Beyond The Basics, Teaching Kids 'Eco-Literacy'

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Children, who will inherit the earth’s environmental ills, need a strong ecological education so they can make informed decisions about the way they lead their lives, argues psychologist Daniel Goleman in his new book “Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social and Ecological Intelligence.”

Speaking on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday, Goleman said his book was written as a guide to help educators bolster the “eco-literacy” of schoolchildren. Its message also is useful for parents, he added.

For example, he said children need to know that a product marketed as green, such as milk with the word organic in its name, does not necessarily mean the company that produces it steers clear of environmentally-damaging industrial farming practices.

Kids must look beyond recycling and energy conservation to larger complexities that create a situation “where our daily activities are destroying the global systems that maintain life on our planet,” Goleman said. "And so by becoming more eco-literate, by understanding these relationships, we can make better decisions."

With Lehrer noting that the subject matter could be construed as political, Goleman said he was seeking to “fast forward” the political debate. The topic sparked a range of opinions online with one listener, Brenda from Greenpoint, questioning how the actions of individuals can make a difference.

“In the time we've been discussing this, China has built 10 more drinking straw factories belching carbon into the atmosphere, so can our tiny consumer choices really stand against the tide of economics?,” she asked.

Another listener, Kenneth from the Upper East Side, added, “I'd love for these eco-experts to reconcile how they hate the carbon footprint of meat and dairy eating when they have no problem buying Apple computers and other technological devices that use and waste other natural resources.”

Do you think “eco-literacy” should be added to the public school curriculum? Let us know your thoughts by adding your comments to this story.