A more complex and holistic understanding of environmental issues started some thirty years ago. Due to the rigidity of the official educational system, organisations and activities outside this system have had to play the leading role in raising environmental awareness. Thanks to enthusiastic individuals (environmentalists and teachers) the first study camps, competitions and children's clubs appeared. For instance, the first children's protected nature area in Czech Republic was established 25 years ago in Prachatice, South Bohemia. These activities eventually entered the school system. Environmental education was gradually included in lessons and after school clubs, based on environmental activities, were established.
In the seventies, a series of important international conferences on environmental education (Stockholm 1972, Beograd 1975, Tbilisi 1977) increased the understanding and prestige of the field. Implementation of environmental education was usually limited, due to the lack of written materials (with the exception of a few official documents), as well as the political and economic conditions. In that period, the gap widened between conservative, ideology-dependent school education, and the more flexible and less controlled, out-of-school environmental education. New methods and tools were explored and disseminated by officially tolerated environmental NGOs, since education and nature conservation were not seen as threats to the regime.
Since the political changes in 1989, the leading role has been taken over by environmental education centres, established and supported by different types of organisations (e.g., local educational authorities, nature conservation organisations, and NGOs). In addition, some progressive steps have been taken in the official education system. For example, optional environmentally-oriented, special subjects have been introduced at both basic and secondary schools, and environmental education is offered in some teacher training schools. The political changes broke several barriers, nonetheless economic and social changes have had negative impacts on environmental education, e.g., its diminishing priority status in society and the financial status of NGOs.
The most common trick is the 'black and white' picture. Generalising and consciously withholding some information can create a sharper picture, but also a distorted one. This is particularly a danger in today's interrelated and systematic world, where the simple relation of cause and effect is transformed in the system. The environmental NGOs are often confronted with this method. The "you would like to lead us back to the cave" type of argument is effective and difficult to oppose.
Another, related method is labelling. For instance, before the democratic changes environmentalists were labelled as dangerous right-wing extremists trying to spoil the building of communist society. After the political changes, environmentalists became dangerous, left extremists trying to spoil the building of a free market economy based society. In both cases labelling has been an effective tool to discredit green NGOs.
Similar tricks make the effects of propaganda much stronger, influencing the vast majority of society. Propaganda is able to manipulate the masses, but intellectual leaders of society are usually immune to it.
Education, over propaganda, should be emphasized as the practical and moral method for raising the environmental awareness of society.
On one hand, in each society there is a leading group representing the dominating ideology, whose natural aim is to keep the status quo intact. Logically, the education promoted by the leading group is more short-term-oriented (politicians hold office for 4-5 years, according to the term of new elections ), supporting the hegemony of the official world view and strengthening the loyalty of citizens. The leading group controls the established education system (e.g., the school system and mass media), as well as its access to resources. An honest, complex approach to environmental education is not practical in the political arena due to its long-term perspective. Propaganda, which proposes simple solutions, is often much more popular.
Another group of actors can be generally described as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or citizen's groups. We have to keep in mind, that this group is much more diverse concerning approaches, methods and motivations for their involvement. This group has different ideological, religious and philosophical backgrounds and is generally supposed to act on behalf of the environment itself. The education promoted by NGOs is usually much more flexible in content and methods, as well as being contrahegemonic, long-term-oriented, and more radical in terms of approaches and standpoints. The NGOs' weakness is that they don't have the capability to institute long-term, systematic educational efforts. They are also often unprofessional in communicating with opponents and cannot propose alternative solutions when confronting the opposition.
A special group of actors are environmental experts, not only scientists, but also teachers, lawyers, journalists, and artists. They can be found on both sides of environmental debate, due to the range of their values and motives.