Without having yet overcome the problems that gave rise to climate change, the field of environmental education faces new challenges because of the onslaughts of this phenomenon. Growing contingents of people in many parts of the world are periodically affected by extreme hydro-meteorological phenomena, such as severe droughts in Africa and increasingly intense cyclones that affect tropical coastal areas. These environmental threats can be aggravated by decades of investment in development programs at the global and local levels that end up affecting vulnerable populations the most. Its consequences have generated synergic processes of humanitarian emergencies of unprecedented magnitude, in the form of increasing waves of temporary or permanently displaced populations, because of disasters, water and food shortages, as well as armed conflicts and social violence that demand more resources to alleviate long-standing poverty and environmental degradation. This complex situation entails colossal challenges but also new opportunities to face processes of environmental education, which require a different strategic approach to trigger processes of social resilience when communities face adversities. This, in a stable, organized way and to allow societies to learn from them, encourages changes that the societies consider necessary to reduce their risks and vulnerabilities.
Social resilience is not a state to be achieved, but a community process in continuous movement, in which various actors and social agents participate. Some of the community actions to be carried out during a social resilience capacity building process must be oriented toward mitigating physical and social vulnerability, adapting to the new conditions generated by climate change, and managing risks, among other actions that invite collective learning of lived experiences.
For instance, a case study carried out with high school students in the municipalities of La Antigua, Cotaxtla, and Tlacotalpan in the state of Veracruz (Mexico) allowed researchers to better understand the social resilience construction processes. Initially, an attempt was made to analyze the social representation of climate change in communities vulnerable to floods resulting from extreme tropical storms. Subsequently, the way in which the students perceived their risks and their vulnerability was investigated, as well as the guidelines that govern the community behavior in the face of climate events with extreme values (magnitude, intensity, duration), which tended to exceed the capacities of communities to face them appropriately. Youngsters were chosen because they are a highly influential population in the promotion of social resilience, as they are often voluntarily and spontaneously involved in situations of community emergency.
This has allowed an understanding of possible routes to undertake environmental education processes, aimed at strengthening capacities so that affected people can adapt to the changes and have strategies to reduce disaster risks in the face of specific critical events. Although the studies examined here are based on experiences in communities in the Mexican coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, the authors of this article are convinced that their findings can be useful in developing equivalent programs in communities that are similarly vulnerable.