting in front of screens

Despite these precious opportunities for nature education, the number and duration of discovery hours and nature holiday stays in the last twenty years have continued to decline, as shown by the work in dynamic exit » of the School and Nature Network [1]. The fear of risk, regulatory and administrative constraints, the importance of screens in everyday life, the consumer society and the lack of budgets for excursions and stays in nature are increasingly keeping children and young people away from the outdoors.

While in many European countries there are ordinary kindergartens in the open air, schools in the woods and rewilding of schoolyards, they most often remain in France on the militant initiative of a few isolated teachers and facilitators. A disturbing natural deprivation syndrome » is therefore evolving in the population, today certainly reinforced by confinement.

In 2018, the Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition’s biodiversity plan announced the goal of promote the development of nature stays in middle school ». But in reality, nothing is changing. The circular ecological conversion » of 2019 of the national education did not even address the notion of the need for nature. While the media boasts of the benefits of reconnecting with nature, forest bathing or sylvotherapy, the children in our cities and in the countryside remain closed between four walls from morning to evening. They are given the task of receiving education in sustainable development sitting on chairs and in front of screens. In order to avoid creating an atrophied society and to succeed in the ecological transformation, it is therefore becoming urgent to massively develop a nature education policy throughout the territory.

But even though the health crisis has led to some awareness of the need to quickly build a society of social and environmental justice, current events show us that those in power are instead using pretexts of economic recovery to establish the neoliberal order, rapidly anti-environmental decisions [2].

Change will therefore only be possible if a solid social balance of power is established in the country. In these unprecedented times, progressive forces must be tenacious and creative. As Bruno Latour invites us to, it is helpful to list the activities we want to reduce or develop. Year 01 is back: let’s be realistic, ask for the impossible !

The number and duration of discovery hours and nature holiday stays is constantly decreasing.

Advertising tax could fund nature education

In 1976, the departmental tax on sensitive natural areas was cleverly created (TDENS). Today renamed development tax, it allows local authorities to tax up to 1 to 5 % all activities that require a building permit – especially new construction. These public funds are set aside for the acquisition of natural areas for the purpose of protecting, managing and opening them up to the public. It is a matter of applying the polluter pays principle to the urbanization process. By building a house, the land is permanently artificialized to the detriment of ordinary nature. We therefore pay to compensate for this deterioration. Between 2001 and 2010 TDENS has generated an average annual budget of 167 million euros across the country [3]

This logic could very well be used to fund nature education in takes the money where it lies »as director Coline Serreau suggests in her message The world that went upside down puts its ideas upside down ». Some childhood polluters » are easy to identify: advertisers break down the brains of our younger generations with impunity. By bombarding them with advertisements from an early age, merchants manipulate children into making them buy prescription doctors », especially foods that are too fatty and too sweet. Advertising also develops a sense of frustration in them. Above all, it permanently assigns them a consumer role and anchors gender stereotypes in them.

A law banning commercial advertising in children’s programs on public television was passed in late 2016. This is an important step forward [4].

But what about advertising on private TV channels, on billboards, in the youth press and on the Internet? ? We must continue to campaign to ban or restrict it. More pragmatically, a tax could also try to compensate, at leastthe detrimental impact of advertising on children’s education.

In France, advertising revenues have been steadily rising for a decade, reaching a value of fifteen billion euros in 2019. According to the Unified Advertising Market Barometer, it is estimated that a quarter of ads are targeted at 0-18 year olds and apply to brands a tax of only 1 % of their advertising investment, society could thus benefit from an annual budget of 37.5 million euros.

Finally enough to consider the development of an ambitious nature education policy … So that children can once again run on the meadows and that the eco-social transformation of our world is accelerated.

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