Awareness of climate change and other environmental concerns has increased in the last few decades, thanks in part to documentaries like "An Inconvenient Truth" and the popularity of Earth Day. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to increase public awareness, particularly in underdeveloped countries. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has outlined several key ways to increase awareness of environmental issues worldwide.
According to UNEP, environmental awareness campaigns are most successful when targeted to specific groups or populations. Many people don't pay much attention to environmental problems because they don't understand how the problem would affect them or their lifestyle. One reason that hybrid cars, energy-saving appliances, and solar panels have become so popular in the past few years is because of targeted awareness. Showing people how much money they could save by purchasing a hybrid or installing a solar panel has helped to "convert" people who normally wouldn't have paid much attention to environmental problems.
Environmental education is just as important in the developing world as it is in industrialized nations; however, reaching out to the people in those countries can be very difficult. Language barriers, illiteracy, and cultural differences can prevent them from learning about environmental issues, particularly in rural or tribal areas. Reaching out to tribal, religious, and community leaders can often help a government organization or non-governmental organization (NGO) educate the people on environmental issues. Community leaders can help ease communication problems and bridge the cultural divide that often stands in the way of outreach efforts.
In developed countries and urban areas, the use of print, broadcast, and Internet media can be a great way to increase education and awareness. By working with the media, government agencies and nonprofit organizations can help spread their message, either by holding press briefings, issuing printed press releases, or even setting up online databases that can be used as information centers. Information centers can be useful tools to educate both the public and journalists about environmental concerns. Many media outlets may want to increase their coverage of environmental issues, but don't know where to find accurate information. Having a central information clearinghouse that is accessible to journalists and the public can be extremely useful.
Thirty percent of the world's population is under the age of eighteen, according to UNEP, which is why educating children and young adults about environmental problems is crucial to long-term success. This will help them foster a sense of responsibility and "proactive citizenship," so that when they become adults they will make choices that help the environment rather than harm it. Many schools, however, do not currently teach their students about environmental issues. Integrating environmental education into current science classes or teaching environmental science as a separate discipline is one of the best ways to educate children and teens about environmental problems, particularly if the classes involve some sort of "hands-on" learning, like starting a garden or caring for an animal.
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