Environmental Education and Citizen Participation as Tools for Community Action for Local and Global Change
by Jorge Tadeo Vargas
Red Fronteriza de Salud y Ambiente A.C. Mexico
During the last decades, citizen participation has moved away from neoliberal discourse and absurd governmental policy to real action and community resistance. No longer depending upon the legitimizing initiatives of governments, community action, in some cases, accomplishes changes in regional public policies.
Alternatives have been created by communities that do not find in neoliberal policies real options for change and improvement of their economic, social and environmental situation; these alternatives are more and more concrete; likewise, the global fight against economic and cultural homogenization, symptoms of global neoliberalism, has enabled community actions to disperse and re-unite, forming networks of support and solidarity allowing us to share experiences, not only to learn and but also to work together for the changes necessary to obtain just and equitable development. Construction of this new world, this new reality, in which there is environmental, social and economic justice, comes from the bottom up, from the local to the global. The main source and motor for this is changes in municipal administration and regulations.
The lack of social and environmental sustainability of the neoliberal system is so bound to disinformation that it sometimes makes suitable action impossible; this is why we needed adequate information based on science to reach the sustainability that we needed to create a just reality for all. Education, information and training have become vital parts of this fight against the neoliberal system. Each one of these tools makes possible, from different perspective, the empowerment of a community to take care of, to value and to decide on the quality of their environment; that is to say, the adequate handling of information makes it possible for communities to reject a system in where the omnipresent government affects the environmental situation, through decisions based on political and economic interests, from offices thousands of kilometers from the affected places. Adequate information makes possible direct action and responsibility for those who live with the consequences. Education, the information and training give control back to the people who reside there.
Environmental Monitoring and community action:
When speaking of environmental education, often thinks about formal education, with a “defined public”; that is to say, designed didactic strategies for young people with the single objective of consciousness-raising. This idea of environmental education has been applied by the neoliberal system as part of the “socialization” of its commitment with the society and its definition of sustainability; nevertheless, it is only a mirage based on linear and standardized education (the same thing for the city as for the countryside) without becoming involved and without stopping to analyze the problems that cause environmental deterioration. This type of education does not propose changes in municipal policies to help improve the environmental quality and the quality of life of the community.
The project of environmental monitoring for community participation that we work with in the Red Fronteriza de Salud y Ambiente A.C. is a proposal of education and information for community action. Starting off with the differences in the problems experienced in the cities and the rural communities, that education must be interdisciplinary, multi-sectorial and accessible to all the ages, we have involved the whole community in the monitoring and searching for solutions.
This project basically has the following objectives:
- To define environmental problems of the municipality (who caused them and why)
- To look for solutions these problems (short-, medium-, and long-term)
- To affect the local public policies (changes in municipal laws)
- To affect the patterns of consumption and production of the community
For this we work with the municipalities (the community), city councils, and the citizens, informing and acting on environmental issues, emphasizing the problem of the water. We monitor river water quality (this work is carried out in the high basin of the Sonora River , which feeds into seven municipalities), with secondary school students and then take action on a community level where all the people become involved.
To date, these actions have been reflected in changes in the municipal legislation, change at the personal level and the community level in practices of consumption, and the formation a community more committed to the care of its environment, not only natural but also social and economic.
The lack of opportunities and the repression of the State have resulted in society looking for new alternatives. When Margaret Thatcher said: “there is no alternative” (TINA There Is non Alternative) she was right because the neoliberalism does not allow space for change. Nevertheless, within the anti-globalization struggle, these alternatives have been created with new forms of action, coexistence, struggle and resistance to that economic model. We are creating alternatives even where there was no space for them.
We are not only right and truthful, we also work based on information and education — not passive resistance, but non-violent and constructed in everyday life.