Addressing climate change calls for multiple approaches. Nowadays there are so many messages that tell us what we should or should not do that it is often di cult to know what is right and what is wrong. The Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET) tackles climate change education through a “we practice what we teach” approach. Within this context, the complexity of climate change which can seem difficult to grasp becomes tangible through hands-on solutions.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) plays a key role by laying a foundation to better understand the natural environment, how it functions and how it supports life on Earth. But the biggest challenge for ESD is to invoke a sense of responsibility towards the environment. NaDEET calls on Namibians to become environmental citizens by re ecting on their own daily lifestyle choices and to consider alternatives that are in line with sustainability by being a working model of sustainable living.

Since 2003 over 10,000 Namibian schoolchildren, educators and community members have participated in a NaDEET Centre programme. The week-long, residential programme’s core themes of energy, water, waste and biodiversity are explored hands-on in the Namib Desert. Participants are divided into six sustainable living teams to encourage teamwork as they engage with learning new lifestyle habits. During the daily “family-style solar cooking” schoolchildren prepare their own food on parabolic solar cookers and in solar ovens. Since opening, this adds up to over 75,000 solar cooked plates of food! Practical light reflection and absorption experiments link daily needs such as cooking and eating with curriculum-based lessons. All of NaDEET Centre’s facilities follow this approach as they enable participants to live sustainably while the programme teaches the related concepts.

NaDEET Centre’s Solar Park provides electricity for all facilities and gives solutions to the challenges of sustainable energy for Namibia. All water for bathing is heated by the sun in direct solar hot water heaters to provide warm, comfortable showering. A daily water audit ensures that all participants are aware of their water use and limit consumption to what is needed. Therefore average water use at the Centre per person is only 15 litres per day! Recycling activities focus on making recycled paper fire balls from all kinds of waste paper such as egg cartons, office paper, newspapers and food packaging materials. This activity always includes lots of laughter and enjoyment by all, but it also produces a valuable source of energy. In the morning before sunrise, participants boil water for tea by using these recycled paper fire balls in home-made fuel-efficient stoves. Although this does produce a minimal amount of CO2 pollution, it is a locally appropriate solution that tackles litter, deforestation and the lack of access to sustainable energy all at the same time and that are all directly related to climate change. Through the weekly energy audit, participants calculate and compare the Centre’s Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions with other similar institutions. Thanks to NaDEET’s dedicated approach to climate-friendly cooking the Centre produces only one tenth of the CO2 compared to if it would use traditional methods of cooking. It is not the actual quantity of CO2 reduction, but the percentage of change that sends a powerful message that significant change can be achieved through small, local actions.

Effective climate change education must however go beyond the calculation of CO2 and talking about lifestyles by teaching about the Earth’s biodiversity and its dependence on a stable climate. Even in Namibia, where wide-open spaces are rampant, a disconnect has formed between humans and the natural environment. The location of NaDEET Centre, the education core of the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, is the ideal setting for participants to absorb the beauty and magic of the country’s namesake. Participants go on dune walks and investigate nocturnal desert creatures through trap-and-release activities that highlight the unique adaptations of desert biodiversity in an already harsh climate. At nighttime they share culture stories about the night sky and contemplate the day’s teachings.

Through the combination of sustainable infrastructure and equipment and the design of the programme, NaDEET Centre offers a variety of solutions to both mitigate and adapt to climate change in a country that is already faced with a harsh, fragile environment. As Namibians focus on gaining equal access to the benefits of development, not enough thought is given to the potential detrimental impact on the climate through unsustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development using the NaDEET philosophy has a leading role to play to change attitudes, habits and to learn how to adopt new technologies and luxuries, but through maintaining the wisdom of Namibia’s heritage.

NaDEET is designed to conceptually and physically maximise educational opportunities in a way few other centres do, and through rigorous self-evaluation has closed the gap between ‘teaching’ about the environment and ‘practicing’ for the environment. The success of the programme lies in participants taking this message home. As one adult community member commented, NaDEET’s lesson on living a low-carbon lifestyle has made it clear to her that sustainable living is like having her house “in order”.

About the author: Viktoria Keding is the director and co-founder of NaDEET. She has spearheaded all aspects of NaDEET including management, teaching, and the development of programmes and educational materials. Ms. Keding is the 2014 Windhoek Lager Conservation Ambassador and is one of Namibia’s Climate Change Ambassadors.