Do We Need an EE Law?

Legislators and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) have proposed a "draft EE (environmental education) law". Several hearings have been held on the proposed law beginning with a closed discussion held among certain scholars commissioned by the EPA on 13 September 2004. Wild at Heart has been offering suggestions throughout the process. What follows after the jump is a summary of our comments.

Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, Director Robin Winkler

A. Before discussing whether or not there is a need for an EE law, we must first tackle the following fundamental questions:

1. What is environmental education (EE)?

2. At present, what budget and other resources have been or are being stipulated by the central government and all levels of local government as being available for use in EE?

3. Which agencies in the central and local governments are presently engaged in EE, and how do they go about the task?

4. What EE activities have been or are being undertaken by non-profit organizations and what is the "value" of these activities (a value that is not necessarily reflected in the actual expenses, i.e., the value of activities by NPOs frequently far exceeds the expense.

5. What EE activities are undertaken by for-profit enterprises?

B. Is there really a need for an EE law?

1. Firstly, lets define what EE should be. I believe that there should be much more emphasis on biology, ecology and natural sciences, basically defining EE as being the promotion of a better understanding of the need and means to preserve, conserve and restore natural phenomena such as water, air, soil and humans, following the principles of promotion of diversity, waste equals food, and respecting limits.

2. Whatever definition we use (and there may be many) we then need to find out what has been spent on EE (according to the many different definitions) in recent years, what is currently budgeted and so forth. At the 17 September 2004 meeting, EPA representatives gave the impression that data in this regard has not been compiled and analyzed. How can we talk about necessary future budgets if we don't know this basic information about past and present budgets?

3. The current EE programs are actually quite effective in many instances and in many communities. They have more of a spontaneous origin and have strong ties to the needs and qualities of the community. EE should be very local and thus we should approach the idea of trying to centralize it with caution. Laws such as that being proposed tend to have a centralizing effect. (Centralization also often means marginalization.)

4. On the point of requiring enterprises to give employees one paid day off per year to do "EE" I think this would also marginalize the need for raising environmental consciousness and would in fact produce a nation of "one day believers and six day sinners". That is to say, people could feel good about "complying with the law" by doing their one day of "service to the environment" per year, while spending the other 364 days driving their cars, buying things they don't need, polluting and doing all manner of other activities that negatively impact the environment, thereby "educating people to continue the destruction by example."

5. While the idea of involving the private sector in this is a good one, I think the way to go about it is to come up with mechanisms or policies that would facilitate or enable private businesses in this regard.

6. Every environmental discussion generally includes something about the "precautionary principle", to which every phenomena is subject. The principle tells us that when confronted by a problem or a project, it is much better (in the long run) to not do anything, but just let nature take its course. The principle teaches lessons of humility, that perhaps we can't engineer everything, perhaps we can't organize everything or even figure everything out. Well, there are people who will do things in different areas, such as government, law and education, and so we should take measures to facilitate their activity, but maybe we shouldn't assume that we know the answer or objectives.

7. This "learning for learning's sake" or "doing something for its intrinsic value" I believe could apply to our situation with EE in Taiwan. Let those who would draft laws or conduct studies go ahead with their research--but for its own sake--and let's hold our judgment and not commit or actually enact anything until we are 1) very certain of what is needed and 2) have in place, in the specifications, metrics that can be used to monitor progress in the context of the needs we have identified, as well as resources to monitor the actual results against our metrics, adjust the specs and so on.

8. I mentioned at the meeting my observation after more than 20 years in Taiwan that while the old way of thinking--"you can't do anything unless there is a law that states that you can" is easily dismissed by anyone with the slightest antipathy to authoritarianism, this way of thinking seems to pop up in the most unexpected places. It may be that we need an EE law to ensure that there are budgets available, although as noted above that does not seemed to have shown so far.

C. What should the law contain?

I hope this question means "If you approve of the idea to enact an EE law…", and that there is still room to discuss the need for a law to begin with! As a general principle I suggest looking at the law as something "for reference only", that is to say it should be drafted in the spirit of facilitating the most people to participate as much as possible in EE (assuming you are able to define what that is) and should not be a set of "must dos" but rather a series of measures for the government to lay open access to resources, and to facilitate exchanges of information and experience. There are already dozens of environmental groups that conduct training courses for communities, and perhaps one of the functions of the law should be to fund as broad range of groups as possible under a totally open and transparent system. It should avoid large institutional programs.

In fact, I believe that if the questions above are addressed, the law will almost write itself, or the principles of the law will reveal themselves (or it will be found that a law is not the answer).

D. Final comments--Follow Nature and involve naturalists in the process.

As noted above, but I don't think one can emphasize this enough in any endeavor, and particularly in those concerning EE, we must have as much input as possible (or even exclusively) from naturalists: geologists, zoologists, botanists and so on. Whether it is designing criteria for, or evaluating the effectiveness of EE, naturalists should be involved at every stage. They are the ones that, at least statistically, are most likely to understand the fundamentals.

And any program should be evaluated in accordance with these standards*:(taken from the book Biomimicry)

Nature runs on sunlight

Nature uses only the energy it needs

Nature fits form to function

Nature recycles everything

Nature rewards cooperation

Nature banks on diversity

Nature demands local expertise

Nature curbs excesses from within

Nature taps the power of limits

*Taken from Biomimicry, Janine M. Benyus