Can Awareness be Damaging? Stages of Environmental Readiness

“If we really want children to flourish, we need to give them time to connect with nature and love the Earth before we ask them to save it” – David Sobel

Stages of Environmental Readiness 

Many children, teenagers, and adults behave in ways that indicate feelings of denial and hopelessness around the great issues of our time: climate change, mass extinctions, poverty, and human rights violations. Well-intentioned educators often attempt to give children an understanding of our environmental crisis, hoping they will help to build a more sustainable world but often do so in ways that are geographically disconnected and emotionally unmanageable for children. The lack of physical and emotional connection and maturity to handle these realities can lead to a human that compartmentalizes the weight of these issues.

This lack of connection and feeling can lead people to deny the facts of our predicament, behave in ways that are unsustainable, and even be fearful of nature or “the wild”. David Sobel, one of the world’s great Education for Sustainability scholars, calls this Ecophobia.

Sobel says that our first goal must be to create conditions for youth to experience and fall in love with the natural world around them.  Aiming to foster a love of nature locally, and to consider the developmental appropriateness of introducing environmental issues, is a priority for teachers.

Green School’s Head of Upper School, Glenn Chickering, studied with Sobel during his Graduate program.  Here’s Glenn breaking down the Stages of Environmental Readiness:


Sobel’s “Beyond Ecophobia” was published in Yes! Magazine back in 1998.  You can read it here.  There is no doubt that Sobel is inspired by the Biophilia Hypothesis – which suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. American biologist E.O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis, in his book Biophilia (1986), where he defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. In this interview with E.O. Wilson he explores the benefits of biophilia and the dangers of dissociation. A Conversation with E.O. Wilson – interview by Peter Tyson (2008)

Please share any insights, observations, or resources on this important topic in the discussion board below.

This content was adapted from our online teacher training programs. If this subject matter interests you, we have more resources to dig deeper.  Go to Greenschool.net to get our free Educator Pack and find out when our next cohort begins for our transformative online course in Educating for Sustainability.  Work with a group of Educators from around the world and two Green School mentors to ground your teaching practice in sustainability and creating a world that works for all.

If you can make it out to Bali, join one of our incredible Green Educator Courses at the Green School campus.  This is a life-changing experience and inspirational professional development for anyone wishing to dig deep into EFS.

Don’t forget to connect to our facebook group and join our lively conversation.

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