Five Ways to Develop “Ecoliteracy”


Celebrate Earth Day today by developing your “Ecoliteracy”. Here are five ways to get you started from Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow at the The Greater Good Science Center at theUniversity of California, Berkeley

1. Develop empathy for all forms of life

At a basic level, all organisms—including humans—need food, water, space, and conditions that support dynamic equilibrium to survive. By recognizing the common needs we share with all organisms, we can begin to shift our perspective from a view of humans as separate and superior to a more authentic view of humans as members of the natural world. From that perspective, we can expand our circles of empathy to consider the quality of life of other life forms, feel genuine concern about their well-being, and act on that concern

2. Embrace sustainability as a community practice

Organisms do not survive in isolation. Instead, the web of relationships within any living community determines its collective ability to survive and thrive. This essay is adapted from Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence (Jossey-Bass), which draws on the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.By learning about the wondrous ways that plants, animals, and other living things are interdependent, students are inspired to consider the role of interconnectedness within their communities and see the value in strengthening those relationships by thinking and acting cooperatively.

3. Make the invisible visible

Historically—and for some cultures still in existence today—the path between
a decision and its consequences was short and visible. If a homesteading family cleared their land of trees, for example, they might soon experience flooding, soil erosion, a lack of shade, and a huge decrease in biodiversity.

But the global economy has created blinders that shield many of us from experiencing the far-reaching implications of our actions. As we have increased our use of fossil fuels, for instance, it has been difficult (and remains difficult for many people) to believe that we are disrupting something on the magnitude of the Earth’s climate. Although some places on the planet are beginning to see evidence of climate change, most of us experience no changes. We may notice unusual weather, but daily weather is not the same as climate disruption over time.

If we strive to develop ways of living that are more life-affirming, we must find ways to make visible the things that seem invisible.

4. Anticipate unintended consequences

Many of the environmental crises that we face today are the unintended consequences of human behavior. For example, we have experienced many unintended but grave consequences of developing the technological ability to access, produce, and use fossil fuels. These new technological capacities have been largely viewed as progress for our society. Only recently has the public become aware of the downsides of our dependency on fossil fuels, such as pollution, suburban sprawl, international conflicts, and climate change.

5. Understand how nature sustains life

Ecoliterate people recognize that nature has sustained life for eons; as a result, they have turned to nature as their teacher and learned several crucial tenets. Three of those tenets are particularly imperative to ecoliterate living.

First of all, ecoliterate people have learned from nature that all living organisms are members of a complex, interconnected web of life and that those members inhabiting a particular place depend upon their interconnectedness for survival. Teachers can foster an understanding of the diverse web of relationships within a location by having students study that location as a system.

Second, ecoliterate people tend to be more aware that systems exist on various levels of scale. In nature, organisms are members of systems nested within other systems, from the micro-level to the macro-level. Each level supports the others to sustain life. When students begin to understand the intricate interplay of relation- ships that sustain an ecosystem, they can better appreciate the implications for survival that even a small disturbance may have, or the importance of strengthening relationships that help a system respond to disturbances.

Finally, ecoliterate people collectively practice a way of life that fulfills the needs of the present generation while simultaneously supporting nature’s inherent ability to sustain life into the future. They have learned from nature that members of a healthy ecosystem do not abuse the resources they need in order to survive. They have also learned from nature to take only what they need and to adjust their behavior in times of boom or bust. This requires that students learn to take a long view when making decisions about how to live.

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