A culture of shared care in environmental education is likely to produce better results than control over the individual and awareness-raising. In the MUST consortium sub-project related to educational science, we are developing such a culture by exploring multi-disciplinary partnerships for action.

The vast majority of people know roughly what biodiversity loss means. A moderate proportion of people can identify as one of the causes of biodiversity loss the prevailing mindset that sees the environment as a commodity for human consumption. Many can also name three things that could be changed to make their daily lives environmentally more sustainable. People are worried: according to the latest nature relationship barometer, more than half of Finns are concerned about the state of our natural environment, and an even larger share is worried about the state of nature world-wide.

Never before in history have humans had access to so much and so widely available information about environmental crises, the mechanisms by which they arise and what would have to change to slow down the rate of biodiversity loss and climate change. If raising awareness was enough to change the behaviour of people and societies, the planet would not be in an alarming state.

Appeals to ethics and morality, or guilt, are not very effective in changing behaviour. Rhetoric on a planetary or global scale rarely connects with people’s daily life, and the increase in scientific knowledge alone does not seem to be enough.

“As a kid i’ve been watching nature programs like “Avara luonto” on TV […] so like in all of these they say that there are hundreds of thousands of millions, or whatever, of species in the world, but it doesn’t feel like anything.”

So said a young person from Oulu in our recent citizen science project. Young people joined us in reflecting on what makes other organisms feel close to us and worth protecting. In the discussion, we also took note of species that are not as charismatic and exotic as the cheetah or the grey parrot. We have learned at school what biodiversity means, but it doesn’t feel like anything, and it doesn’t really relate to anything. Although in reality it relates to absolutely everything.

It has been said that environmental education has failed. There has also been a growing trend to produce new learning methods and materials and to add cross-cutting themes to curricula. However, according to some studies, young people have already begun to push against concepts which feel like meaningless rhetoric, such as sustainable development.

People often ask us, educational scientists, for solutions on how to raise children to make the world a better place. If education is understood as a freestanding tool to try to fix broken societies – to raise the next generation to fix them – we are inevitably on the wrong track. Education is not an intervention that can be carried out in isolation from society and culture. No curriculum, educational approach or package of materials will solve anything if the world in which children and young people grow up does not change at the same pace as they do.

The MUST consortium sub-project (Un)learning with other species builds on research evidence that a culture of caring and shared concern that develops in communities and societies, in which people can actively participate, is more effective for environmental education than attempts to control the individual.

Multispecies education, which the (Un)learning sub-project is developing together with the teachers and students of the Turku Normal School and the project partners, is a partnership between a wide range of people and other animals, inanimate nature and natural phenomena, which requires not only knowledge but also understanding of the diversity of life. The aim is to deconstruct the idea that humans are the only species that operates in the world and whose needs matter.

For biodiversity loss to be perceived as more than just a technical term, it must be possible both to know about other species and to become more familiar with them in different everyday contexts. The difference between “tietää” (“knowing”) and “tuntea” (“knowing/being familiar with”, implying deeper and more personal knowledge of someone) in Finnish is quite illustrative. There is a big difference between knowing about a hermit fly and knowing/being familiar with a hermit fly.

What do you think – which word would make you want to protect this species?

Pauliina Rautio, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Oulu