The European Forest Institute (EFI), with an office in the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, is celebrating the International Day of Forests (March 21st) by recalling the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” The relationship between forests and education is the central theme of the International Day this year.
The director of EFI, Marc Palahí, asserts that these words are today more relevant than ever, at a time when it is necessary to transform the world at a scale and rate never seen before. This unprecedented transformation is urgent because the fossil-based economy has brought the planet to a tipping point, as exemplified by climate change, the loss of biodiversity or the degradation of our natural resources. According to Palahí, education is key in the transition to a new economic paradigm ensuring a prosperous society within planetary boundaries.
Forests and sustainable forestry provide good examples of economic prosperity in harmony with nature. Forests are the largest terrestrial carbon sinks and the main terrestrial source for oxygen, water and biodiversity on the planet. Furthermore, sustainable forestry has the potential to produce a very versatile and renewable material: wood. This material can environmentally outperform fossil and non-renewable products like plastics, concrete and steel and substantially contribute to the post-fossil economic paradigm.
Education can help to reinforce the relationship between economy and ecology, nature and society in the era of digitalization and urbanization. In the opinion of EFI’s director, this requires not only the rethinking of education but also rethinking learning environments: schools and even cities. A recent study from Aarhus University in Denmark found that children growing up near vegetation were also associated with a lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood. Palahí also cites evidence suggesting that outdoor learning can not only lead to positive attitudes regarding the natural environment, but also improved interpersonal skills including communication and teamwork, as well as better academic performance.
The celebration of this edition of the International Day of Forests – focused on the link between forests and education – concludes with the words of the international expert in education, Maria Montessori: “A child, more than anyone else, is a spontaneous observer of nature.”
Text adapted from the original article published by EFI.
Marc Palahí expands on these reflections in an article published in the Planeta Futuro supplement of El País (in Spanish)