Who am I to call myself an Environmental Educator?

Written by Jen Ringbauer on 7 Jun 2022 - 11:33am.

I came to this conference with more questions than answers. The three main questions were

  1. What is an environmental educator?
  2. What is sustainability?
  3. Do I fit within either of these two parameters?

I came knowing only two people, two wonderful (and inspiring) people who calmly and humbly work tirelessly, with heart and gusto, to call their peers and colleagues to action, or awareness of the peril we are in. These two people have been inspiring me to continue to work in the space of community education and change whilst quietly and patiently encouraging me in any way possible. I was never sure how they did what they did but knew of some of the people and institutions they were trying to influence for change and to shift focus from business as usual to ecology at the centre of every decision. This is the work that I also feel called to do, but my clumsy and passionate cries often lead to distance and division.

The first embrace I felt from the NSW chapter was to be welcomed whole-heartedly into a group of absolutely amazing, gentle and quietly strong women who didn’t bat an eyelid to invite me to stay with them over these few days. It was like visiting an old group of school friends who I had known all my life (it actually worked out that one of them I had known since I was 14 – but didn’t realise until I walked into the first workshop!). I annoyed people across the conference with my question, “What is sustainability?” I was trying to figure out if my ideas and ideals generally aligned with the group. I also was challenging my own sense of what sustainability was and how this relates to a regenerative mindset. Apologies if I asked you – I know how difficult a question that is to answer!

After attending workshops for a day and a half, and chatting to so many of the wonderful attendees, I came to the realisation that each educator and presenter had so much passion, a passion that originates in a place that we all share and care deeply about. A passion fuelled by foresight, fear, compassion, empathy and love for the other-than-human world. It matters not where this passion bubbles to the surface – whether to waste, water, weeds or (re-) wilding. We need each and every single one of us, working to enact change at whatever level we can and at every possible level, stepping forward in leadership to express what is possible and how we can step with certainty into the emerging era – the era of the Ecozoic.

From the permaculture framework, from where my current work stems, these small and (seemingly) slow solutions are the key to change. To a sustained and full change of heart and mind to create what is the new – to what we all envisage – living in a just and fair place where we, as humans, once again take our place as a part of the systems around us, and not aloof and in control of it.

Another permaculture principle is to value the marginal, to value the diversity and energy that exists around the edges. I think we might all feel that this is the space we as environmental educators occupy, and at times feel that this is our habitat in the periphery and marginalised spaces that humankind have created. We exist in the edge – let’s utilise the energy, diversity and change to create the society to live in an ecologically focussed world.

My questions (almost) answered…

  1. An environmental educator is any leader who inspires change at any level, and in any way, for the betterment of Earth and all of Earth’s communities.
  2. “Sustainabilty” is largely undefined (possibly undefinable). Vaguely, an understanding that we live in a place of finite resources and a need to live within them. How does sustainability relate to “regenerative”? Regenerative takes us a step further from sustainability to walk into “creating the conditions that are conducive to life” (Benyus 2016), and not simply working within the confines of a finite system. I would argue Regeneration is the place where each of the educators are.
  3. Do I fit here? YES I DO!

I would like thank the AAEE NSW chapter for the opportunity to attend the conference and listen to the wonderful work that is occurring in and around the state. Whether connecting better with Country by delving into an Indigenous way of life at the Hawkesbury River (Grace Karskens), Resilience planning in Sydney and its surrounds (Beck Dawson),  being moved to challenge, speak up and act on climate injustices (Erika van Schellebeck), how to re-connect with country by re-wilding (Lisa Siegel and Jane Grebert), how to connect better with students with online learning (Liana Kay), or how to make nature play more accessible and effective (Christian Eckardt). Every presentation was inspirational, exciting and personally challenging in one way or another. The most inspiring of all presentations was the amazing Costa Georgiadis – a call to gentle and persistent action on climate, as well as the best pep talk ever, suggesting that each one of us could very easily have given a key-note speech on our individual projects. Each one of us working in our own  communities to enact change in behaviour and thinking to enhance rather than detract from our surrounding and supporting environment.