By Suzana Padua

Master’s in environmental education and PhD in sustainable development. Co-founder and president of IPÊ – Institute for Ecological Research and the School of Environmental

Conservation and Sustainability (Escas) Environmental education emerged to respond to needs that have emerged and become evident for decades. But the reason for needing another area in education has been due to problems caused by humanity. And this has been repeated continuously, to the point of putting our planet at risk… Perhaps not the planet, but the survival of our species.

How and why do crises and catastrophes occur that are not originated in the natural world? What are the reasons for raising the Earth’s temperature, degrading nature with the destruction of its richness, biodiversity, and the environmental services that are offered for free (and perhaps undervalued) and on which we depend? What is the logic and way of life that have led us to this point?

Since time immemorial, our decisions have been based on the instinct for survival and, gradually, rationality has entered the scenario of our evolution. Both were appropriate for the time in which they developed and therefore deserve applause and criticism only for reflection on what we want to perpetuate and what we want to discontinue. Now it is crucial that we have the courage to revisit “certainties” to make a leap in the quality of our existence, adding the feeling, so that we can value life. And this necessary feeling, in my opinion, is called “love“.

We need to educate for love. And I’m not here advocating for love for something or someone specific, but rather, a broad love for life! The integration of our existence with the natural world should be the norm, with the appreciation of all elements, leading us to a state of fulfillment for being part of something so grand. But our detachment from the natural world has led us into challenging contexts and put us at risk, both in terms of coexistence between different groups and between us and nature.

Other cultures do not necessarily act this way. According to a jurist friend of mine, Claudia Luna, there is an “erasure” of cultures that think differently, which she calls epistemicide, or the invisibility of other thoughts that are not those developed by the predominance of the North/Global. She says that this is one of the facets of racism, which denies access and does not legitimize black or indigenous intellectual productions, among others.

The Selvagem movement, for example, breaks with this trend. It brings together intellectuals who have approached indigenous cultures and have fallen in love with the wealth of knowledge accumulated by the original peoples of Brazil. This closer contact has changed the lives of professionally “well-resolved” individuals, who have dedicated themselves to understanding and disseminating worldviews that have fascinated Brazilian and worldwide scientists, derived from indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Selvagem manages to blend the academic and scientific worlds with representatives of traditional populations and any other communities that add to the diversity of ways of seeing the world. In events and publications, Selvagem carefully disseminates the fascinating range of life concepts that can serve as lessons for the “civilized” world.

Another viewpoint comes from our African origin, defended by a Brazilian thinker, Katiúscia Ribeiro, with the principle of “geruma.” This is a concept:

“… a serene person who reflects from their understanding and strives for harmony. Geruma is calm, Geruma is not in a hurry. Geruma only observes and waits to act at the right time. Geruma is about being open to dialogue and new ideas. Geruma is capable of truly caring and showing concern for what is important to oneself and to their surroundings. Geruma is also ethical, integral, always a warrior, but without arrogance, detached from any feeling that would prevent them from paying close attention to different perspectives.”

The pursuit of an education that promotes a broad love for life, the appreciation of diverse thoughts, and the incorporation of concepts such as “geruma” can significantly contribute to harmonious coexistence between individuals and nature.

In her line of thought, Katiúscia explains that the European Platonic logic, based on rationality, did not recognize this way of being, of seeing the world through the heart, and thus could claim that Africans were devoid of soul, an excuse used for the centuries-long enslavement in history. The African perspective is crossed by sense – cosmic sensation – emerging from the heart. The author argues that this way of seeing the world is inclusive because it is devoid of the concept of the universal subject, becoming pluriversal when taking into account all the ways of thinking about the world based on affection and subjectivity of the individual.

This view aligns with what Ailton Krenak recently defended about the tragedy of the Yanomami, which regrettably we witnessed in shock in Brazil. According to Krenak, there is a “humanity club” that does not reach everyone and favors only a few, although it boasts of adopting a word that sounds universal. Those who defend it benefit from this conception, as if they adopted a “noble” thought that includes everyone. But that is not what happens. There is a sub-humanity that will never be admitted to this club, such as the indigenous and black populations of Brazil and others observed elsewhere in the world. Thus, sub-humanities, such as the Yanomami, black people, and any other human version that is not white, are constant targets of violence from the state apparatus and many who follow this pattern.

What to make of education to change our way of seeing life? Perhaps introducing different cultures into the repertoire of offered content could be a path. We are “addicted” to a dominant Western view, which is accepted by the so-called intellectual world. But there are many fascinating possibilities that deserve to be explored so that we can expand our conception of the world and, therefore, perhaps unleash our ability to love.

Another path is to visit places with nature and different cultures. The first is easier and more accessible because it can be done through readings, studies, and the promotion of encounters and dialogues that value different cultural perspectives. The inclusion of content representing a variety of cultures in the educational curriculum is essential to expand students’ repertoire and promote a more inclusive and plural view of the world. Additionally, immersion experiences in natural environments and different cultures can be extremely enriching. Visits to indigenous communities, trips to preserved areas of nature, and cultural exchanges can provide direct contact with different realities, enabling the understanding and appreciation of diverse perspectives. Another important approach is the deconstruction of hegemonic Western thought and the valorization of non-dominant epistemologies, such as African and indigenous perspectives, and other non-Western cultures. This involves questioning and overcoming the supremacy of certain knowledge and recognizing the diversity of legitimate ways of understanding the world. Education should make room for intercultural dialogue, promoting respect, appreciation of diversity, and understanding of different ways of seeing and living in the world. Through a more comprehensive and inclusive approach, we can expand our capacity to love and understand the interconnectedness between all beings and nature.

Seeing people living in ways that are very different from our own can be truly transformative. Brazil is rich in this aspect, with very diverse cultures in sometimes distant regions. It also possesses strong regionalisms that unveil fascinating stories of our origins. Those who have the opportunity to take their children, friends, and students to places where life differs from our own can enrich the way they see the world.

The important thing is to maintain an appreciative and non-judgmental perspective, so that the different ways adopted by people from other cultures can be absorbed as riches. Acceptance of the different should be the first step. The fascination for life in some way needs to resonate in our hearts and minds so that we have the chance to take a leap in our evolution based on love for life.

Originally published in Fauna News, February 2023.