by Dr. Hans Bertsch

Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences,

National University, 11255 N. Torrey Pines Rd.,

San Diego, CA 92037

(Mailing address: 192 Imperial Beach Blvd. #A, Imperial Beach, CA 91932, USA. email: hbertsch@nu.edu)

ABSTRACT: The group Consejo de Educación Ambiental para las Californias (CEAC) [=Environmental Education Council for the Californias, EECC] consists of individuals in environmental education (from kindergarten through university level, including governmental and public sector representatives) from the San Diego, California, region and northern Baja California, México. This presentation will discuss some of their efforts and activities in bilingual and binational environmental education. I will outline the history of the organization, its principle goals, its by-laws, and grant-giving activities to further these goals. I will also discuss language/cultural differences and our efforts to overcome these.


It is my distinct pleasure to address the Annual International Congress on Challenges to Education. The theme this year is Balancing Unity and Diversity in a Changing World. Although the official title of my talk in the program has been simply listed as "International Environmental Education," I wish to broaden the title to emphasize the international group that I will be highlighting. My talk today is about an organization with two names, but with one major emphasis, environmental education. This extremely dedicated group is named the Consejo de Educación Ambiental para las Californias (abbreviated CEAC), or in English, the Environmental Educational Council for the Californias (abbreviated EECC).


1. Birth of an Idea: This organization was born out of a mutual agreement between the San Diego EPA Border Liaison Office and the San Diego Natural History Museum. The agreement was formalized in the Environmental Education Blueprint of the Californias, which had three major tasks:

Let's explore for a few minutes how the CEAC emerged from the Blueprint of the Californias.

2. Background: The Environmental Education Blueprint of the Californias was born out of the intense desire and frustration of the people of the Tijuana/San Diego Border region to resolve serious issues of habitat loss, environmental degradation and the deteriorating quality of life of the region.

Rarely is an initiative such as this given the opportunity to influence the future of a region. Yet at times, dynamic change can occur when a catalytic event merges opportunity and preparation.

The opportunity was provided by the San Diego Border Liaison Office of the Environmental Protection Agency, and their promise to support the region in solving the issues of environmental health and quality.

The catalytic event was the energetic desire of the people to have a voice about their intense frustration and the need to take action to resolve serious environmental issues.

The preparation was evidenced by the leadership of a variety of community-based organizations: the presence of the San Diego Natural History Museum, with its 125-year history in the region and commitment to interpretation of the region through science, education and exhibits; the long-term, focused work and advocacy of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental in its pledge and dedication to the people's right to know and the well-being of Baja California; and the efforts of the New Partnerships Foundation to build a transborder community.

Preparation also included the involvement of over 80 environmental education organizations and their commitment to collaborative planning. Community-based organizations, individuals, industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations (=NGOs) were a part of this binational group which met in April and July 1998. Both countries had almost equal representation. Participants traveled from as far away as Bahía de los Angeles and Mexicali, Baja California; from México City, D.F.; and from Tucson, San Diego and Los Angeles.

3. Formation of Professional Organization to Coordinate Environmental Education Services: Under the aegis of the Environmental Education Blueprint of the Californias, these groups established a plan to create a professional organization that would implement the strategies of binational environmental education in this critical region. This environmental organization is today firmly established as the Consejo de Educación Ambiental para las Californias (i.e., the Environmental Education Council for the Californias). It can be succinctly described in the following 5 parameters:

4. Brief Chronology of Selected Accomplishments:


During the early months of 1999, 5 goals were devised for the CEAC. For each, a series of supportive objectives and strategies were also identified.

Goal 1: Develop a strong transborder network of environmental education organizations to share information, build linkages, and monitor resources.

The objectives are to be a transborder guide to environmental education through the CEAC, to provide international links with institutions of higher learning, to promote and identify research on environmental issues, and to exchange cultural information regarding environmental education.

The strategies are:

Goal 2: To strengthen the organization capacity of environmental education organizations by building skills.

The objectives are to provide consulting and technical training, and to provide community training to assist them in improving their well-being.

The strategies are:

Goal 3: Create a data base of existing environmental education resources (Spanish and English) that are available to the region.

The objectives are to develop an information system that can be easily accessed, to provide a system for the generation and transfer of ideas and programs to all sectors of society, to compile information on funding sources available for environmental education, and to evaluate environmental education programs and activities in all sectors to determine their effectiveness and their impact on the community.

The strategies are:

Goal 4: Establish environmental community centers to service the need of the community and serve as continuous learning centers.

The objectives are to promote fundamental environmental values, and to promote low-cost technology and education for the use of these technologies.

The strategies are:

Goal 5: Provide binational, collaborative, participative forums to develop environmental education solutions to regional problems.

The objectives are to review and evaluate regional environmental indicators, to monitor the region's environmental education resources, to promote fundamental environmental values, to prevent environmental problems, to promote low-cost technology and education for the use of these technologies, to create mechanisms of better environmental education tools, and to use participatory methods to ensure collaboration.

The strategies are:


1. By-Laws: The by-laws were written by the Steering Committee, and then rewritten and approved by the entire council. There are actually two sets of by-laws, one for the entire council, the other for the Steering Committee; both are in English and Spanish. The development of these by-laws engendered a significant amount of discussion, dispute, and attempts at mutual cultural understanding. Few members of the Council are bilingual; hence while working out the details, the members who are bilingual also had to serve as translators in addition to serving as members of the Council or Committee working out the basic ideas of the by-laws (simultaneous professional translation was only available at the full Council meetings). Very honestly, language barriers have been a source of difficulty in the development of this organization; I will comment on that later.

With the final approval of the by-laws, the election of the first Steering Committee, CEAC has been able to move onto other items of a substantive nature, such as developing environmental education programs and funding requests for environmental education from either side of the border.

2. Steering Committee: The Steering Committee consists of 5 members from the United States and 5 members from Mexico. They serve 2 year terms, subject only to the requirements that they participate in at least 50% of the meetings and actively support environmental education in the region. As mentioned earlier, we have tried to have representatives from the 5 major sectors of government, business, NGOs, community-based groups, and academics.

At the present time, the 5 members of the Steering Committee from the United States are:

Hans Bertsch, CEO of MarVida Enterprises and Associate Professor, National University,

Betsy Leonard, San Diego Natural History Museum,

Merle Okino O'Neill, Director of Formal Education, San Diego Natural History Museum,

Tessa Roper, Assistant Reserve Manager of the Tijuana River Estuarine Reserve, and

Rick Van Schoik, Managing Director, Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy (SDSU).

The members of the Steering Committee from México are:

Agustín Sandez, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, UABC, Mexicali, and

Alejandro Montoya, Sistema Educativo Estatal.

Please note that there are three vacancies on the Mexican portion of the Steering Committee, which are in the process of being filled.

3. Meetings: Two types of meetings are held. The entire council meets four times a year, whereas the Steering Committee meets the other months. Hence, the Steering Committee has 8 executive sessions annually, preparing for the 4 general meetings of the entire CEAC.


We have received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation of approximately $15,000 (US) to support the infrastructure of the CEAC and to supply funds for appropriate environmental educational proposals submitted to CEAC.

1. Internal Expenses for Meetings: Infrastructural expenses are primarily a reflection of the language problem. Most members are monolingual. We must pay a professional translator up to $500 per half day. Given our present resources, this can be considered prohibitively expensive, but we deem it necessary for the success of our organization. However, we have agreed to limit such translation services to full council sessions. The quarterly full council meetings have total instantaneous translation, so the agenda moves along quite smoothly. The smaller Steering Committee meetings rely upon several bilingual individuals who can translate the ideas presented.

2. Grants for Environmental Education: At the 13 July general council meeting, we announced the awarding of our first grant subsidized by the Hewlett Foundation. The amount of $1500 (US) was granted to Norma García Leos, of the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Mexicali, for her project entitled "Desierto, sociedad y estilo de vida: niveles de bienestar y educación ambiental en Mexicali, Baja California." Her project summary states: "Analizar desde la perspectiva ambiental algunos elementos e indicadores sobre los niveles de bienestar de la población de Mexicali, construcción del diagnóstico sobre la situación de los niveles de bienestar social de la población de Mexicali, describir algunos elementos del estilo de vida y los patrones de consumo, destacar algunas características naturales de la región y su relación con lo anterior, plantear algunas estrategias que la educación ambiental puede aportar para la elevación del bienestar social de la población de Mexicali apuntado al concepto de calidad de vida, y la elaboración de un video de difusión cultural y educativa sobre todo lo planteado."

Her precise, descriptive abstract obviously focuses on major issues of environmental education, with international and economic consequences.

Other grant requests have been received, and are currently under review. Most of those who have submitted requests will be asked to present a full proposal. Ideas include citywide cleanup efforts, construction of ecoparks, K-12 students planting local ecological organisms, educative slide shows, etc.


1. Difficulties: As you can see, CEAC is a fledgling organization that has had to overcome significant difficulties. These can be summarized under one word: communication.

Bilingual communication: a few of us speak both Spanish and English and can translate for the others. However this detracts from our participation in the substantive issues, so during the general session meetings we have professional translators to facilitate comprehension. There is also a basic feeling among all members that regardless of any language barrier we will work together to further our common goal of environmental education. Even knowing just a few words in another's language helps develop this collegiality and friendship. The fact that we know each other, have met several times over the past 2 years, facilitates breaking barriers of communication. There is a marvelous Mexican tradition, that when you see a friend (in our case, a fellow member of the CEAC), there is a warm abrazo. From this very real human contact, we work to overcome any linguistic barriers.

Technology: This is a very simple problem of how to contact another person. Phone lines don't work; e-mail (correo electrónico) fails, etc. Oftentimes from my University, I cannot properly receive nor send e-mail nor make phone calls to talk with a person in Mexico. Besides that, there is the exorbitant cost charged by the phone companies simply because my call crosses the border. A call to Tijuana from my house costs more than a call to the San Diego Natural History Museum, but Tijuana is geographically closer! One solution to this problem is that we have two contact sites, one in Mexico (in the offices of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental) under the guidance of Laura Durazo) and the other in the United States (in the San Diego Natural History Museum, under the guidance of Merle Okino O'Neill), where members can call and have their messages passed onto both sides of our international environmental educational organization.

2. Successes: We have a dedicated group of people on both sides of the border that are trying to advance environmental education. We have learned what people on both sides of the border are doing to further the knowledge of environmental awareness at all levels of society. We have awarded a grant for a major environmental education study in Mexicali, and have received proposals for other grants.

3. Conclusion: We hope that the binational organization of CEAC serves as a model for international environmental education. Our planet is one biosphere. Throughout the world, our problems are the same: various human cultures interacting with their specific ecosystems. Our resources and solutions are the same: people working together on one round earth to make sure life continues because we have taught environmental education at a truly international level.


I thank Merle Okino O'Neill, Mayra Aguilar, Laura Durazo, Agustin Sandez, Alejandro Montoya, Betsy Leonard, Rick Van Schoik, Margarita Barba García, Flor Mariela Leon, Martha Valdés, Elizabeth Maier, Tessa Roper, Alejandro Salazar, Cecilia Williamson, Robert Williamson, and Tom Smith. And all the members of the Consejo de Educación Ambiental para las Californias.