Environmental Educators Are Powerful People

Environmental Educators Have The Power To Change Humanity’s Inaccurate Worldview About Nature

 

Recently, I was invited to speak at a community event on whatever topic that suited my fancy.  I chose the topic “The Fantasy Of Infinite Growth On A Finite Planet” because I have been deeply concerned about an unsustainable and rapidly growing human population that is consuming the limited supply of Nature’s resources.

Current estimates by various scholars suggest that humanity will be in deep trouble sometime between 2050 and 2100. The result will be wars over land use and the destruction of an ethic that could hold together a functioning human civilization.

 By choosing this topic for my community talk, I was giving myself the opportunity to explore two questions:

  • How did humanity get into this mess?

  • How can humanity save itself?

This essay explores these two questions.

 I have had a struggle understanding the reasons why unsustainable human population growth exists in the first place. The necessary preparation for my talk gave me the opportunity to look into this issue deeply. The first thing that became apparent was that I was dealing with a cultural issue within humanity. I discovered that the hunter-gatherer culture of the early humans was very holistic and had a strong physical and spiritual relationship with Nature.

 About 1,000 years ago, two worldviews emerged within the human population. The Oriental culture  has had a historically holistic worldview of Nature for about 1,000 years. The belief is that there is interdependence between all of Nature including human beings. This worldview is in synchrony  with the findings of modern science that has developed over the last 50 years.

 The Western culture that includes North America and Europe embraces a worldview that mankind is separate from Nature, has dominion over Nature, and can control Nature. These ideas originated about 1,000 years ago in ancient Greece and were strongly supported by the theories of early science.

 At this modern point in the history of man, China has become strongly industrialized and has somewhat waivered from its worldview of human interdependence with Nature. However, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has been emphatic on building “an ecological civilization that will benefit generations to come”. He has offered detail on his effort to reach this goal. In stark contrast, the rhetoric of United States president, Donald Trump, has been clearly against the protection of Nature and clearly in support of economic growth with little regard for its impact on Nature.

 In this essay, I wish to focus on the Western worldview about Nature and what actions might be taken to change the current course of over-consumption and over-population that has the potential of destroying the human race within this century. In his book, The Patterning Instinct,  Jeremy Lent discusses the concept of a  worldview. He says:

 We can think of our civilization’s worldview as an edifice of ideas that has arisen layer by layer over older constructions put together by generations past. Our worldview is the set of assumptions we hold about how things work: how society functions, its relationship with the natural world, what is valuable and what is possible. It often remains unquestioned and unstated but is deeply felt and underlies many of the choices we make in our lives. We form our worldview implicitly as we grow up, from family, friends, and culture, and once it’s set, we’re barely aware of it unless we’re presented with a different worldview for comparison. The unconscious origin of our worldview makes it quite inflexible. That’s fine when it’s working for us. But suppose our worldview is causing us to act collectively in ways that could undermine humanity’s future? Then it would be valuable to become more conscious of it.  If our worldview is built on shaky foundations, we need to know about it: we need to find the cracks and repair them before it’s too late.”

 

Jeremy Lent’s quote gave me some perspective  as I thought about ways that we Western humans can alter the destructive destiny that faces us. I was particularly impressed by his comment “we form our worldview implicitly as we grow up, from family, friends, and culture, and once it’s set, we’re barely aware of it”. Indeed, much of our personal worldviews are developed through a chain of people coupled with our observations.

 Add to this the fact that there are myths about Nature that have emerged from erroneous assumptions or from outdated scientific findings made at different times and places in history. These myths have been passed from one generation to the next. They have been believed and practiced so frequently that they have become an unquestioned integral part of the worldview of a large population of people.

 What this scenario implies is that there is power in chains of people passing on facts and traditions and myths. This means that, through the chain of legacy, we humans have the power to influence and correct updated and corrected stories about our environment. In doing so, a worldview can be changed to correspond with current truths.

 The Western worldview about Nature is a classic example of this idea. The core portrayal of a uniquely western mindset is mankind being set apart from Nature and being called upon called to dominate Nature. This worldview is manifested in unsustainable capital growth and overconsumption. Within the last 50 years, modern science, has proven that Nature and all of its life is highly interdependent because energy must flow within and between Her creatures in order to live. Furthermore, it has been shown that mankind cannot predict Nature’s processes with any accuracy.  The idea advanced by the current Western worldview that mankind is set apart from Nature and is called upon called to dominate Nature is blatantly false.

The need to change the Western worldview to reflect what science has taught us over the last 50 years is critical. For indeed, the current Western worldview is a core reason why mankind will be facing a deep crisis in this century. A crisis that could destroy humanity. Changing the Western worldview to one of harmony and interdependency with Nature is a seemingly impossible task. How do we motivate humanity to recognize, honor, and respect Nature’s interdependency. An interdependency that includes us ???

 There are two key centers of influence that are receptive to this revised and accurate worldview. The first group is our children and young people. More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Here lies a large population  who can be influenced and who are receptive to learning about Nature’s wonder. This large group has the power to influence the adult population. Young people are not yet culturally conditioned to a worldview where Nature is ignored. The fresh minds of young people are open to new ideas and new world views. These young minds have the potential of becoming our next generation of environmental leaders.

 The second group of influential people is environmental educators and educators in general. This very important group consists of the legacy builders of future generations. It is with this very important group that the chain of truth about Nature’s interdependencies starts and is then passed on to people under the age of 25. These young people can continue this legacy chain to younger people and possibly to older generations.

 Many people and groups are beginning to realize that building this new environmental awareness can happen only in our children and in our youth. The message that we must present to our youth :

Nothing on this earth exists solely on its own. Everything is dependent upon everything else.

Understanding this fundamental idea of interdependence in Nature is a crucial first step to effectively conserving our planet and changing humanity’s current worldview of separation from Nature.

Environmental educators empower our generations of youth through legacy building

Through the legacy created by hands-on, place-based education and guided by environmental educators, we can develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. Legacy building means empowering our youth to become environmental stewards. And through this consciousness, corrections can be made to the current Western worldview.

 

References About This Subject That Are Worth Your Extra Attention :

 

Here are some references that were used to create this essay:

 

Stepping Back From The Brink – An astonishing new field of enquiry explores the deep changes that could avert a planetary disaster

http://www.monbiot.com/2018/01/31/stepping-back-from-the-brink/

 

What Will It Take To Avoid Collapse? Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice.

https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/

 

A new history of cultural big ideas looks to the East for solace. Our planetary predicament demands the broadest and deepest perspective to guide our actions in the middle of what would otherwise be an enervating horror show.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2131994-a-new-history-of-cultural-big-ideas-looks-to-the-east-for-solace/

 

Our values will decide our destiny. Each unique culture shapes its values, and those values shape history. By the same token, the predominant values of our civilization are what will shape the future.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/our-values-will-decide-our-destiny_us_595fea6be4b085e766b5129e

 

A House on Shaky Ground: Eight Structural Flaws of the Western Worldview

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/a-house-on-shaky-ground-eight-structural-flaws-of-the-western-worldview

 

What Does China’s Ecological Civilization Mean For Humanity’s Future?

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/10/what-does-chinas-ecological-civilization-mean-humanitys-future

 

Is There A More Important Education? Solutions to our environmental dilemma rest in environmental education and behaviors that manifest our environmental understanding

http://trib.com/opinion/columns/keown-is-there-a-more-important-education/article_e28f3659-2a7b-5ef8-b889-b2fec4a6ddfd.html

 

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

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Your life depends upon Nature’s energy flow

 

If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.

                                — Rainer Maria Rilke : Love Poems To God

 

Human life, and all other life, is totally dependent upon Nature. Our arrogant modern humanity is unable to accept this dependency. However, it is a fact that Nature captures, contains, and operates the processes that provide you with the energy that you need to live.

 

Energy Is Essential To All Life On Earth

 

Nothing in our Universe happens without the existence of both energy and the pathways by which this energy flows. A destruction or hindrance of energy or its pathways, whether by man or by Nature, can bring ecological disaster.

The major source of Earth’s energy is the sun. The sun’s atomic furnace transmits its energy outward in the form of photons – a fundamental particle of light. Our earth receives some of this photon energy, filters it through our atmosphere, and makes it available to the network of living and non-living objects on the earth’s surface.

 

On Earth, the network of energy pathways begins with the leaves of green plants which receive the sun’s energy. A chemical within this leaf, called chlorophyll, receives the sun’s energy. Along with carbon dioxide from the air, chlorophyll creates a chemical called carbohydrate – a form of sugar. This carbohydrate is the warehouse that stores the energy that has been received from the sun. In this way, the sun’s energy is transformed into a form of energy that is useful to the plant and to animals that eat the plant.

 

Animals, like ourselves, then eat the plant leaves. In doing so, the animal’s body transforms the stored sun’s energy within the leaf’s sugars into a chemical compound called “ATP”. ATP stores and then releases life energy for use by an organism.  In addition to eating plants, we humans, and other meat eating creatures, receive and transform energy by eating other animals who had previously eaten plants.

 

Energy Is Both Transported And Transformed

 

There are two important processes that take place within this energy chain. First, energy is transported from the sun and then from one organism to another. Then, within each organism, energy is transformed into a useful form. So, in order to live, every plant and every animal within the entire web of life both transports and transforms energy. The energy conduits that serve to transport and transform life energy of all plants and animals is a highly complex  network that is called an “ecosystem”. The energy networks within ecosystems are sometimes called food webs.

 

The science of ecology focuses on how energy flows within ecosystems. The term ‘trophic’ refers to anything related to the flow of energy in Nature’s food webs.  In ecology, the term “trophic level” is the position that an organism occupies in a food chain. In other words, a trophic level describes what an organism eats, and who eats that organism.

 

Nature’s Energy Flow Can Change Within Ecosystems

 

A “trophic cascade” is  a change in the transportation and transformation of energy flow. This is often triggered by humans adding or removing an organism within a food web. Often, a trophic cascade results in dramatic changes in the flow of energy which alters  an ecosystem’s structure and nutrient cycling.

 

The study of trophic cascades provides living demonstrations of how changes in energy flow can result in radical changes in ecosystems. In particular, these studies can show how mankind’s uninformed actions can alter Nature’s flow of energy with possibly disastrous results.

 

The story of the wolves at Yellowstone National Park is a living demonstration of mankind’s alteration of trophic cascades which resulted in an adverse alteration of Nature’s energy flow.  There is no better example than the Yellowstone wolf. The story of the eradication of the wolf in and near Yellowstone National Park in the early 1900s, and the wonder of Nature’s recovery when the wolf was reintroduced in 1995 is an amazing demonstration of the positive impact of key predators on an ecosystem’s energy flow.

 

The story is best told through an amazing video, “Lords of Nature which is narrated by actor Peter Coyote. There is a wonderful discussion guide  in PDF format that might be of interest to educators.

 

Another amazing video is “How Wolves Change Rivers. This short video, narrated by  by  George Monbiot, provides a wonderful description of the trophic cascade  that starts with the Yellowstone wolves and ends with the alteration of the flow of rivers when wolves were eradicated. It is living evidence that mankind’s alteration of Nature’s web of life can produce unwanted and unpredictable changes to an ecosystem and its physical environment.

 

George Monbiot narrates another wonderful video,  “How Whales Change Climate. He describes how mankind has changed our earth’s energy flow by killing huge numbers of whales.

 

“When whales were at their historic populations, before their numbers were reduced, it seems that whales might have been responsible for removing tens of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Whales change the climate. The return of the great whales, if they are allowed to recover, could be seen as a benign form of geo-engineering. It could undo some of the damage we have done, both to the living systems of the sea, and to the atmosphere.”

 

Here are some other examples of trophic cascades:

  • Sea Otters – Sea otters eat urchins, which eat kelp. Otters keep the urchin population in check so that the kelp population (and its reliant ecosystem) can flourish.
  • Blue Crabs of Salt Marshes – Blue crabs eat snails. Snails can threaten a salt marsh by consuming enough marsh grass to turn the marsh into a mudflat.
  • Jaguars & Other Rainforest Predators – Similar to the wolves of Yellowstone, jaguars and other rainforest predators keep the herbivore population from growing out of control. Tree

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.