Enhancing Students' Ecological Thinking to Improve Understanding of Environmental Risk

Norizan Esa, Hashimah Yunus, Nooraida Yakob, Mahamad Hakimi Ibrahim, and Mardiana Idayu Ahmad

Abstract The current rate of human development poses a major threat to the ecological balance of the environment, and this is exacerbated by climate change effects. It is therefore important for people to understand the ecology of different locations so they can make informed decisions that will not have an adverse effect on the environment. In this regard, students form a significant group for whom sound ecological thinking is necessary as they will be the future leaders and decision makers who can ensure the world's continued sustainability. This chapter presents the results of an ecological education project that successfully expanded students' ecological thinking. Evidence of this change is taken from interview responses before and after the ecological education project. The interview was based on a set of six photographs of different situations found in the environment. Responses were analyzed based on an ecological thinking framework developed by the researchers. This framework consisted of two components: understanding of ecology concepts and understanding of the impacts of human activity on ecosystems. The ecological education project succeeded in increasing students' ecological thinking, thereby increasing their awareness of environmental risks.

Keywords Ecological education • Ecological thinking • Environmental risk awareness

Introduction

Of all influences on the global environment, human activities have exerted the greatest impact. The rapid pace of development means that the ecological balance of the environment is faced with enormous threats. Among these, the top five pressures on biodiversity globally are the loss, alteration, and fragmentation of habitats; overexploitation of wild species populations; pollution; climate change; and the introduction of invasive species. These pressures were evidenced by a 28 % decline in the global Living Planet Index between 1970 and 2008. The decline subsequently continued, reaching 30 % in 2012 (WWF 2012). The Living Planet Index is a measure of global biodiversity change based on the world's vertebrate population.

Meanwhile, the Global Ecological Footprint—a measure of the amount of natural resources consumed globally against the world's biocapacity—increased continuously. In 2008, the figure was 18.2 billion global hectares (gha). This amounted to 18.2 billion hectares of land to supply the resources necessary to fulfil lifestyle needs and absorb waste for every person on Earth. This means that the Earth requires 1.5 years to regenerate the natural resources that global consumption uses in 1 year (McRae et al. 2008). It is thus necessary to restore, conserve, and protect natural ecosystems and biodiversity so that biological productivity and ecosystem services can be maintained (WWF 2002). This includes preserving the world's biodiversity and reducing the impact of human activity on natural habitats (WWF 2008a, b). However, realization of these goals requires public support and participation. It is therefore important for people to understand the ecology of different locations so they can make informed decisions that will not have an adverse effect on the environment. Students form a significant group for whom sound ecological thinking is necessary as they will be the future leaders and decision makers who can ensure the world's continued sustainability.

 
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