EU Green Deal – Environmental citizenship – Participation - Education

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A bid for £380.000 as part of a larger European bid for the EU Green Deal


Green Deal – Environmental citizenship – Participation - Education 


Perhaps more than any other previous environmental policy, the EU Green Deal has set participation and citizen enfranchisement as one of its main priorities. In this project, we start from the assumption that an empowered citizen is the result of a balanced education system. This facilitates synergy between the market and the common good, between individual development and community building (develop, connect with responsibility, social inclusion and systemic thinking). Such norms are continually being eroded by the disinformation crisis (Beckett, 2021) of alternate truths with symptoms such as populism and political extremism which threaten to dismantle the very institutions and processes of unity and democracy. One of the most critical issues that encroaches on future citizens is the current fragmentation of knowledge production and training systems. Particularly in the last two decades, the siloed separation of knowledges has been identified as a problem in environmental science, policy-making and education in general (quote). Environmental education remains highly specialised and predominantly focused on natural sciences while the market, human and environmental justice aspects are only marginally included if at all (quote). It remains entirely unclear how environmental citizenship matures in schools, in ways that promote innovation, entrepreneurship, compassion and unity. It is unknown how future citizens acquire the competencies, skills and thinking to contribute meaningfully to a positive green future. This means that education is central in stimulating intersubjectivity in future citizens who will then be equipped with the ways of thinking and acting that promote and generate sustainable futures. This disciplinary separation has an impact on the identity of students who are trained towards specific job orientations (environmental “managers” of different sorts) instead of citizens with different roles in the community. This encourages a mind-frame of limited or no responsibility beyond the narrow employment profile. 


The concept of nexus has been a welcome step forward towards representing the interdependence and trade-offs between different systems (water-energy-food - quote). Another important advance in integrating different environmental dimensions has been the concept of “nature-based solutions” (developed in relation to the nexus). However, these concepts remain tributary to a restricted definition of environment which tends to overlook its socio-political dimension.


A more integrative vision of the multiplicity of socio-environmental nexuses is captured by scholars working on environmental justice. These scholars assert that socio-political change and environmental change are related and affect people differently. For instance, it is harder for black, brown, or low-income communities to have access to clean air, water, and natural spaces. Minority and low-income communities are statistically more likely to live in neighbourhoods exposed to toxic waste, landfills, highways, and other environmental hazards. In this sense, these communities are located at the intersection between environmental and social hardships which reinforce each other. This speaks of the necessity for an environmental education which addresses them concomitantly.


Different socio-environmental conditions are both enabling and disabling. This means that on the one hand, they produce positions of empowerment especially for individuals who are in a position to take advantage of such changes. On the other hand, they are also disabling, for marginalized individuals and groups. Most of all, these processes of socio-political and environmental transformations are contradictory and produce conflicts (Swyngedouw et al. 2002). Most socio-environmental conflicts around the world have been motivated by the need of local communities to defend their livelihoods and commons, i.e., most fundamental material resources needed to survive, from water and forests to land and seeds (many quotes here but for sure Martinez-Alier et all the recent ones, Temper et all, Agyeman et all). It is clear that a sustainable approach to a Green Deal acknowledges our own shared humanity and the ways in which we think to organise as the tool required to ‘get things done’. Thus, it is fair to say that any path towards environmental ‘healing’ will be linked to justice. In this sense, the transition envisaged by the European Green Deal needs to be built on the realisation of these inextricable connections between different spheres of life which in turn have to be reflected in the way we teach about environment and climate change. 


Place-based education and environmental citizenship



Scholars in the field of EJ have pointed out to the environmental as the place where we ´live, work, learn, play, and eat´ (Gottlieb 2009). This is captured in the concept of place-based education, which refers to experiential education about the natural environment in the local community (Gallay et al., 2016b). The focus on local place is two-fold: as a source for learning and as a community to which students can contribute by applying what they learn. In contrast to a view of nature as a pristine landscape apart from the city, urban environmental education and projects emphasize the interdependent relationships of humans and natural systems in the city and the civic potential of local residents (including children) to assess the quality of the environment and to act to improve it. They combine the restorative benefits of being in nature with development of the capabilities to observe and improve the natural environment and to see how human behaviour and choices (including the students’ own) affect the ecosystem (Krasny and Tidball, 2009). A feeling of connection to nature has been referred to as an environmental identity and is associated with time spent in nature (Chawla, 1999) and education about the environment (Ernst and Theimer, 2011) in childhood. Not surprisingly, an environmental identity is correlated with caring for nature (Schultz, 2001; Arnocky et al., 2007; Bamberg and Moser, 2007). 




Educational leadership (UoM)


Educational Leadership; The business model of cost-effective environmental change


The avenue for developing participation and citizen empowerment is education. Schools colleges and nurseries are said to be where citizens are formed (Bourdieu, 1984; 1996; Habermas, 1970; 1981; Illich, 1971; Vygotsky, 1986). Despite this, educational leadership is often overlooked as the most powerful, sustainable, and cost-effective way of facilitating ‘big’ change (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). Developing Sustainable Citizens for a Green Future is crucial, but requires an orchestrated curricular shift towards critical competencies in line with the changed reality of the 21st Century. Any attempt to promote green agendas which overlooks this monumental issue of truth will find little traction. For society, this demands the facilitation, nurture and maintainance of a ‘critical infrastructure’ through education.

Schools colleges and nursaries are the places where young people congregate, learn and grow. Citizenship formation, educational leadership and education for the environment are innately aligned. Evidence shows that (school) leadership can be effective in facilitating citizenship development, but only when it connects with the surrounding community (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020; Karagrigoriou, 2018; Savvides & Pashiardis, 2016; Seth, 2012). This, in turn, is analagous to research showing effective education on climate change engages in similar ways (Monroe, et al., 2019). From a more fundamental and human perspective, this is entirely clear as a connective experience of intersubjectivity remains the most efficient, effective (and compelling) way that humans change their world for the better (Habermas, 1981); particularly in learning how to be a person in nursary (Göncü, 1993). This means that it is vital to foreground face to face visceral human connection and touch in achieving change in educational contexts. It is also worth noting that the aftermath of the COVID pandemic presents rich opportunity for powerful, connective teaching and learning pertaining to emancipatory goals, such as the Green Deal.

Systematic review of research on enviromental education makes clear that two themes are paramount to education on climate and environment: (1) focusing on personally relevant and meaningful information and (2) using active and engaging teaching methods (Monroe, et al., 2019, p. 791).  Excellent examples of life-changing learning are to be found in these viseral areas (sports, drama, art, trips, exchange and outreach), especially when they exist in balance to the more positivist knowledges (Gardner-McTagart & Palmer, 2017; Sahlberg, 2006) such as in STEM education (York, et al., 2019). The latter teach us what is valid in the world, the former teach us how to be, act and think in the world. Together these competencies develop a shared critical infrastructure and nurture the sustainable citizen.


Failure to promote a solid environmental education in the past has now brought us face-to-face with its disasterous consequences in both the environmental and social sphere. Whereas the challenges that the world is facing regarding the environment are well documented, little is known about the multiplying retrogressive voices from both the top and the grassroots that deny climate change and science in general. A closer look to this ideological site reveals that far-right actors are a central node to the popularization of anti-environmentalist discourse and public distrust in science. This comes as no surprise; one of the far right’s ideological characteristics is the reduction of social and economic structures in their complexity and the proposal of simple explanations for complex and often global developments (Wodak 2020: 21). Far-right actors can be parties, social movements, milieus, and/or individuals who share three tenets: nativism (i.e. the ethnic variant of nationalism), authoritarianism and populism. Climate change sceptic far-right actors usually link climate change to a supposed international conspiracy against their own nation (Lockwood 2018). With the new tools that the internet has allowed, far-right groups have developed their own alternative public spheres and have engaged in “post-digital” protest politics (Atton 2008: 574; Albrecht et al. 2019). They now use forceful play and distributed action to recruit sympathizers in a way that liberal and left-wing groups have failed (Albrecht et al. 2019). Through the use of digital technologies, far-right beliefs and behaviours have entered the mainstream.


Period7 Feb 2020

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleHere's how Europe plans to be the first climate-neutral continent
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionCoverage of the EU Green Deal for which have bid

    Europe plans to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
    The measures include tougher emissions targets, increased support for biodiversity, and a revision of EU farming subsidies.
    European Commission called it Europe's ‘man on the moon’ moment”.

    By 2050, Europe wants to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent – that’s the key message in a series of goals and initiatives announced by the European Commission known as the European Green Deal.

    It aims to “transform the European Union into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy,” the Commission says.
    PersonsAlex McTaggart