Human “Entitlement” Is An Ecological Threat

For the last 35 years, I have lived the life of a college professor and high school teacher in the beautiful city of Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico located some 250 miles due south of Tucson, Arizona along the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez. One of my greatest pleasures and privileges is being an environmental educator working with students who are in their last year of high school as they get ready for new life adventures as university students in Mexico or in the USA.

 

One of my projects is to oversee the “Green Team” where my students teach primary grade students about the flow of energy in Nature. The Green Team emphasizes that everything in our world is connected and interdependent. Through the group of 3rd grade to 8th grade students, my high school students are building their own legacy as effective stewards of Nature. The Green Team “classroom” for these young students is a beautiful beach and estuary that is part of the shoreline that defines the Sea of Cortez. The beach and the estuary is a legally protected bird sanctuary that is governed by conservation regulations that are administered both by the Mexican state of Sonora and the Republic of Mexico.

 

This idyllic location is very close to the village of San Carlos — a location that attracts both Mexican and American/Canadian (Anglo) tourists. There are two large condominium projects just outside of the boundary for the protected area. Dogs and other human pets are prohibited inside the protected area. There are four large signs in Spanish and English that prohibit dogs. Dogs are considered an ecological threat because the large group of visiting migrating birds view dogs as predators. Feeding and breeding cycles of these birds are disturbed by dogs. Some dogs also chew the legs of these birds. Also, there is a growing number of sea turtles who now lay their eggs in the protected area. Dogs (and humans) invade these nests.

 

During the times that our Green Team “school” on the beach is operating, my students are trained to approach people who illegally walk their dogs on the beach and respectfully offer some environmental education about why a dog is an ecological threat. Over 80% of the time, my students succeed in convincing the dog walker to leave the restricted area with their animal. But, the other 20% of the dog walkers start arguing because they believe that are “entitled” to be on this beach with their dog despite the signs that are posted. The usual response by the dog walker is that they have been visiting San Carlos for 15 years, live in the condominiums, and are not going to change (in other words, they are “entitled” ). Some of these condominium dwellers have organized themselves to circumvent the rules that govern the protection of the beach and the estuary. (another act of “entitlement”).

 

Recently, one condominium dweller approached my group of students. I will call her “Jane Doe”. Jane  declared her “respect” for my students then went on to explain why dog walkers are necessary to keep the beach clean. Her logic escapes me because a dog does not clean the beach. Instead, it threatens the wildlife of the area. At this point in their conversation with Jane, my students disbanded to successfully engage and turn back four other groups of dog walkers. Jane Doe then reconnected with my group of students to declare that, once they leave the beach, she and others will be illegally walking their dogs again in the restricted area.

Acts of Human “Entitlement” Damage The Environment And Disrespect Society

 

Sadly, Jane Doe and some other visitors to San Carlos commit both ecological sins and cultural sins. They  show disrespect to their host country by violating the laws of their host country,  disrespect to their host community, disrespect to my students, and disrespect to a group of knowledgeable scientists who have  created guiding regulations in order to preserve an important ecosystem. There is no respect. There is only the ecological damage caused by acts of “entitlement” by some very arrogant adult humans.

 

Entitlement is defined as the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.The “entitled” groups of the world come in packages of all sizes,  From the Jane Does on the beach at San Carlos to global corporations. These groups see themselves as deserving of privileges and special treatment that results in damage to the environment in which all life, both plants and animals, depend upon to exist.

 

The true story of Jane Doe illustrates an important point. The “entitled” groups of our world, both human adults and human organizations, have created a worldwide epidemic of entitlement that has resulted in the youth of this world inheriting  a damaged environment on our Earth that has put BOTH humanity and all of Nature at risk. The most common example is climate change where the  “entitled” are large corporations and climate deniers who believe that climate change consciousness is destructive to their economic well-being. The entitled groups hold a destructive state of mind that:

 

  • Publicly projects an erroneous attitude of entitlement,
  • Robs from future generations
  • Has no consciousness for Nature and Her creatures.
  • Fails to recognize that Nature is our home and the home of all living things.
  • Has no sense that we humans must work to preserve our home.

 

Acts of Human “Entitlement” Endanger The Future Of Our Young People


Sadly, these “entitled” people and organizations possess an environmentally destructive worldview. This means that the future of our youth is in doubt. It is our youth who must take some form of action to stop the potential environmental destruction. In the case of Jane Doe and her actions for example, the youth of San Carlos can solicit the local government agency and volunteer to help with the problem. In addition, since the citizens of Guaymas are very proud of their estuary, the students could solicit public support by writing an article for the local newspaper.

 

Fortunately, the youth of the world are beginning to rise up as they make moves to protect their future and the future of those who they love. The most famous example is the work of Greta Thunberg . I salute you Greta !!! Time Magazine has made a very wise choice for their “Person Of The Year” You are an inspration to all young people and hopefully to those adults who need to eliminate their sense of entitlement.  In addition to Greta, the Internet is ripe with many examples of the youth of the world protesting the destructive behavior of the more senior members of the world who feel “entitled” to do whatever suits them.

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 generation.

 

Please Comment

 

The purpose of this web site is to build a dialog between myself and my readers. I invite you to offer your comments, your critique, and to share your ideas with all of my readers in the comment space provided below.

 

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.

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Gratitude Is A Powerful Conservation Strategy

As an environmental educator, I feel deeply privileged to be participating in the lives of my students. My passion is strong. I tend to be like a protective parent with my young people as I experience anger over those who continue to damage our Earth’s environment and the future of my “kids”. Many of my students do not understand my anger simply because they have not experienced the negative impact of those who are causing environmental damage. Rather than explain my feelings, I choose to portray gratitude for how Nature is our home and how Nature can protect us if  we allow her to do so. By taking this positive approach, I hope to instill a defense mechanism of gratitude in my youth that will carry them into full adulthood.

 

I am writing this essay during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season when we express our thanks for many things and wish good will to all mankind. What follows is a collection of notes about gratitude that I have collected over the years.

 

Gratitude is a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for all of life.

 

Recognizing the gifts in your life is profoundly strengthening. By savoring these gifts, you add to your psychological buoyancy, which helps you maintain your balance and poise when entering rougher waters.

 

Gratitude enhances our resilience, strengthening us to face disturbing information.

 

Gratitude promotes a sense of well being. It focuses our attention on things that we feel good about. Our readiness to help others is influenced by the level of gratitude we experience. It’s about getting better at spotting what’s already there.

 

Each day, by asking ourselves, “What happened today that I’m pleased about or thankful for?” we direct  our gaze toward constructive and positive actions.

 

Gratitude As An Antidote To Consumerism

 

While gratitude leads to increased happiness and life satisfaction, materialism — placing a higher value on material possessions than on meaningful relationships — has the opposite effect.

Gratitude is about delighting in and feeling satisfied with what you’re already experiencing.

 

Gratitude pulls us out of this rat race. It shifts our focus from what’s missing to what’s there.

 

To find our power to see the hard parts clearly and respond constructively, we need to draw on resources that bring out the best in us. Gratitude does this. It’s a resource we can learn to tap into at any moment.

 

The notion that we can be completely independent or self-made denies the reality of our reliance on other people and on our natural world. Indeed, Nature is a self regulating system. Nature can operate without we humans. but humans need Nature to survive.

 

Chief Leon Shenandoah said in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1985 that  “Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our mother earth from whom all life comes.”

 

Different stories give us different purposes. In the “Business as Usual” story created by we humans, nearly everything is privatized. The parts of our world remaining outside individual or corporate ownership, such as the air or the oceans, are not seen as our responsibility. Gratitude is viewed as politeness, not necessity.

 

The Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee which means means “people who build a. house” ) is an alliance among six Native American nations who are more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Each nation has its own identity. In their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” the Haudenosaunee tell a  story in which:

 

“… our well-being depends on our natural world and gratitude keeps us to our purpose of taking care of life. When we forget this, the larger ecology we depend on gets lost from our sight — and the world unravels.”

 

Giving Back and Giving Forward

 

A timber executive once remarked that when he looked at a tree, all he saw was a pile of money on a stump. Compare this with the Haudenosaunee view that trees should be treated with gratitude and respect. If we saw trees as allies that helped us, we would want to become allies to them. This dynamic pulls us into a cycle of regeneration, in which we take what we need to live and also give back. Because our modern industrialized culture has forgotten this principle of reciprocity, forests continue to shrink and deserts to grow. To counter this unraveling, we humans need to develop an ecological intelligence that recognizes how our personal well-being depends on the well-being of the natural world. Gratitude plays an important role in developing this positive consciousness.

 

Thank That Which Gives You Life

 

The nth time that you see a tree or plant, take a moment to express thanks. With each breath you take in, experience gratitude for the oxygen that would simply not be there save for the magnificent work plants have done in transforming our atmosphere and making it breathable. As you look at all the greenery, bear in mind also that plants, by absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing the greenhouse effect, have saved our world from becoming dangerously overheated. Without plants and all they do for us, we would not be alive today. Consider how you would like to express your thanks.

 

Giving To The Future

 

Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. This point of view establishes a positive legacy for our young people who will follow us. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation.

 

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 generations.

Please Comment

 

The purpose of this web site is to build a dialog between myself and my readers. I invite you to offer your comments, your critique, and to share your ideas with all of my readers in the comment space provided below.

 

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 also see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

Our Youth Must Live Nature’s Story

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

This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators, their students, 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

The purpose of this web site is to build a dialog between myself and my readers. I invite you to offer your comments, your critique, and to share your ideas with all of my readers in the comment space provided below.

 

Interbeing – No Man Is An Island

 

No man is an island. Instead, his “interbeing” is shared with the plants and animals he eats, the people who make his clothes and food, the people who populate his home, country and the very world he perceives, the insects that pollinate the trees that yield his fruit, shade him from the sun, and provide lumber or his house.”                                                                                                     Buddhist Monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh

There is something about the world “interbeing” that tugs at my soul leaving a joyous and very comfortable feeling. In one word, “Interbeing”  describes all of the processes that drive our planet because it describes the processes of inter-dependence and co-existence among all things. Without interbeing, Nature would fail to function. In human terms, interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on all other people and objects. Interbeing is the process that describes Nature as a living system as well as a well-functioning human society.

One of my favorite environmental writers is Dr. Scott Sampson who is a  dinosaur paleontologist, science communicator, and author of the book  How To Raise A Wild Child. In a 2011 essay at edge.org, Scott does a great job of describing the absurd mindset of a very large group of human adults over the age of 25.

Arguably the most cherished and deeply ingrained notion in the Western mindset is the separateness of our skin-encapsulated selves — the belief that we can be likened to isolated, static machines. Having externalized the world beyond our bodies, we are consumed with thoughts of furthering our own ends and protecting ourselves. Yet this deeply rooted notion of isolation is illusory, as evidenced by our constant exchange of matter and energy with the “outside” world. At what point did your last breath of air, sip of water, or bite of food cease to be part of the outside world and become you? Precisely when did your exhalations and wastes cease being you? Our skin is as much permeable membrane as barrier, so much so that, like a whirlpool, it is difficult to discern where “you” end and the remainder of the world begins. Energized by sunlight, life converts inanimate rock into nutrients, which then pass through plants, herbivores, and carnivores before being decomposed and returned to the inanimate Earth, beginning the cycle anew. Our internal metabolisms are intimately interwoven with this Earthly metabolism; one result is the replacement of every atom in our bodies every seven years or so.”

The idea that we humans are separate from Nature and can control Nature is blatantly false. The truth is that we humans are totally dependent on Nature and each other in order to live. Like every other creature on Earth, we are in a state of “interbeing” — this highly interconnected state of dependency on Nature. We humans must embrace the fact that we are not outside or above Nature, but fully enmeshed within it!!! As a result, every act that we do can affect everything else. But most of the time we have no idea what the consequence of that act might be. WHY?? Because we have no way of predicting what Nature will do.

The tragedy is that we adults are blindly consuming and abusing Nature at a rate that destroys or alters Nature’s ecosystems in addition to leaving little or nothing for our children, our grandchildren, future generations, and life in general.

Scott Sampson goes on to then pose the question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” His response to his question is that humanity “would greatly benefit by embracing and practicing the concept of interbeing”.

The idea of interbeing comes from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who says:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in a sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.”

‘Interbeing’   is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have a paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. . . . ‘To be’ is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

We must learn to see ourselves not as isolated but as permeable and interwoven — selves within larger selves, including the species self (humanity) and the biospheric self (life). The interbeing perspective encourages us to view other life forms as fellow travelers in the current of this ancient river. On a still more profound level, it enables us to envision ourselves and other organisms not as static “things” at all, but as processes deeply and inextricably embedded in the background flow.

Interbeing, an expression of ancient wisdom backed by science, can help us comprehend this radical ecology, fostering a much-needed transformation in mindset.”

The solution to climate change problems, human over-population, and over-consumption rests with those humans who have embraced a consciousness for the “interbeing” of everything on our Earth. When our central organizing priority becomes the interbeing of all life, we then experience the recovery of our world. When a person is gifted with a consciousness of interbeing and acts upon an ecosystem in some way, that action is always accompanied by the question:

If I do this here, what might happen over there? 

Here is a famous example. If I kill all the wolves at Yellowstone  National Park, what will happen to the ecosystem where those wolves lived? (Hint: Look at the video “Lords of Nature).  The killing of all the wolves at Yellowstone in the early 1900s by ranchers and hunters resulted in major, unexpected changes in the Yellowstone ecosystem. In the later 1900s, scientists recognized the negative ecological impact of the wolf killings and wolf reintroduction began. This recovery effort demonstrated the power of interbeing. This is a video worth watching !!!

It is a sad fact that the development of consciousness for interbeing will not come from the current generations of human adults who are separated from Nature, are focused on near term financial “growth”, and who choose not to consider the welfare of Earth’s creatures or the well-being of future human generations. This group of adult humans has left a mess for future human generations.

However, in all good stories, there are heroes that come to the rescue. These heroes are environmental educators, other specialists in education, scientists, college students, and those other folks who are angry about what is going on. What is essential for the long-term survival of the human race is a strong sense of interbeing with Earth and all life on Earth. Interbeing exists as a profoundly important tool in the arsenal of those who, through education, direct action, or example, will help define a new and positive future for all life on earth.

For Your Further Consideration

Video:  The Story of Interbeing   (8:44 minutes) Charles Eisenstein

In this video on interbeing, Charles Eisenstein explains how the real power we have to create change comes from alignment with the web of being.

Video: If We Don’t Protect Nature We Can’t Protect Ourselves  (5:34 minutes) Harrison Ford

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of eco literate humans 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 – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a living Mother Earth on to humanity. Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become conscious in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Nature’s Stewards”. ‎ The book offers educational methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature. To download this book, follow the instructions when you click the “Empowering Nature’s Stewards ” menu item from the menu list. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

 

Please Comment  Here

 

A Reunion : Bringing Humans Back To Nature

 

We older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations. 

While thoroughly enjoying my senior years, I have experienced a profound internal struggle as I try to understand why we older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations.

As a scientist and conservationist, I see this process of “Nature denial” taking place. I see the everyday activities of ordinary people impairing important ecosystems with activities as simple as dog walking in legally restricted or prohibited areas where dogs have a negative impact on important ecosystems. Warning signs created by knowledgeable ecologists are completely ignored by some members of the adult public. When a dog walker is approached by a smiling and polite steward of Nature who is also a member of the local community, tension ensues. In many cases, the dog walker continues on with the dog without leaving the area. No amount of courteous and compassionate dialog will sway the dog walker because he or she believes that the dog has a “right” to be there.  Where I live, this interchange happens often.

This kind of thing is happening by seemingly responsible adults at all levels, from walking dogs to climate  denial. One does not have to dig very deep to discover that the human world is facing some major environmental crises unless some real changes take place in humanity’s worldviews about Nature. I feel this very deeply because my current group of students, and their offspring,  will be the first generation to experience some pretty awful things as they reach middle age. I feel for this generation of young people, aged 25 years and younger, as I face them in the classroom every week. I accept my share of the responsibility because I am part of their problem.

Thinking that there is an infinite supply of goods available to us in our garden of Eden, the members of my generation have fueled over-consumption that has resulted in straining the finite resources of Earth. We have seen ourselves as separate from Nature instead of being dependent upon Her. We have erroneously believed that our  technology can control Nature and will offer miracles that will prevent the bad things from happening.. And, we adults have failed to see that the relationships and interactions between things are far more important than the things themselves. We have failed to realize that we humans need Nature but that Nature does not need us.

Inside of me, I find myself silently dealing with a growing anger for some people’s  total disregard for the environment upon which all of our lives depend. I find myself trying to understand what is going on. But, most of all, I seek solutions to offer my students. I see brightness in a group of adult heroes who are positive exceptions within my generation. These folks are environmental educators, thought leaders, and scientists. These people are bringing the truth of the near term future to our young people and offering solutions.

My discomfort has driven me to do a lot of reading as I seek the perspectives of some great thought leaders of our time. I have come to realize that the climate change problem and the dog walking problem are the same problem, They both call for the same solution. Among many, I am particularly grateful for the persuasive thinking of thought integrator Jeremy Lent, environmental and political activist George Monbiot, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, speaker and writer on themes of human cultural evolution Charles Eisenstein, environmental educator David W. Orr, and the father of modern systems thinking Fritjof Capra. At the end of this essay, I offer online references for each of these thinkers.

The one basic idea expressed by every one of these people is that of a misguided and misinformed human culture that has driven us to a point in our Earth’s history where we all feel separated from Nature. We feel separated from our very source of life. If we can understand that actions by humans are motivated by separation, we may have a chance at helping our youth forge a new pathway to both survival and happiness. For, it is through our youth that we humans have a chance of saving our race.

ClimateHealers  describes this story of separation:

This story of separation is the core story that is truly failing us. With the technological strides we have made in the last two centuries, most of us live in concrete jungles with little to no exposure to the terrestrial biodiversity on Earth. Other than our pets, we rarely meet any other animal species in our daily lives except in zoos and circuses or packaged as meat in supermarkets.”

Some people have concluded that we are separated from Creation in an unconscious enactment of the Old Testament story. In Genesis 1: 26 of the Bible (KJV), we are told that humans have dominion over the Earth:

Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics, says:

In civilization, what you are is a discrete, separate individual, among other individuals, in an external universe that is separate from you. In religion, you are  a soul encased in flesh. In psychology, you are a mind encased in flesh. In biology, you are the expression of DNA serving to maximize your reproductive  self-interest and greed. And that conception of self has basically poisoned our planet, because we treat the planet as if it were an other. That is, not only are we separated from Creation, but we are separated from each other. While climate change is a symptom of  the fever that our Earth has contracted, the underlying disease is the disconnection from Creation that plagues human societies throughout the Earth.

While this story of our separation justifies and drives many of our daily actions, it is in fact a story of human exceptionalism, the idea that we are somehow different from and better than other species. It is based on the false notion that while other species all have to live in harmony with Nature, we are somehow exempt from that requirement since we can fashion our own environment.

This notion is patently false. The cascading environmental crises are signals from Nature that there are no such exceptions in the family of Life. We have no choice but to live in harmony with Nature because we are a part of Nature.

This story of separation is closely aligned with ‘speciesism’, which is discrimination and exploitation on the basis of species identity. It is due to speciesism that we consider the murder of humans to be wrong, but the hunting of other animals to be sport, concentration camps to be evil, but slaughterhouses to be humane, jails to be avoided, but zoos to be toured.”

 

We are entering a story of Reunion

 

Throughout all of this human created chaos,  Charles Eisenstein sees hope. He says that:

Individually and collectively, we are on a journey from a story of Separation to a new yet ancient story of Reunion: ecology, interdependence, and interbeing.”

Indeed Eisenstein’s words define the pathway of this Reunion which is the solution to the climate problem, the dog problem, and other human created environmental problems.  We must take the Reunion pathway if we are going to empower our youth by creating a new human consciousness of our interdependence with Nature in the minds and hearts of our current and future generations. A consciousness for interbeing among all things in Nature.

Interbeing means to inter-dependently co-exist. The meaning of interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on  all other people and objects. Not only is no man an island, but rather his interbeing is shared with the plants and animals he eats, the people who make his clothes and food, the people who populate his home, country and the very world he perceives, the insects that pollinate the trees that yield his fruit, shade him from the sun, and provide lumber for his house.

This essay begins a series of essays that describe  some of the ideas that are expressed by current thought leaders regarding the human role in resolving the current ecological crisis and bringing we humans back into a Reunion with Nature. Some of the subjects that this essay series will address include:

  • The Necessity of Our Interbeing With Nature
  • Empowering Our Youth
  • The Danger of Fundamentalism
  • The Vital Importance of Systems Thinking By Humans (Our Earth’s Living Systems)
  • The Power of Legacy

 

Here are references to each of the thought leaders who I have mentioned:

Jeremy Lent

George Monbiot

Kathleen Dean Moore

Charles Eisenstein

David W. Orr

Fritjof Capra

 

For Your Further Consideration

 

This essay is part of a series of essays that 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.

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.

A Compassionate Consciousness

The word “consciousness” is not just a philosophical, spiritual, “hippie”, or “tree hugger” idea. Consciousness means being aware of something.

“Connections”, “interconnectivity”, “interrelationships”, “links”, and interdependence are all words that describe Nature and life. The idea of everything being connected in Nature is essential because life is defined by the energy that is transported between all living creatures and transformed into useful forms within all living creatures. By understanding the simple idea that everything is interconnected, we also understand why Nature is so complex.

We now understand that the origin of everything in the Universe begins with the atoms created by the stars. When we look at the night sky, we see our ancestors. From these relatively simple beginnings, our world of Nature has evolved into highly complex interdependent systems such as the bodies of all living creatures, the organization of ecosystems, and the flow, distribution, and transformation of our sun’s energy. In fact our Universe, as we know it, could not exist without everything being connected and interdependent in some way.

A consciousness about interdependence in Nature is essential to the survival of humanity on this earth. If we fail to understand interdependence and how we depend upon other creatures of our Earth, we are unable to define how we humans are able to thrive in Nature. If we fail to be compassionate and conscious about how any of our actions might affect other creatures, we might end up hurting ourselves. This compassionate consciousness requires the humility of stewardship instead of the prevalent arrogant attitude of many humans (and government agencies) who wish to control and manage Nature without understanding the consequences of their actions.

The secret to resolving our environmental crises is to develop a consciousness for the idea of Nature’s interdependent connections. through our young people. Young people have fresh minds. They are unhampered by the biases we develop as we get older. And, they learn and associate through awe and wonder. Many environmental organizations are beginning to realize that sustainability education within our schools is a powerful means to correct the ecological mistakes of the past. Instead of offering the common doomsday approach, environmental education uses stewardship to build a basic consciousness toward interdependency in Nature that will serve as a foundation for sound ecological decisions in the future.

Climate Change Is A Moral Issue

Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children”

— North American Proverb

I am privileged to be mentoring an environmental education program at a local high school. As I began preparing for another school year, five of my new students approached me and asked that I focus some of my classes on issues involving climate change. I was overwhelmed with delight by this spontaneous and unsolicited request from our youth. I regarded it as a precious responsibility that I must develop with great care.

As I focused on how I might describe the reality of climate change to my students, I knew I had to think about two things:

  • We adults have left a horrible ecological mess for our young people to clean up.
  • Without much positive guidance from we adults, we have left our young people to define how to take action to clean up the mess.

It would be easy for me to write a few lectures about human induced climate change impact on our planet. After all, there are large collections of online information and books available for that task. But, the real problem with human induced climate change is not the technical facts. The real problem rests with the reasons for decisions that we adults have made. Our youth cannot find viable solutions to the climate change issue until they first understand the erroneous worldview of the adults who shaped the problem in the first place. For, in understanding the adult worldview, our youth have the potential of forming new moral guidelines that will reverse the current deadly trends.

Why did we humans allow this mess to happen in the first place? What factors drove us to choose the  directions that we decided to take?

Author Jeremy Lent suggests that humans have been trapped in an erroneous worldview about Nature for a long time.  He says:

“Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. It’s those culturally derived values that have shaped history.

The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’ which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age.., many of which we accept implicitly even though they are based on flawed assumptions.

Continued growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is seen as the basis for economic and political success, even though GDP measures nothing more than the rate at which we are transforming Nature and human activities into the monetary economy, no matter how beneficial or harmful it may be. The world’s financial markets are based on the belief that  the global economy will keep growing indefinitely even though that is impossible on a finite planet. ‘No problem,’ we are told, since technology will always find a new solution.

These underlying flaws in our global operating system stem ultimately from a sense of human disconnection. In our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from Nature. At the deepest level, it is this sense of separation that is inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster.”

This Western world view has led mankind to the extremely flawed idea that humanity can control Nature. Indeed, the Bible gives humanity the mandate to have “dominion” over Nature.  However, the truth is that Nature is our home upon which we humans completely depend in order for our life to be sustained. Furthermore, systems science has taught us that any human impact upon Nature’s ecosystems (like human population growth, fossil fuels, agricultural emissions, and human over-consumption of our Earth’s resources) can lead to unexpected and far reaching results that cannot easily be changed. Add to all of this the human-created fallacy that our intelligence and our future technology will save us. These impacts caused by human beings are what have created the climate crisis — a crisis that may not be reversible.

The late Rachel Carson offered a powerful, message as a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science that took place around 1960.  Her message is also the answer to curing our current environmental ills about climate change by changing mankind’s incorrect and misguided current view of control over Nature to one of interdependence of all living and nonliving things in Nature. In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958 she said:

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships  is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.”

Because ecological relationships are a fundamental necessity for all forms of life, the idea of conserving Nature’s relationships becomes a moral issue. Philosopher’s like Kathleen Dean Moore look upon climate change as a moral issue. Morals are ethical guidelines that help us decide what pathway to follow when action is required. Dr. Moore says:

“Many times, the American people have created dramatic and rapid social change — the War of Independence, the emancipation of the slaves, the mobilization during World War II, the civil rights movement. In every case, while economic and political considerations were undeniably at play, the change itself was powered by widespread public affirmation of great moral principles of justice and human decency. Action on the greatest of our challenges — climate change — will require the same moral resolve. The essential questions are not what is politically feasible or what is profitable, but what is right and what is deeply, devastatingly wrong.”

Moral guidelines for climate change action are particularly important at this juncture in human history because we adults have left our young people with the huge problem of resolving the climate crisis. The current trends of political expediency and economic growth will destroy the human habitat. Our youth must create a new moral foundation based on interdependence between and within all creatures on our Earth including ourselves. It is the responsibility of environmental educators to help our youth develop a consciousness about Nature that embraces the rules by which Nature operates rather than the invented rules of previous human generations where control and predictability were prevalent erroneous concepts. Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy suggests that a “great turning is required where our consciousness must shift from valuing individualism to humbly embracing interdependence on a vast scale”.  As a minimum, this great turning must contain these moral guidelines :

  • We live in a world of nested systems. All living things are created by and are dependent upon their interdependent relationships to others and to the environment,
  • We humans are completely embedded within a more-than-human world where many other forms of Nature such as animals, plants, and landforms are at least as necessary as humans for the ongoing flourishing of the biosphere. We are most human when we are moved in a humble relationship to these things around us.
  • Nature does not need humans. But, humans need Nature. Humility is an essential quality for adapting to change. Philosopher Mary Midgley suggests that acknowledging our own littleness does not easily fit our current image of human status. While humility is not a fashionable virtue, this sense of our own inadequacy is surely something our ancestors must always have had because it is an essential element in adapting to change. If we ask how those hard-pressed ancestors managed to survive so many disasters, so many shocking changes of place, food, and climate, we can see that they certainly did not do it by having superior scientific knowledge. Nor did they have the encouragement of believing that they were exceptionally powerful. They survived by using qualities of humility that actually lie at the root of science itself—open-mindedness, versatility, realism, the willingness to learn.
  • With all of this, and above all,  we need to have a passion for Nature. We need to be in love with Nature. Love implies a close interrelationship and interdependence. Like our predecessors, we need to look upon Earth as our mother. We must be grateful to her for our very being. With this kind of love, we become capable of caring for her and for all of her creatures, including our fellow human beings. As a result, climate change issues disappear.

 

In addition to basic ethics, Kathleen Dean Moore suggests some ideas for human adaption to a changing Earth:

“As global warming forces a fundamental re-imagining of how we live on Earth, we have the chance to choose adaptive strategies that create justice and honor life, and refuse those that protect and perpetuate injustice and destruction. To that end, I offer five essentially moral questions that I believe we should ask of every plan for adaptation to climate change:

1. Does the adaptation effort take urgency or resources away from the immediate, overriding moral necessity of stopping the fossil fuel-based destabilization of the climate?

2. Does the adaptation plan impose unjustified costs on future generations?

3. Does the adaptation effort privilege the wealthy and powerful, at unjustified cost to the poor and dispossessed?

4. Does the adaptation effort protect and honor species other than human?

5. What does Earth ask of us?”

You are strongly encouraged to add your own moral guidelines in the comments space below.

Rachel Carson and Climate Change

 

Rachel Carson’s Legacy Applies To Climate Change Issues

Earth Day 2019 has just passed by as I write this essay. I came across a fine Earth Day essay on Rachel Carson at one of my favorite blog sites called “BrainPickings” . In writing about Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” on Earth Day, blogmaster Maria Popova stated:

Carson’s aim with Silent Spring was threefold — to transmute hard facts into literature that stands the test of time, to awaken a public hypnotized into docility to the perils of substances so mercilessly marketed as panaceas by chemical companies, and to challenge the government to rise to its neglected responsibility in regulating these perils. She admonished against the fragmentation, commodification, and downright erasure of truth in an era when narrow silos blind specialists to the interconnected whole and market forces sacrifice truth on the altar of revenue. When citizens protest and try to challenge those forces with incontestable evidence, they are “fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.” In a sentiment of striking resonance half a century later, Carson exhorted: “We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.” Above all, she countered the pathological short-termism of commercial interests with a sobering look at “consequences remote in time and place” as poisons permeate a delicate ecosystem in which no organism is separate from any other and no moment islanded in the river of time.”

Carson, of course, had written Silent Spring to protest the widespread use of DDT and warn of its dangers to both mankind and the environment in which humanity lives. It struck me on Earth Day – 2019 that Rachel Carson’s words could also be directed at climate change issues. In Silent Spring, if one were to remove the word “DDT” and replace it with the words “climate change”, Carson’s profound wisdom would still apply.

In the course of making her case for the harmful effects of DDT and other insecticides and weed killers, Carson skillfully defined an interdependence between various living creatures and their environment. Then she recorded man’s ignorance of these crucial connections.  Her message concerning connections in Nature is reflected in a quote by her biographer, Linda Lear.

I don’t think Rachel should be or would want to be credited with starting the environmental movement or banning pesticides. I think what she was hoping to do is raise the American consciousness about the natural world and our interconnection to it, instead of thinking we can control nature.

Carson’s powerful, message was a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science.  It is also the answer to curing our current environmental ills about climate change by changing mankind’s current view of Nature to one of interdependence from a worldview of control over Nature. In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958 she said:

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships  is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.

Rachel’s Advice To My Students

As I ready myself to say goodbye to my high school students as they leave for a new life in their colleges and universities, I always prepare myself to offer them some final advice. This year I wanted to say something about climate change challenges to our youth. But, Rachel Carson has done the job for me:

The stream of time moves forward and mankind moves with it. Your generation must come to terms with the environment. You must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.

Therein lies our hope and our destiny.

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. 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.

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.

Ecoliteracy : The Poverty of Human Insight

Human population growth is not sustainable on a planet with finite resources.

Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places“, offers his perspective:

“It is not the greed of multinational corporations with their vicious bulldozers, chain saws, and oil rigs that consume resources, but rather individuals like you and me creating these insatiable demands. The real problem is our many non-negotiable needs for fuel, transportation, our modest twelve-hundred-square-foot houses, and worse, the incessant demand for industrially grown food that requires the proliferation of strip mines, chemical companies, and the mind-boggling complexity of the energy and transportation networks. Each of us standing on the brink of our own individual crisis fuels these insatiable demands”

In addition to ignoring an exponential and unsustainable human population growth, humans have come to believe that they can predict and control Nature. With this belief comes the false idea that humans are not dependent upon anything. Sustainability guru Justin Mog says:

“It may be that we live in an age of hyper-connectivity and “big data,” but I contend that the fundamental reason why we’ve managed to construct the most highly unsustainable culture the Earth has ever seen is precisely because we have not been taught to see the connections”.

Indeed, Western humanity sees itself as separate from Nature and having dominion and control over Nature. We do not accept the idea that we are interdependent creatures who need Nature to survive. We have an arrogance about us that may destroy our race.

I live in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico where we have a community known as San Carlos. In addition to the Mexican community, San Carlos has a permanent expatriate Anglo community and a sizable group of Anglo visitors during the winter season. Our community is adjacent to a beautiful estuary, called “Estero Soldado”, which empties into the Sea of Cortez. Estuaries in the Sea of Cortez are called “nurseries of the sea” because they provide both nutrients and new life to the adjoining sea.In addition, this estuary hosts a group of migrating birds who spend the winter feeding and giving birth. The estuary is a federally protected and internationally recognized bird sanctuary. There are signs in English and Spanish prohibiting the presence of dogs. Yet, the Anglo community walks their dogs in the protected area every day. Since, due to budgetary constraints,  there is little enforcement.  The Anglo community views the presence of their dogs in the protected zone as an “entitled right”.despite environmental education programs that emphasize the ecological risk created by dogs. As a result, some birds have been injured by dogs biting at their legs. Since the birds view all dogs as predators, the bird’s feeding processes are interrupted which affects the storage of energy that is needed for their migration to the north. There are many local areas where one can walk a dog without affecting wildlife. Yet, this group of Anglos chooses to ignore the rules and walk in an environmentally protected area.

The Estero Soldado story is a classic example of mankind’s disconnection from Nature. It is a sad story of the unwillingness of many people to accept scientific findings because it results in an inconvenience. These attitudes are an ingrained part of the adult human Western worldview about Nature. Fortunately, this worldview is not generally embraced by people 25 years old and younger.

An online article entitled “Systems Biology: A systems approach to understanding the complexity of biology talks about how modern science has embraced the same idea of separation from Nature that is portrayed in the example noted above.

Scientists base their research on a principle hypothesis that complex systems can be understood by seeking out its most fundamental constituents. In other words, the complex problems are resolved by dividing them into smaller, simpler, and more tractable units. Hence, physicists search for the basic particles and forces; chemists seek to understand chemical bonds, and biologists explore DNA sequences and molecular structures focusing on a particular gene or a protein in their efforts to understand organisms. This approach of “divide and conquer” is termed “reductionism.

A biologist’s reductionist approach is a science of convenience and complacency. Complacency, however, does not imply correctness. This is best illustrated by John Godfrey Saxe’s poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”. The poem is based on a story originating from India. The story is about six blind men who want to know what an elephant is like. Each blind man describes the Elephant to something different (side=wall; tusk=spear; trunk=snake; knee=tree; ear=fan; tail=rope,) because each one assumes the whole elephant is like the part he touched (Wikisource). In a similar way, the Reductionist biologists investigate individual molecules to understand the complex life processes. Further, they extrapolate dogmas from their observations and claim that is the true account of the complex process.

In the last 50 years, the reductionist approach of analyzing individual constituents of biological systems has been successful in revealing the chemical basis of numerous living processes. It has had a profound influence and still impacts on the biological and biomedical research of today. However, due to this level of success, the holders of the reductionist point of view assume that the reductionism, by itself, is sufficient and they can be likened to a parent generation who want their children to walk the same path of success as they did. The reductionist view fails to notice that their approach does not account for the big picture of complexity and robustness of life and similarly the parents seem to be unaware that the world has changed and nothing is the same.

The reductionist thinking of biology has encompassed clinical medicine to an extent where the clinicians focus on individual parts to explain the whole. They focus on the disease rather than the state of the person contributing to the disease. They emphasize homeostasis and restore it back by correcting the deviations. They look for one risk factor-one disease because of their inability to work with multiple factors and comprehend their collective influences. They treat each disease individually assuming minimal effects on the treatment of other or additive response of the individual treatment.”

Our education system is a classic example of reductionism inappropriately applied where systems thinking is far more appropriate.

In school, many of us were taught subjects in a compartmentalized way, with history in one class, natural science in another, social studies in yet another, and so on. Yet most real-world issues, like climate change, terrorism, and water use, cross disciplines such as politics, geography, history, and biology. This approach reinforces the notion that knowledge is made up of many unrelated parts and provides little opportunity for students to see recurring patterns of behavior across subjects and disciplines. Young people and adults must be able to see such important issues as systems, elements interacting, and affecting one another.

To understand the nature of life, an organism cannot be treated similarly to machines, a mere collection of components. An organism is a complex system with dynamic relationships and interactions between the components leading to a behavioral system. In order to have a better understanding of the system-wide behavior, three factors need to be considered: (1) context – the inclusion of all components involved in a process. (2) time- to consider the changing characteristics of each component; and (3) space- to account for the topographic relationships between and among components.

As Linda Booth Sweeney explains , “the systems approach with its focus on interactions and interrelationships of the components explains the behavior of the system.”

A new systems literacy by members of the human race is essential if we are to take our place in the Earth’s community and assure our survival. This need for systems literacy is discussed further in a companion blog post.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy foir your consideration. This list will expand with time.

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays about ecoliteracy that present ideas to environmental educators, students,  and all stewards of Nature.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. The emphasis in these essays will be on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy to all life. 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 is based 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 take place outdoors 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.

Please Comment 

The purpose of my essays is to develop a dialog with my readers. You are strongly encouraged to comment on this essay in the space provided below.