11/05/2012 06:08 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

Educating for Democracy: Teaching for the Future

The devastating Hurricane Sandy should not only remind us of the fragility of civilization, which depends so much on necessities that can be easily taken from us like food, fuel and shelter. It should also remind us that if we want to avoid descending into barbarism, we have to teach young learners alternative ways of living for what might be a likely future of our planet.

Richard Muller, one of the most prominent "climate change deniers," recently admitted that he was wrong about global warming and that it was a "man-made" phenomenon. But although Muller is skeptical about a direct connection between Hurricane Sandy and the long-term phenomenon of global warming, he did advocate conservation as the most effective way of decreasing the factors that can, eventually, make the planet uninhabitable for human life.

I believe that school curricula, especially when science is being taught -- that is, when it is permitted to be taught -- should include "conservation education" as a major component in any course whether physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and even elements of mathematics. During the Presidential campaign and debates, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney argued for conservation as a way to deal with an uncertain future, with Romney presenting himself as a "coal guy" because thousands of mining jobs can be saved. What both men should have done is discuss rationally what industries can be substituted for mining so that workers won't be given the choiceless choice of feeding their children in the present of preserving the environment of their descendants in the future.

A simple example of sensible -- if temporary -- conservation was initiated by Mayor Bloomberg due to the emergency in dealing with the hurricane when he required that all personal use vehicles entering Manhattan this past week have at least three passengers. It seems to me possible, considering the sophistication of computer data banks, that commuters can be connected by geographical proximity so that getting three people together who need to go into the city at the same time and who live nearby each other could be arranged. But that means that people have to be willing to take the time and trouble to organize their lives more sensibly for the sake of the planet's well-being.

If young learners were taught from an early age that the world they live in needs their help in order to make life possible for future children, and the culture of instant gratification needs to be replaced by a more mature attitude toward their daily lives, any transitions to a less wasteful attitude toward the environment could be possible. Of course, that means that continual increase in consumption and growth need to be replaced by conservation and sustainability: and I wonder if our economic system, which, I believe, was developed by an adolescent mentality, will actually be able to recognize what it is doing to our descendants.

Hurricane Sandy is a stern cautionary tale that shows us how fragile our civilization can be in the face of powerful natural forces. But unless we educate our future generation that there are possible alternatives to our wasteful lifestyle, there will be not only nothing to waste in the future, but not even enough to consume.