What does climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature have in common??
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What does climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature have in common?? How arethese three phrases, and the ideas that they represent, related?

As a scientist who regularly explores how Nature operates within a world  where human activity is a dominant influence, I witness both productive and destructive activities by humans. To explore these activities, one must first define the three phenomena that are listed in the title of his essay.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines “climate change” as a: “Periodic modification of Earth’s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the Earth system.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “COVID-19” as: “A mild to severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus. It  is transmitted chiefly by contact with infectious material (such as respiratory droplets) or with objects or surfaces contaminated by the causative virus, and is characterized especially by fever, cough, and shortness of breath and may progress to pneumonia and respiratory failure

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “stewardship” as: “The careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

The common factor that connects climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature is the world view of human beings. Man’s worst enemy is man himself.

While COVID, ckimate change, and stewardship  represent seemingly separate phenomena and ideas, they also represent some important underlying human activities that produce the same destructive results. The most critical of these destructive results could be the elimination of the human race. But also, these three ideas carry the potential of changing how we humans preserve and live within our home, Mother Earth.

Climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature have certain characteristics in common. They are:

  • Human activity dominates our Earth.
  • These activities are driven by human world views.
  • Some of these world views could destroy the human race.

Modern science has successfully defined the physical, chemical, biological, and geographic interactions  that result in climate change within our Earth’s systems. Science has also defined the processes that create the coronovirus and how it is spread among humans. And, science has defined good stewardship as the preservation of interdependence and biodiversity among all plants and animals. All three are described by modern science as systems of energy flow.

However, what modern science fails to address is how the current worldviews of human beings negatively impact the processes that Nature requires to succeed. The coronavirus epidemic has reached huge proportions worldwide because humans have failed to follow simple rules that can inhibit or stop the epidemic. The negative impact of climate change within our earth’s environment is caused by humans who shun activities that would inhibit chemical and atmospheric interactions (like using fossil fuels). The reduction in our Earth’s oxygen supply comes from our poor stewardship of our forests. Huge swaths of forest that supply our essential oxygen are being eliminated by we humans for economic gain.

The common factor between the issues that drive the coronovirus, climate change, and poor stewardship is a destructive world view of Nature by we humans. It is difficult for me to imagine any major progress in the modification or elimination of these three phenomena within many humans without first addressing methods to change the majority human worldview from a “me” attitude to a “we” attitude where the Earth is recognized as a living system that requires a human consciousness of interdependence between all things.

As a high school teacher and marine biologist, I have experienced my share of humanity’s destructive worldview about Nature — a worldview of poor stewardship. Part of my work involves education of adults and high school students and the conservation of a internationally protected estuary in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. The rules specifically prohibit walking dogs in the protected area because the birds in this sanctuary view all dogs as predators. In addition, the annual depositing and hatching of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the dunes and the beach of the protected area is threatened by dogs.  Visitors from the USA and Canada are common most of the year. Signs that list the rules in both English and Spanish are posted in various locations. About 20% of the visitors openly ignore the signs and walk their dogs in environmentally protected areas. Some of these people actually destroy the signs at night. Due to budget constraints, there is only a  limited amount of enforcement. When these violators are approached, their attitude is one of “entitlement” where they feel that they have a right to walk their dogs despite the rules and the signs.

The village of San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, where I live, is a very popular and beautiful beach community near the much larger community of Guaymas. With the corona virus crisis in full force, rules prohibit occupying the beach and require staying at home except for certain activities. These rules also require wearing face masks when away from home for essential business are enforced to prevent the further spread of this virulent virus. Nonetheless, many people, both Mexican and Anglo, have violated these rules. Again, the attitude of “entitlement” prevails. The result is a continued spreading of the disease and the death of many people.

In my work, I have discovered that much of the refusal to follow guideline or rules comes from an innate distrust of science by many human beings. Sadly, adult humans seem to be hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview. These facts may also affect the physical comfort of some humans.. This article  describes this phenomenon and offers reasons why many adult humans choose to ignore scientific fact and defy rules posted on signs by government authorities.

“Cognitive dissonance” is a concept that was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Leon Festinger. It describes the mental conflict that occurs when current beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers:

  • People reject, explain away, or avoid the new information.
  • People persuade themselves that no conflict really exists.
  • People reconcile the differences.
  • People resort to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in their conceptions of the world and of themselves.

I have used the phrase “adult human” to classify 50% of the human race. These people are over 25 years of age. Many seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance. There seems to be a significant difference in the worldviews of these older generations and those humans who are younger than 25 years old. It is my view that the hope for humanity rests with our youth.

Many people and groups are beginning to realize that building this new environmental awareness can happen only in our children and in our youth. Young people are not yet culturally conditioned to a way of life where Nature is ignored. Young people are open to new ideas and new worldviews.  The fresh minds of young people respond to fact and learn through awe and wonder. These young minds have the potential of becoming our next generation of environmental leaders.

Energy flow conduits in Nature are much more than the food webs and energy flow that we see in Nature. It is the connections between human beings where a conscience based on knowledge and conservation awareness is passed on to other human beings. Education through legacy building is the best and most empowering conservation strategy that is available to we humans. Education builds a consciousness — a capability to make good ecological decisions by everyone. — not just scientists and administrators.

What message do we present to our youth? The message must start with the fundamental premise that nothing on this earth exists solely on its own. Everything is dependent upon everything else. Because of the vital importance of Nature’s energy flow and the conduits that transport and transform this energy,  the basic theme of any environmental education program needs to be built on the premise that everything in Nature is connected. Understanding this fundamental idea of interdependence in Nature is a crucial first step to effectively conserving our planet. 

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:

  • 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.

Please Comment

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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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