Worldviews, religion and leverage points for environmental educators

Donella Meadows, in her important paper "Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system", talks about a ‘leverage point’ as a “… place within a complex system… where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything” (p. 1). Environmental educators think about systems, but we’ve not been explicit as to what the high-leverage points that might be used to bring about the changes needed to ensure a sustainable future for our culture. While we have put a great deal of energy for the most part into our work with teachers and students, there may be other places where our efforts might yield greater results.

Among the highest-leverage activities Meadows identifies are “changing the rules of the system”, “changing the goals of the system”, “changing the mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises”, and finally, “having the power to transcend paradigms.” We’d like this workshop to examine some of these highly powerful leverage points in society that environmental educators should consider investigating and potentially engaging in. In particular, we will explore ideas around how environmental educators can work with religions and religious communities in terms of their beliefs and actions as vehicles for changing both the rules and goals of our unsustainable system. And moving beyond religion, we will introduce the idea of worldview, and consider the potential for environmental educators for working in the realm of worldviews to address the highest of Meadow’s leverage points.

Worldviews address fundamental questions and assumptions about the nature and structure of reality, the larger scheme of things, and therefore address religion, the natural world, and ethics. The abundance of and tensions among and within different worldviews are key to dealing with environmental concerns, issues of justices and inter-cultural complexities. Worldviews are life-maps, or blueprints, or overarching frameworks, myths or stories that provides a macro life-orientation.

Dealing with leverage points like religion and worldviews can move the environmental educator out from the traditional classroom into a new set of educational contexts and into a new set of educational collaborations. This workshop will offer an opportunity to learn about and actively investigate the potential role of religions, and worldview examination, in environmental education.