“When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world.”
-Joanna Macy – Active Hope
I fear for the future of my class of high school students who are finishing their final year before going to college. We adults are leaving these fine young people a real ecological mess. Many of you who are reading this essay know the grim reality, created by humans, that will come over the next 30 years and beyond. In addition to climate change, food shortages are expected and the air that all of Earth’s creatures need to survive will become more polluted.
The culprits appear to be that part of Earth’s adult human population over 25 years of age who are separated from Nature, who believe that they can control Nature, have excessively consumed Earth’s limited resources, and have been assured by some errant conservation groups that human ingenuity and technology can fix all of the ills that we adults have created. Add to this the apparent unlimited economic and political power wielded by global corporations as their executives line the pockets of politicians with gold so that environmental regulations can be overlooked. As a result, our mother Earth becomes further hampered in Her role of providing life support for all earthly creatures including we humans.
I am very cautious when I define the adult human population over age 25 because there is a large group of people in this category who are good stewards of our Earth. These people include teachers (particularly environmental educators), scientists, and humans who embrace Nature as being the provider of life for all of Earth’s creatures.
Our Stories Define Who We Are And How We Conduct Our Lives
Charles Eisenstein, in his book “Ascent of Humanity” says:
“Like other cultures before us, we have created a mythology, a constellation of stories to explain The Way of the World. It includes the forces of nature, the forces of human nature, the story of our origins, and an account of our role and function in the universe. Like those of all cultures, our mythology is not wholly fabricated but a window on the truth. It is seen through the distorting lens of our culture’s prejudices. Our stories are mostly unconscious. A story paints a particular picture of how life is or should be and directly shapes our lives and our world, often without our even being aware of its influence.”
Another word for “story” is “worldview”. Worldview is commonly defined as a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.
Our problem is not climate change, or overconsumption, or population growth. Our problem is the story that we humans have chosen to guide us.
The story of a large part of modern humans is believing ourselves as separate from Nature, from each other, and from the community of life. This is commonly called “The Story of Separation”. This story portrays humanity as being able to control and predict Nature. The separation story leads to human behaviors of exploitation, excessive economic growth, extremes of wealth and inequality, and the misuse of Nature’s resources which result in the effects of climate change, consumerism, and overpopulation. The key is to change the stories by which we define ourselves.
Author and thought leader David Korten suggests that a more viable story for human beings is the Living Earth story where we are living beings born of a living earth itself born of a living universe. We are part of an environment where everything on Earth is interconnected and interdependent. In order for Earth’s human population survive,this pattern of interdependence must become a powerful part of our consciousness. In the Living Earth story, we believe in the power of community, and not separation. We believe that our health and well-being depend upon Nature because we are part of Nature.
The truth is that we humans are experiencing the environmental effects of the Story of Separation. We need to change our Story of Separation to the Living Earth Story. And we have some 20 or 30 years to make, implement, and practice this change before bad things really happen. How do we do this?
I have had a lot of experience talking with adults whose personal story is the Story of Separation. These folks are not going to change !!!! I respectfully submit that many of the papers that have been written about “A Great Turning” have been unable to suggest effective ways to change the worldview of many of these older adults over 25. Yet, it is these people who have caused the ecological damage that our younger adults under age 25 will have to clean up in order to survive. It will be our youth who will need to create Joanna Macy’s “Ecological Civilization”: – a civilization “... that brings people and planet into balance, nurtures innovation and creative expression, and provides to all an opportunity for material sufficiency and spiritual abundance.“
The formation of Joanna Macy’s Ecological Civilization must start with our youth in their classrooms and outdoors being led by environmental educators. It is here that the Living Earth story becomes a worldview. It is here that a consciousness for Mother Earth becomes a reality in the minds and hearts of students that will be carried beyond graduation and into adulthood. It is here that the power of influence begins its journey.
Maybe our young people will be able to influence a few of those who have the Story of Separation within their worldview. But more important, a large part of the adults over 25 at this point in time will be dead in 20 or 30 years. And the Story of Separation should die with them.
David W. Orr wrote a popular essay entitled “What Is Education For ??“
Reading the entire paper is well worth your time. But in part, he says:
“Measured against the agenda of human survival, how might we rethink education? First, all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world. To teach economics, for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or those of ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. That just happens to be dead wrong. The same is true throughout all of the curriculum.”
Our youth must be guided by the Living Earth Story
Orr’s important comment is that, done correctly, we educators can teach all students that they are part of the natural world. A curriculum that is not “compartmentalized”, and shows the relationships between everything that is taught, will help create a consciousness that “everything on Earth is interconnected and interdependent”. This is the basis for the Living Earth story.
David Korten says:
“The transition to an Ecological Civilization depends on the actions of We the People to embrace our interdependence with one another and Earth. We must change the defining stories of the mainstream culture. Every great transformational social movement begins with a conversation about a new idea that challenges and ultimately changes a prevailing cultural story. The civil rights movement changed the story on race. The environmental movement changed the story about the human relationship to nature. Our current task is to change the prevailing stories by which we understand our relationship to a living Earth,..”
It will be through our youth and our educators that we make this transition over the next 20 years.
For Your Further Consideration
Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generation.
My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.