Political Will And Environmental Thinking

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As a working conservation biologist and an environmental educator, I have gained enough experience to be passionately euphoric as my young students acquire a genuine consciousness for interdependence in Nature. I have also experienced the stubborn ignorance of some adult humans as they exercise their belief that they are somehow entitled to special privileges that are destructive to Nature. Usually, this group of maligning adults attempt to exercise their destructive beliefs through political will where they seek to enhance their perceived entitlement by gaining the support of other adults. This behavior is common in agriculture where farmers and ranchers solicit their governments for special privileges that are inconsistent with the welfare of Nature. I have also seen this political will take place within small groups who wish to circumvent well established and scientifically accepted environmental practices. One government-operated bird sanctuary where I have worked is now led by incompetent political appointees. The two scientists who work there must answer to the uninformed wishes of these appointees or risk the loss of their jobs.


Growing Political Crises Have Ecological Consequences

A question of who gets what, when. and how


Professor, writer, academic, and activist, David W, Orr has published a wonderful book of essays entitled ” Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect” . One of his essays, entitled “Politics”, is about the politics of environmental thinking. This essay offers a short collection of Orr’s quotes from this essay.
“Properly speaking, there is no “crisis of biological diversity” or even an “ecological crisis.” But there is a large and growing political crisis that has ecological and other consequences. The primary causes of biotic impoverishment are not ignorance or the lack of research funding. They are, on the contrary, invariably political, having to do with “who gets what, when. and how”.
“For all that we do not know, we know without question that we are rapidly unraveling ecosystems and destabilizing the biosphere with consequences that cannot not be good, which is to say that we know enough to act far more prudently, to conserve, and to restore that which through carelessness we have destroyed and are destroying. Why then do we find it so difficult to do what is merely obvious and necessary?”
“First, we have defined the problem wrongly as one of science, not one of politics. Accordingly, we have focused on the symptoms and not the causes of biotic impoverishment. The former have to do with the vital signs of the planet. The latter have to do with the distribution of wealth, land ownership, greed, the organization of power, and the conduct of the public business.I am referring to our inability to question economic growth, the distribution of wealth, capital mobility, population growth, and the scale and purposes of technology. These subjects have not yet entered the public dialogue because they are not considered realistic. But until they do, we are not likely to conserve much. “
“Second, the conservation of biological diversity is difficult because the generally anemic state of democracy here and elsewhere does not favor the conservation of much of anything…..Americans were willing to risk the lives of the young – both American and Iraqi – to ensure our access to cheap oil, while refusing to use American ingenuity to minimize our need for it.”
(Third) “We are mired in a deeper crisis that has to do with many of the core values and assumptions of the modern world. [Instead of operating in a political spectrum of manipulation and deceit and the lies of politicians we need to view  “politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them. We are losing our ability to discuss the things we have in common, including our common dependence on the biosphere. 
“We must “reconstitute the natural world as the true terrain of politics. We must draw our standards from our natural world, heedless of ridicule,  and reaffirm its denied validity. We must honor with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.”
(Fourth) “There is a “failure of scientists to communicate adequately to society. Scientists tend mostly to talk to other scientists and not often enough to the public or to its elected leaders. It is now time for scientists to speak more clearly and boldly about larger risks, as George Woodwell, Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, James Hansen, and Tom Lovejoy have done.”
“What does this have to do with education? The short answer is everything. Ecological education is not just about biology, it is equally about the deeper causes of biotic impoverishment, which have to do in one way or another with political behavior, institutions, and philosophies. phies. Conservation biology is a dialogue between science and political action. The fate of the biosphere depends on how we answer questions about:
 • the possibilities for international institutions, 
• the role and function of national governments,
• the appropriate degree of political centralization, 
• the scale of technology, 
• constraints on capital,
• the distribution of land and wealth, and 
• the future of democratic participation. “
“Anwers to these questions will grow more divisive in coming decades and pressures will mount to find short-term technical fixes to problems that are essentially political or to continue to deny the problems altogether. In addition, we need to make it easier for scientists to speak out and to become a force for public enlightenment without losing research funds or being denied tenure or promotion.”
“We need to allow risk taking and honor those willing to do so.” 
“Finally, it is time to establish national goals for ecological literacy and make these a vital part of the curriculum of public schools and colleges. By ecological literacy, I mean an understanding of both the biology of conservation and the political basis of conserving serving societies.”

For Your Further Consideration

This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:
  1. 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.
  2. 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 generations.

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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.

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