Looking Back, Moving Forward

Greetings! I have been trying to integrate global and environmental issues into my language classes for as long as I can remember, starting with a stint at a Chinese university in 1983-84 where I asked students to write argumentative essays for or against nuclear weapons or equal rights for men and women. This was in-between my undergraduate years at U.C Davis, California, where I graduated with honors in English (Creative Writing) (and was also the Valedictorian giving a speech titled ‘Social and Global Awareness in a Changing World’) and continuing my studies in Literature at San Francisco State University (M.A.1987, Distinguished Graduate Student of the Year). It was as I student, then, that I realized my interests in global and environmental issues actually aided my academic studies rather than detracted from them. That was the year I came to Japan on the JET programme where I continued with my attempts to introduce students to global and environmental issues in a stimulating and student-based classroom atmosphere. I followed this path for sixteen years as a university teacher with the firm belief that content-based teaching actually encourages students to develop their language skills as long as they are offered material that is related to their lives and given adequate space and guidelines for sharing their ideas in a classroom that encourages and respects individual differences. This textbook is thus the culmination of those years where I grew from a teacher who thought he was progressive but was still often preachy and judgmental when we looked at rainforests, nuclear power, dams etc., to one who hopefully learnt to guide the students into these issues in a deductive not inductive way. I do hope that these texts will assist you and your students in making your classroom a place where not only language skills are improved but where together your passion for teaching and learning about what we can do to preserve our environment is ignited as well!

Message from Chris Summerville

Do you care about the environment but have hesitated to address it in your language classes?

Dear Fellow Teachers,

The Looking Back, Moving Forward: An Environmental Course for the Next Generation series allows lower to upper intermediate students to do what most people do best; talk about themselves and their daily lives while at the same time becoming aware of the environmental impact of their lifestyle choices. Both texts, which can be used independently or to compliment each other, are organized under chapter headings such as ‘Shopping and Us’, ‘Food and Us’, ‘Health and Us’, and ‘Recreation and Us’ and it is these familiar activities that are used as the starting point for English study rather than distant and complex issues such as global warming and rainforest destruction as is found in most global issues texts.

In this sense these texts are unique in that they allow students to approach the topic of environmental issues through their own personal preferences and experiences and to constantly practice practical everyday expressions in the process. In short, the students’ lives are connected to environmental issues rather than vice versa.

Each chapter in the ‘Listening and Speaking’ text contains two listenings; the first is a dialogue that typical people may have with friends or family members which introduce some environmental actions as a matter of course. The second is an interview with a real person living in Japan whose work or interests are connected with the topic. These include Safia Minney, founder of the Japanese-based Fair Trade company, ‘People Tree’, Ken Noguchi, the famous mountain climber, Alex Kerr, author of ‘Lost Japan and ‘Dogs and Demons’, and Fukushima Mizuho, the leader of the Social Democratic Party. There are also three listenings where Japanese students from various universities speak about their environmental interests, concerns and activities.

Each chapter in the ‘Reading and Discussion’ text contains two readings connected to the topic under consideration and were all written by residents of Japan who both teach at universities and also write for various publications such as the ‘Japan Times’ and the ‘Daily Yomiuri’. Teachers who wish to use this text do not have to be environmental experts but merely interested in creating an active, student-based course where students are constantly listening and reading about topics that are directly related to their daily lives and then exchanging their ideas and opinions about them. By encouraging students to observe and share their home and school life, what they buy, the food they eat, and what they like to do in their holidays and free-time, for example, students will naturally improve their language skills and learn about their surrounding and the environment at the same time.

Finally, these texts do not seek to judge, condemn or convert the students but merely to inform them of how their lives are directly connected to environmental issues and to provide, through the lives and words of common people of all ages, some stimulating and interesting options that would help their eco-footprint to become softer as their language skills improve . . . step by step, of course!

Interview with the Author

Q: What kind of textbook are you compiling?

A: An environmental issues textbook for intermediate-level English students of university or high school age.

Q: Why are you compiling this textbook?

A: For many reasons. I feel as English is considered the ‘global language’ it is an excellent vehicle for studying about global environmental issues. I also feel that at this time in the world, and especially in high-consuming countries such as Japan, it is essential for the next generation to be more aware of the impact their lifestyles are having on our ‘life-support system’ and other species. Finally, I think that the belief an English language textbook can only teach ‘useful’ English by ignoring real issues is misguided and indeed harmful. There is no reason why a text cannot provide students with the language they will need in daily situations while at the same time helping to make them to more informed about the impact of their shopping, eating and travel habits, for example, on the environment and other cultures.

Q: To whom will this book be distributed?

A: It will be published as an ESL university text for students who are taking English classes in Listening and Discussion, Reading and Writing. I see no reason, though, why it could not be used for students of English at language schools as well as at high school.

Q: What are your aims regarding spreading environmental awareness with the publishing of this textbook?

A: To open students’ awareness to the mainly negative impact their daily lives are having on the environment and to give them the chance to consider alternatives. To assist them in seeing that all the issues are inter-connected and must be addressed in a holistic not piecemeal way.

Q: Do you feel that environmental education in Japanese schools is adequate? Why, why not?

A: I do not think it is adequate anywhere in the world, though Europe and India are trying to improve this gaping hole. I think environmental education should be placed at the centre of the school curriculum from as early as elementary school. After all, it is at the centre of our daily existence! I think there is a desperate need to take young people out into nature, on fieldtrips to dams, nuclear power plants, garbage sites, to allow them to plant trees and vegetables and to go on eco-tours and thus experience both the bright and dark sides of our environmental reality. In Japan, the situation is improving slowly, with some environmental issues being addressed in junior and senior high school, but it still has a long way to go!

Q: How will this book change that?

A: hope that this textbook will connect the students’ daily lives to the issues in a non-threatening and creative way showing that there is the possibility for positive change once we are informed of the issues. Environmental education generally tends to present issues that seem so distant from our daily lives, like global warming and the rainforests, in a rather negative and heavy way and then to try and connect them to our daily lives. I think we need to start with the ‘local’, with ‘us’, not the other way around. Also, I hope that this book will help students to feel passionate about our earth and to discover that if we feel passionate about something, we will naturally want to find the words to express our feelings in the foreign language we are studying.

Q: Are you aware of any other environmental education projects, classes, and books in Japan? If so, please let me know.

A: Well, if you mean in English, there are a large number of teachers who are addressing global and environmental issues in their classes. The newsletter, ‘Global Issues in Language Education’ is a perfect resource for knowing more about this. The JET programme also has an environmental group who are working on including these issues more in junior and senior high school English classes. The “Peace as a Global Language’ Conference that will be held this September at the Kyoto Peace Museum will provide so many workshops and presentations on this topic. There are at least 20 environmental issue English language university textbooks available. But as I mentioned before, all of them seem to mainly address the issues first and peoples’ daily lives second rather than the other way around.

How Green are YOU?

Here are fifteen questions that ask how you would act in various daily situations that you may have already experienced or may experience in the future. Choose the response that you feel is closest to how you would act in each situation. Don’t forget to remember or note down how many a, b, c, and d’s you get as you go along!!

1. Your friend leaves the tap running while cleaning his/her teeth. Do you:

a. Ignore it. If they want to waste water, that’s their business.

b. Say something like, "You forgot to turn the tap off".

c. Gently lean over and turn the tap off.

d. Tell him/her it’s wrong to waste water and give them some reasons why.

2. You are passing by an empty classroom and notice that the air-conditioning and lights have been left on. Do you:

a. Keep walking by and forget about it.

b. Tell somebody later "You know I saw the air-conditioning and lights left on in one of the classrooms. Those students in … are so wasteful!!

c. Go in and turn them off.

d. Go in, turn them off and write on the board something like, "Please turn off the lights and air-conditioning when you leave this room. You are wasting electricity!"

3. You are walking with a friend and he/she casually throws a chocolate wrapper on the ground. Do you:

a. Throw you wrapper on the ground as well.

b. Pretend not to notice.

c. Pick it up and give it to them saying something like "You dropped this".

d. Tell them off and give them a talk about how wrong it is to throw garbage around.

4. You see a documentary showing the cruel and unhygienic conditions in factory meat/chicken farms. Do you:

a. Rush to the nearest McDonalds.

b. Think "How terrible and sad" and carry on eating meat.

c. Make enquiries to make sure that the meat/chicken you eat has been humanely raised and killed.

d. Become a vegetarian and tell your friends why.

5. You see someone on the street abusing an animal. Do you:

a. Look the other way.

b. Go up to them and ask them what they are doing and why.

c. Go and look for a policeman.

d. Go up to them and physically restrain them from committing any further abuse.

6. You learn that many cosmetics and toiletries are tested on animals causing them extreme pain and suffering. Do you:

a. Think "Oh well, their only animals and I can’t make any difference".

b. Find out if your preferred brands test on animals but then if they do keep on using them because they are the ones you like.

c. Find out if your preferred brands test on animals and if they do change to brands that do not test on animals.

d. Find out all the brands that test on animals and those that do not, make a list of them and tell your friends what you found out.

7. When you go shopping do you:

a. Expect all your purchases to be loosely packed in many plastic bags so they are easy to carry and then throw the plastic bags away when you get home.

b. Take your purchases home in plastic bags but reuse the plastic bags for future shopping and for other things.

c. Take your own cloth shopping bag with you and tell the shops you don’t need plastic bags because you have your own.

d. Always use your own shopping bags and write letters to shops and local politicians asking that plastic bags be banned because they are causing so much environmental damage.

8. You notice that your friends often take more food than they can eat and just dump it out afterwards. Do you:

a. Also often take too much food and do the same since everybody else does.

b. Sometimes take too much food but feel guilty when you dump it

c. Only take as much food as you can eat and hope your friends will learn from your example.

d. Tell your friends that it is wasteful to dump food and that they should think of all the people who do not have enough to eat.

9. Your parents go everywhere by car even if it is only for a short distance and are also talking about getting a new, bigger car. Do you:

a. Agree with their decisions and suggest that they buy a second car as well.

b. Agree with their decision but suggest they buy a smaller car or hybrid car that does not use much petrol.

c. Tell them that you would rather walk, bicycle or take public transportation and invite them to join you.

d. Go around to your neighbours and get them to sign up for a car-pooling scheme.

10. You discover that one of your favourite musicians or movie stars actively supports an environmental or animal rights NGO group. Do you:

a. Think, "So what…?"

b. Think, "That’s great! Good for them!"

c. Write them a fan letter telling them how much you admire them.

d. Find out more about the NGO, join their group and tell all your friends about what they are trying to do and that your favourite musician/movie star is a supporter. 

11. We all know that paper is made from trees. When you use paper do you:

a. Just use and throw away as much paper as you want since paper is cheap.

b. Try to save paper but continue to use and throw away a lot of it.

c. Always write on both sides of the paper and save your scrap paper for taking notes.

d. Same as c. but only buy recycled paper or paper made from alternative sources, (kenaf, sugar cane), and encourage your family and friends to do the same.

12. Large hotels and tourist resorts have a huge environmental impact and usually ignore the lives of local people. They require unlimited water and energy for baths, swimming pools, golf courses, A/C, lighting and TV, and create large amounts of sewage along with food and paper waste. When you and your family travel do you:

a. Stay at these ‘fancy’ places since if you can pay for it you deserve all the luxuries you can get, no matter what the environmental and social costs.

b. Stay at these ‘fancy’ places because they are comfortable, but try to save as much energy and water and to create as little waste as you can while you are there.

c. Stay at small, locally owned hotels and guesthouses without A/C, and eat at local restaurants.

d. Stay at simple eco-lodges or camp in natural places and get around by walking or bicycle trying to talk to and learn from the local people whenever you can.

13. Your favourite piece of clothing has become a little old and now has a small hole in it. Do you:

a. Throw it away and buy a new one from a popular brand shop.

b. Get a new one but reuse the old one by making it into a rag.

c. Get a new one that is made of organic cotton and give the old one to somebody who needs it after stitching the hole.

d. Stitch the hole putting some new design on it and keep wearing it.

14. You need to buy some soap and washing powder. How do you decide which one to buy?

a. Buy the ones that you see on television that have a nice smell and colour.

b. Buy a soap which looks natural so that it is softer for your skin but still buy a well-known washing powder.

c. Buy a natural soap made without chemicals. Try to get a washing powder which doesn’t contain phosphate so it doesn’t pollute the water so much.

d. Buy a soap which is both chemical and animal test free. Get a washing powder which is only made of pure soap so that it doesn’t pollute the surroundings at all.

15. What is most important to you when you when you buy something:

a. Cost  

b. Quality  

c. Effect on the environment. 

d. Effect on the Environment and the working conditions of makers/growers.

YOUR Eco-Temperature!

Add up your score giving yourself the following points according to how you answered each question:

a: -1 point b: 0 points c: 1 point d: 2 points



-15 points〜

-5 points

Cold.  What comes around goes around. Your cold and uncaring attitude will get us all in hot water.

-4 points 〜

4 points

Mild. Staying silent when we see some harmful action is the same as agreement. And just thinking about something doesn’t help anyone. Go on…Push yourself!!

5 points 〜

10 points 

Warming up. But unless awareness is put into action, nothing will change! You’re on your way!

 11 points 〜

20 points 

Pretty HOT! You already know that change starts with the individual and are willing to ‘walk your talk’. Next step is to spread the word and get others on board!

20 points 〜

30 points 

TOTALLY COOL! You are way ahead of the pack and not afraid to be different and voice your opinion. You are the change we are all waiting for!! Lead on, Eco-Warrior!