Md. congressman aims to boost enviro awareness in schools

Posted on July 17th, 2007

By Dan Berman

E&E News: Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) yesterday joined a growing movement of educators, land managers and recreation industry leaders concerned the youngest generation of Americans are sheltered from the outdoors.

Sarbanes unveiled legislation that aims to boost environmental science and education funding and programs at the state and local levels. Such programs, along with field trips and other activities outside the classroom, have been cut due to funding shortfalls and requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this year.

"We’re at a moment in time where we have an opportunity to kick this forward," Sarbanes said in an interview, citing the national attention given to environmental issues such as climate change.

Sarbanes wants to establish grant programs to build national and state support for environmental education inside and outside of the classroom, provide teacher training grants and direct states to develop K-12 "environmental literacy plans."

H.R. 3036 would create a $100 million environmental education grant program as well as authorize spending from the Fund for the Improvement of Education for programs associated with the measure, according to a Democratic aide.

"All the research is showing the amount of time kids spend consumed by these electronic opportunities like video games and the Internet … it’s way, way imbalanced right now," Sarbanes said. "The way you save the environment is you create habits for the next generations, so they’re doing things that are good for the environment instead of bad for the environment."

Children are still invested "intellectually" in the environment and environmental issues, but they are not as invested because they are not going outdoors, according to Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," a book examining generational views of recreation and open space.

If the trend is not reversed, future generations could lack a conservation ethic, Louv told the House Appropriations Committee in March. "Because children are not going out and bonding in nature, who will care for the endangered species and spotted owls?"

Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell has expressed similar concerns, citing declining visitation levels to national forests. "Perhaps one of the biggest threats to our nation’s forests and grasslands is environmental illiteracy," Kimbell said at a House Resources Committee hearing in May. USFS and the Interior Department have begun handing out grants to projects that connect kids to nature.

Sarbanes said his bill is not an attempt to indoctrinate kids on global warming or other controversial topics. "There’s nothing scary about what we’re proposing," he said. "There’s only exciting things. Bringing kids into nature and the environment, and getting them excited about hearing and doing things through nature, that’s not a scary alarmist undertaking."