Ecoliteracy – Video and Text Web Resources

 

Video Resources

Can A Collapse of Civilization Be Avoided?

https://youtu.be/MtaGNQqUWo0

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Biologist Predicts how Civilization Collapses Soon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw0AAsGaDg0&feature=youtu.be

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For more wonder, rewild the world – George Monbiot

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rZzHkpyPkc

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David Orr at Schumaker College : Ecoliteracy and Ecological Education

https://youtu.be/jxge4AhxlcY

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Fritjof Capra, The Systems View of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_MDRI-Q76o&list=PL943946701C4718FB

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Karen Brown – Revolutionizing K-12 Education with Sustainability in Mind | Bioneers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QE12j0qwV8

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Fritjof Capra outlines the lessons we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific approach.

“In my view, what we need today is exactly the kind of science that Leonardo da Vinci outlined 500 years ago.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__c_M1HK7aw

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A Science for Sustainable Living – Fritjof Capra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P7HEn8vIH4

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Environmental Literacy and the Four Laws of Ecology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcbtcZzpV94

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Eco literacy class at the award winning Carmel Middle School

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBmNwfjURs

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Urban/Suburban Ecoliteracy? Why now and who is teaching it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrNSXWQZzqY

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Ecoliteracy Among Students: Observations to Bring About a Brighter Future

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gwGzJEMt6I

 

CMS 6th grade Ecoliteracy students present: ECO TIPS !!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z3yBYtJXG0

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Ecoliteracy Iliterate

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx0tIwfjCB0

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Ecoliteracy in our Schools

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQeq8NNqYtQ

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Successful Early Ecoliteracy Education

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo3T7ZE6S3A

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Ecoliteracy and Conservation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8YO2TKsNXU

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Why I live a zero waste life | Lauren Singer | TEDxTeen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg&list=PLn1n3TJY9SChHRoRynE3r69mvekW_sWtK

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David Sobel – Whole Person Education

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFhvsDHqkD8

 

 

Web Page Resources

Here is the Internet resource list for the living systems blog essay .

Wikipedia Living Systems Theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_systems

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A Basic Written Description Of Living Systems Theory

http://www.isss.org/primer/asem14ep.html

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Waking Up In An Ecological Age – Molly Young Brown. An EXCELLENT summary of the history of modern systems/holistic thinking in ecology

http://mollyyoungbrown.com/essays-books-on-psychosynthesis-and-ecopsychology/essays/waking-up-ecological-age/

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Living Systems Theory  An excellent and easily readable summary of livings systems theory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

https://www.earthcitizens.net/topics/living-systems-theory/

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Why natural networks are more stable than man-made networks

http://phys.

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Scientists review worldwide rise of “network of networks”. Further indications that there is a unity of interconnectedness in Nature.

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-scientists-worldwide-network-networks.html

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Uncovering complex network structures in Nature

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-uncovering-complex-network-nature.html

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BBC production: The Web of Life : Documentary on the Interconnection of All Living Things

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u33ovPBxGNo

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5 ways ‘systems thinking’ can jumpstart action

https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/12/09/systems-thinking-climate-change-lessons-action

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Network thinking in ecology and evolution

http://www.johnboccio.com/courses/Physics120_2008/docs/proulx.pdf

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Earth’s Web of Life – A blog essay

http://www.freshvista.com/2016/our-web-of-life/

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The Web of Life:A New Understanding of Living Systems By Fritjof Capra. This is a good, short summary of his important book

http://primarygoals.com/teams/books/the-web-of-life/

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Biodiversity: The Web Of Life. A video

http://www.hrmvideo.com/catalog/biodiversity-the-web-of-life

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Celebrating The Beauty of Living Systems – Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNXINb6hGJo

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The Unity of Living Systems

http://www.watchknowlearn.org/Video.aspx?VideoID=18103&CategoryID=4840

https://www.learner.org/vod/vod_window.html?pid=1364

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http://www.thinking.net/Systems_Thinking/OverviewSTarticle.pdf

An overview of systems thinking

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http://environment-ecology.com/general-systems-theory/379-systems-thinking.html

Systems Thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing “problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices

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http://learningforsustainability.net/systems-thinking/

From Learning For Sustainability

Standing in contrast to positivist and reductionist thinking, systems thinking sets out to view systems in a holistic manner. Consistent with systems philosophy, systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that comprise the whole of the system.

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http://projourno.org/2012/06/can-systems-thinking-actually-solve-sustainability-challenges-part-1-the-diagnosis/

Can Systems Thinking Actually Solve Sustainability Challenges?

Systems thinking is a trans-disciplinary “framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots” (Peter Senge). Therefore, a systems thinker frames a problem in terms of a pattern of behavior over time, instead of focusing on particular events. Instead of microscopic, they strive for macroscopic, seeing beyond the details to the context of relationships in which they are embedded. Today, it is used by academics and practitioners alike to address sustainability challenges.

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A Teachers’ Guidebook for Applying Systems Thinking to Environmental Education Curricula for Grades 9-12

http://www.fishwildlife.org/files/ConEd-Sustainable-Tomorrow-Systems-Thinking-Guidebook.pdf

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Food Security and Sustainability: Systems thinking and environmental sustainability

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsueubsgKUA

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Introduction To Systems Thinking: A slideshare presentation

http://www.slideshare.net/Think2Impact/module-1-introduction-to-systems-thinking

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Ecological Interactions. A nice written summary.

https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/cas-biodiversity/why-is-biodiversity-important-ca/biodiversity-and-ecosystem-funct/a/ecological-interactions

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A written summary of a very interesting lecture about food webs given by Jennifer Dunne at Santa Fe Institute. She portrays a hidden order in ecosystems using the studies of ecology and network theory.

http://bit.ly/1M1xPvg

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Chief Seattle’s Web of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm2qEOzMbG4&feature=youtu.be

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The Interconnected Web Of Life: We Are One

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx4P4yu0mH0&feature=youtu.be

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Fritjof Capra, The Systems View of Life.    An outline of the new understanding of life that is now emerging at the forefront of science. It is a conception of life based on systemic thinking and some of the new concepts and mathematical techniques of complexity theory. It allows us for the first time to integrate the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_MDRI-Q76o

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The Hidden Power Laws of Ecosystems

http://nautil.us/issue/29/scaling/the-hidden-power-laws-of-ecosystems

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A comprehensive description and review of the Gaia hypothesis

http://environment-ecology.com/gaia/70-gaia-hypothesis.html

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Gaia Theory Website

http://www.gaiatheory.org/

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Trees and plants communicate and interact with each other. Sophisticated, underground, fungal networks  connect the trees and plants of an ecosystem. This symbiosis enables the purposeful sharing of resources, consequently helping the whole system of trees and plants to flourish. Here are four resources on the subject.

http://www.ecology.com/2012/10/08/trees-communicate/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8SORM4dYG8#t=164

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDkR2HIlEbc#t=79

http://fantasticfungi.com/blog/

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Do Trees Communicate With Each Other? A very interesting video on how trees inter-communicate.

http://abject.ca/do-trees-communicate/

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What is an old-growth forest?

http://www.oregonwild.org/oregon_forests/old_growth_protection/what-is-an-old-growth-forest

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From the State of Minnesota. A nice web site on old-growth forests.

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/forests_types/oldgrowth/description.html

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The Networked Beauty of Forests. A very interesting video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRSPy3ZwpBk&list=TLGluReTQZKDOzeBFU_Cck7kRVJJdqDP0f

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Biodiversity enhances ecosystem multifunctionality across trophic levels and habitats

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150424/ncomms7936/full/ncomms7936.html

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My focus on connections in Nature includes evolution.

This web page is an exciting story about the discovery of an “anatomical mix between fish and a land-living animal.”

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/04/neil-shubin-inquiring-minds-tiktaalik-creationist-nightmare

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Supporting native pollinators,.

http://runamukacres.com/2014/04/why-support-native-bees-on-your-farm/

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Feedback loops allow living organisms to maintain homeostasis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLv3SkF_Eag

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The predominance of quarter-power scaling in biology

https://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/08/bblonder/phys120/docs/savage.pdf

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Scaling : The surprising mathematics of life and civilzation

https://medium.com/sfi-30-foundations-frontiers/scaling-the-surprising-mathematics-of-life-and-civilization-49ee18640a8#.j0ov9qwsl

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Self Organization In Biology

Self–organization is a process where some form of overall order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between smaller component parts of an initially disordered system. The process of self–organization can be spontaneous, is not necessarily controlled by any agent outside of the system, and is leaderless.

Self-organized structures rely on a continuous input of energy to be maintained.  Biological systems challenge us because they consume energy, and are therefore far from thermal equilibrium. Thus classical thermodynamics, which has been so successful in developing an atomic understanding of physical and chemical properties such as temperature and pressure, does not apply to these systems. Instead of self-assembling into a lowest energy state, such as a crystal, these energy-dissipating components self-organize into highly dynamic structures, through which there us a constant flux of energy and material.

https://www.mpg.de/967113/BM08SelfOrgbasetext.pdf

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The wikipedia definition of superorganism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superorganism

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A detailed explanation of how many life systems are organized and maintained without a leader

http://www.freshvista.com/2014/natures-self-organizing-patterns/

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Bird flocks, zebra stripes, honeybee swarms: Self-organization in biological systems. A brief slide show that summarizes the famous book by Scott Camazine

http://order.ph.utexas.edu/Camazine.pdf

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http://fuchs.uti.at/wp-content/uploads/selforganization.pdf

Lecture notes on self organization that offer great clarity

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Richard Golden; Characteristics of Self-Organizing Systems. A resource for teachers 1997.

http://sciphilos.info/docs_pages/docs_Golden_sos_css.html

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Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 on 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 passing of this consciousness to future generations

Please Comment

The purpose of this website is to develop a dialog with my readers. You are strongly encouraged to offer comments in the space provided below.

Ecoliteracy – Empowering Our Youth

The challenge of environmental educators and their students, our youth,  is to build a new social order in which citizens seek to achieve the well-being of all life on Earth that is in harmony with Nature.

We, modern adults, are robbing from the future. We are leaving our children, our grandchildren, and all future human generations with an ethical and ecological mess that could spell disaster for the human race by the year 2100.  The Worldwatch Institute says:

“We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying…. We act as we do because we can get away with it; future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions. International law traditionally has been spatially oriented: many court rulings relate to the spaces we occupy and the borders we define, but few legal decisions focus on past generations, and almost none on upcoming ones.”

 

“Dissatisfaction among many people is rising as their overall well-being declines in response to population growth, the intensifying impacts of climate change and other forms of environmental damage, the rising cost of extracting “natural resources,” the growing concentration of wealth, and slowing economic growth. It is increasingly apparent that existing international and national governance systems are incapable of responding effectively to these challenges. Public faith in the development models and solutions that governments and the international community have proposed to address these challenges effectively is declining… most civil society organizations do not believe that the significant challenges of the twenty-first century can be addressed by employing the same market-oriented thinking that created them.”

“The Seventh Generation principle of the Iroquois peoples, states that any action or decision should take into account its consequences for up to seven generations to come. Judging by our current course of development, we are, as a species, incapable of preserving the ecological well-being of one or two generations down the road, let alone seven.  Fortunately, issues of inter-generational equity and governance have gained significant traction at the global level and have a growing presence in national and international texts. Several organizations, such as the World Future Council, have made it their mission to make inter-generational equity a reality. Related declarations, commissions, and policy recommendations are multiplying … At the national level, several countries have embedded future generations and inter-generational governance into their constitutions, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Germany, Kenya, Norway, and South Africa. The Norwegian constitution states that “natural resources should be managed on the basis of comprehensive long-term consideration whereby this right will be safeguarded for future generations as well.”

 

The greatest gift that we can give our own children and our world’s youth is a safe and sustainable Earth. This is not the case right now because we adults of the “me generation” are incapable of modifying our worldview that is focused on economics and consumerism. We are using up the finite resources of our planet. We are leaving nothing for future human generations. The hopes of a sustainable future for humans on earth may cease to exist by 2050 — only some 30 years away. The power to change this trend must come from our youth and from the environmental education community that guides our youth. One of the failures of the current concept of ecoliteracy is that it focuses only on the acquisition of knowledge. It fails to provide equal emphasis on the application of that knowledge to future generations.

The hope for a sustainable future for human beings is possible by empowering our youth to actively apply their ecoliteracy. That empowerment can come from the guidance of the world’s environmental educators. This essay suggests some of the options that are available.

Legacy oriented environmental education

Creating a chain of influential students or groups is an essential method for expanding sustainable environmental practices beyond place and time. An example of a legacy building that we use at the high school where I am a teacher is called the “Green Team”. The Green Team consists of senior-level high school students who are trained to provide hands-on, place-based environmental education to primary and junior high school students. There is a certain magic that takes place when my Green Team students teach younger students. Normally frisky primary and secondary students listen with great attention when the Green Team is doing the teaching and allowing everyone to touch, feel, and listen. The young students listen and respond with zeal. In doing their work, my high school students are building their legacy in hopes that, someday, the young students will become the teachers. This program works particularly well in schools that offer primary, secondary, and high school education within one organization. It is a program that also works well with cooperative programs between separate school organizations.

A Green Team teaching session consists of two parts — all taught by student-specialists.

First, the Green Team provides a 45-minute introductory talk to the young students in their classroom about interdependency in Nature as well as what to expect during the upcoming field trip. A box of specimens (plant parts, skeletons, rocks, etc), previously collected by my students, are brought into the classroom so that the young students can view, touch, taste, and smell while the talk is being given.  This session ends with instructions about safety and behavior during the field trip.

Within a week of the introductory talk, the young students will go to the local estuary for a hands-on experience.

At the estuary, the young students first play the “string game”. The string game is an activity that can be used as a demonstration and simulation of interdependency in Nature. In this simulation,  students represent plants and animals living in the habitat which is being visited. Each student has a picture of who he or she is representing in Nature. Sitting in a circle, students connect themselves to each other using a ball of string to represent the ways in which they depend on each other for their energy flow. As they make connections, the string forms a visual web of life. In the final part of the simulation game, the students will experience what happens when a connection is destroyed. Here is an excellent 8 page PDF document that describes the process.

The young students then visit the nearby mangrove forest and focus on the flow of energy from the sun, through the mangrove leaves, and on to the local food chain. Near the end of the field trip experience, the young students will review what they have learned by sitting in a circle and answering the question: “What Did You See?

Throughout this experience, the teachers and the learners are building a legacy. My Green Team teachers are passing on what they know to a group of younger students. The hope is that someday the younger students will pass on their inspired knowledge to others. The Green Team program is conducted at a local private kinder through 12th-grade school. So, there is an opportunity for younger students to become teachers when they reach high school. Furthermore, we are hoping to expand the Green Team program to other schools in the community.

Community Education By Volunteer Teachers

Another form of the legacy building can be implemented by untrained environmental teachers.  This kind of program is implemented in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico by a federal government conservation organization called CONANP.  Environmental teaching sessions have been created in advance by skilled and experienced CONANP employees and volunteers. Each teaching session has a specific theme such as wetland ecology or desert ecology. A complete and very detailed self-contained lesson plan is created in advance. In addition, a box of items from Nature is assembled. This box might contain seashells, plant parts, rocks, bones, and other natural materials. The purpose behind the box of natural things is to give a student something to touch, feel, taste, or smell while a talk is being given by an instructor.  On occasion, I have asked my environmental education students to assemble items in these boxes. This process becomes an environmental treasure hunt that is enjoyed by all.

The entire teaching kit consists of a detailed lesson plan and a box of natural items. The teacher can be a volunteer, a parent, or a high school student. Lessons can be given anywhere. On occasion, a lesson is given to a group of young students at nearby fishing villages. The idea is to create a legacy with a young student influencing the family of a fisherman.

One important role of the volunteer teacher is to recruit students in his/her programs to become volunteers. In doing so, a legacy is created.

Letting The Voices And Influence of Young and Future Generations Be Heard

One of the challenges of effective ecoliteracy is moving from stating broad ecological principles to ensuring their implementation. Our youth and their mentors have the power to make their voices effectively heard through student-created and operated environmental organizations. One example is the web site entitled “Young Professionals For Agricultural Development [https://ypard.net/ ] (YPARD) . One blog essay offered by this web site is Role of Youth for A Cleaner and Greener Environment   [  https://ypard.net/2013-june-25/role-youth-cleaner-and-greener-environment ] .

This web site facilitates online discussions, provides the opportunity for participants to publish blog essays, and describes youth success stories.What follows is some important quotes from this essay:

“Young people can play an active role in protecting and improving the environment. They can change their lifestyle and how it affects the environment. They can make their homes, schools, and youth organizations more environmentally friendly by adopting environmentally friendly practices, recycling of different materials as well as preserving resources such as water and electricity. Engaging youth in environmental protection not only creates a direct impact on changing youth behaviors and attitudes, but possibly influence their parents, relatives, and families. Youth are the backbone of the nation. They can change the future of society with their well being and courageous behavior. “

Another youth organization is Climates [https://www.weareclimates.org/] which is a student-led, international think-and-do-tank striving to research and implement innovative solutions to climate change.

“CliMates is an international youth-led think-and-do tank on climate change gathering together volunteers, both students, and young professionals.

The goal of our NGO (non-governmental organization) is to take on the climate challenge by developing and promoting innovative ideas and tools, training youth to become change-makers, and influencing decision-makers.  

We are youthful souls: crazy and innovative, sharing a collective vision for a transition towards a low carbon society by informing, empowering, and engaging youth in collaborative research, global advocacy, and grassroots mobilization.

CliMates gathers youth from all around the world who aim at facing climate challenges. Our global network represents various countries, identities, backgrounds, and cultures.

We want to stand up, shout out, be heard, and create something different through the alliance of thought and action!

CliMates’ project was born in France in 2011 and has spread all around the world with members in more than 30 countries. You can join us and/or collaborate with us from everywhere!”

Both Climates and YPARD are excellent examples of influential projects where ANY environmental education class can participate. They are also examples of what can be started by any environmental education program at any school.

If, in reading this essay, you have other examples of empowering youth to change the current deadly trends that can incapacitate the human race, please offer your comments in the section provided at the end of this essay.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 on 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 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. 

Ecoliteracy – From Knowledge To Action

 

Is Ecoliteracy All Talk And No Action?

Does the acquisition and the application of knowledge about our environment offer a solution to the ecological crisis created by humans? Or is ecoliteracy all talk and no action? As a biologist, I have encountered situations where I wonder if my knowledge can help change the worldview of humans that I have encountered. I live near an estuary that is a legally protected area. This fresh water estuary is connected to a salt water sea. The estuary is a birthplace and a nursery to many creatures that  eventually live in the open sea. The estuary is also an important waypoint for migrating birds.  And this estuary, through tidal flow, moves valuable nutrients to its connected body of salt water.

The government established a set of rules created by trained biologists and ecologists that are meant to help preserve this internationally important (RAMSAR) wetland ecosystem. These rules are posted  in various places in two languages. Tours of this estuary are offered to the public. A visitor center offers much information about this estuary. The idea behind offering ecological information in various forms is based on the premise that environmental education is a great conservation strategy. But is it?

About 80% of the visitors to this estuary either follow the posted rules or become educated and then follow the rules. The remaining 20%  refuse to follow any rules and are openly belligerent. Their reasons for not cooperating are usually centered around personal inconvenience or resentment toward education and modern science.

As a trained biologist who has actively participated with highly competent colleagues in developing ecological management plans, I become deeply disappointed to find people who openly despise ecoliteracy and resent scientists. I am left with a sense of helplessness when I find people, like climate change deniers, who refuse to participate in caring for their earthly home. Their immediate personal comfort, their economic standing,  their over-consumption and their passion for economic growth are far more important to them than caring for the environment that sustains them.

As I searched for some perspective regarding this problem, I came across a report by the Worldwatch Institute entitled State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability.  Much of this report offered me some needed perspective on the current state of ecoliteracy within our world community.

In this report, Monty Hempel, Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands, says:

“In the early 1990s, Oberlin College professor David Orr coined the term “ecological literacy” (or ecoliteracy) to describe people’s ability to understand the complex natural systems that enable and support life on Earth. It embodied the implicit assumption that if humans were more ecoliterate, then we would be more likely to respect the limits of those systems and to create communities that operate harmoniously within the natural world— the key requirement of sustainability. Colleges and universities around the world have since launched hundreds of programs that aim to raise the level of ecoliteracy among students and, to some extent, within society at large.”

“Today, this kind of ecoliteracy has disappeared in most places, and with it the fundamental sense of connection that people had with the natural world. Restoring ecoliteracy to this connective role and fortifying it with the power of science and widespread recognition of global interdependence is perhaps the greatest challenge of this century.”

If all 7.2 billion of us were to somehow be given generous access to environmental education, would it make a major difference in the measureable outcomes for climate disruption, extinction rates, global freshwater availability, and so forth ? The answer from social scientists appears to be a resounding “No!”

Ecoliteracy must look beyond the study of scientific fact. Environmental education must  find ways to engage a new and wider audience. An audience that includes the naysayers of the world who deny what modern science has discovered. These naysayers, led by the current (2018) president of the United States, must be somehow be invited to help build a sustainable future for human beings. This essay series explores what can be done to create a convincing invitation to join a sustainable future for humans on our planet.

David Orr says:

“Conventional environmental environmental wisdom in the West holds that people who are educated about ecosystems and their interactions with human social systems will follow scientific reasoning to its inevitable conclusion: protect the environment! But the climate change debate, along with public debates about many other global environmental crises (biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, etc) is confusing this conventional wisdom.”

“Among people who identify with strong individualism and who also rank human importance by power, wealth, or other factors, the concern about climate risks varies inversely with scientific knowledge. More education leads to a reduction in environmental concern.  These findings suggest that certain groups use education more to justify pre-existing worldviews than to enlighten themselves with new knowledge and ways of knowing. Many researchers conclude that this knowledge-for-justification tendency is universal and varies only by degree of application. There is a selective and self serving use of knowledge applied to maintain the status quo and to deny new knowledge. ”

This self serving use of ecological information has become obvious to me where I live. There are two condominium projects on a beach very close to the estuary protected area that I mentioned earlier in this essay. Some condominium occupants insist on illegally walking their dogs in this protected area despite the presence of sea turtle nests and the impact of the dogs on local and migrating bird life. Signs with maps are posted along this beach prohibiting dogs. However, some condominium occupants have gotten together and developed their own interpretation of the language on the signs. When confronted, a person with a dog will purposely misinterpret the meaning of a map on the sign and argue that the sign does permit dog walking.

“Never before has wealth commanded so much power or been so concentrated—even to the point of threatening civilized life. Wealth becomes unable to offer, not just a better future, but any future.

The upshot is that the public capacity to solve public problems has diminished sharply. The power of democratic governments has eroded, and the power of the private sector, banks, financial institutions, and corporations has risen.

A “crisis of crises,” exists. Each crisis is amplified by the other crises. A rapidly warming Earth occupied by 10 billion people and 193 nation-states, some armed with nuclear weapons, some clinging to ancient religious and ethnic hatreds, and still others holding fast to their economic and political advantages, threatens the survival of civilization.

Many people perceive environmental education to be deeply contaminated by values claims and frequent exaggeration. Even if free and convenient, such education will be rejected by a large percentage of the population on grounds that it undermines their ideals of personal liberty, or perhaps their ideal of unfettered market economies.

More important, learning and the knowledge that environmental education produces, leads to positive action only under very limited conditions. Knowing that change is needed is clearly not enough to motivate it in most human behavior. Individuals must have a sense of urgency and personal control over prospective outcomes and goal achievement (“ self-efficacy”) before they will commit to meaningful action or new behaviors. A major barrier to public mobilization on climate and other global environmental issues is the psychological distance involved in moving from abstract environmental data (e.g., global mean temperature) to more immediate concerns about how local impacts, such as climate disruption of drought cycles in a particular area, may affect one’s personal prosperity or family security.”

The opportunity to connect emotionally and physically with nature and wildlife has declined steadily.

“Most important, there is a kind of distancing that helps to explain the failure to promote ecoliteracy when and where it is most needed. As the boundaries of the natural world recede in the face of rapid human development, people who are disconnected from nature have less motivation to learn more about it. The consequences are especially important for children, as suggested by recent book titles, such as “Last Child in the Woods” and “Free-Range Kids”. The psychological distance separating the urbanized places where most humans reside from the shrinking remnants of natural landscape has never been greater.”

Poor ecoliteracy remains a sign of crisis in education.

“Ecoliteracy across vast segments of the public remains appallingly low. Much attention in environmental education  has been devoted to the classroom teaching of fact and the giving of exams. For the most part, we teach in indoor classrooms, not in Nature. We usually avoid endorsing social or political action because prescription in education is frowned upon, or viewed as politically partisan and fraught with abuses of social engineering. We teach students that knowledge is power, but the exercise of power (i.e., action) is usually treated as a dirty process best left to unscrupulous politicians. Not surprisingly, the effect of such preferences on ecoliteracy usually means that a student’s knowledge of, say, the carbon cycle will count for much more, educationally, than their personal efforts to reduce carbon emissions.”

The challenge for ecoliteracy in our time is to join the power of scientific fact and the joy of emotional attachment to Nature by connecting the worlds of thought, feeling, and action. 

“Developing emotional connections to the natural world— to wild places, natural beauty, native plants, wildlife, and healthy ecosystems— is at least as important for protecting the environment as breakthroughs in environmental science, policy, and management. Weaving together attachment to place with scientific knowledge about that place (and its relationships with other places) is vital for effectively managing the environmental challenges we face.”Parts  PppPPPP

An equally important goal for ecoliteracy is spreading its teachings to those who have not had the opportunity to participate in environmental education programs.

This would involve the expansion of human consciousness for Nature’s interconnected and interdependent energy flow that is essential to all life on Earth. Parts of this series of essays offer ideas for the expansion and application of ecoliteracy within the human race. In particular, the building of a consciousness that all life on Earth is interrelated and interdependent. Nothing on Earth exists in isolation. These essays include:

  • Reviewing environmental education in more detail.
  • Legacy building.
  • Empowering our youth.

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

 

For Your Further Consideration

  • 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 ecoliterate 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 Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education 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 on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • 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  Below

 

Ecoliteracy – Rethinking Environmental Education

 
If literacy is driven by the search for knowledge, ecological literacy is driven by the sense of wonder, the sheer delight of being alive in a beautiful, mysterious, bountiful world.” – David W. Orr
 
” Our greatest challenge lies in rethinking what kind of education is appropriate for a species whose standards of success threaten its ecological foundations.”  — David W. Orr

Environmental education is a process by which, under the right circumstances, ecoliteracy can be achieved. In a companion essay  [ Ecoliteracy – From Knowledge To Action], I offer a critical review of the state of ecoliteracy in modern society. This review expresses concern about the effectiveness of some environmental education programs. In particular, the concern is expressed about environmental education programs that are conducted in classroom environments instead of in Nature.  In this essay, I present the wisdom and experience of two environmental educators, David Orr and Deborah Perryman.   Near the end of the essay, I share the details of an environmental education program that I oversee.

 

We Must Teach By Connecting The Dots

 

It should come as no surprise that, despite being surrounded by an interdependent Nature, we humans think in bits and pieces and not relationships. From the day we start attending school until we graduate some 12 to 20 years later, we are embedded in an education system that operates in bits and pieces. We attend math classes where we must focus only on math. We take history classes where we must focus only on history. And we take music classes where we are taught to focus only on music. To prove that we have learned something, we are required to take separate exams in each subject and receive separate grades,

 

David W. Orr is a  popular environmental educator, environmentalist, and author.  Dr. Orr has been associated with the Center for Ecoliteracy . He says:

 

None of the major problems of our time can be understood stood in isolation. They are systemic problems – all interdependent and mutually reinforcing and they require corresponding systemic solutions. Thinking systemically means thinking in terms of relationships, patterns, and context. To use a popular phrase, it means being able to “connect the dots.

 

Linda Booth Sweeney describes the problem this way:

 

“Most classroom structures today do not encourage system literacy. While the world is becoming increasingly more complex, educators can find themselves continuing to fragment knowledge and real-world problems through compartmentalized curricula; science is taught in one class, math in another, English in another. Courses in natural science focus on the material world, while courses in the social sciences focus on the social world, and neither class acknowledges the intensive, ongoing ways in which these two worlds influence each other. When we talk to children about issues, such as climate change, terrorism, and water use, we can raise their awareness of the material and social worlds, bringing together insights from history, biology, and literature, as well as the daily newspaper. Most importantly, we can come to richer understandings by tapping into the experience and insight that children already have. “

 

Nowhere in this process do we learn about relationships between math and history and music. As a result, we never acquire a consciousness for how things are connected. All we see is the parts. We become specialists and experts in narrow pieces of knowledge. It is no wonder that our worldview about our environment eventually becomes one of separation and dominance instead of cooperation and harmony. But in Nature, everything is connected and interdependent. All of earth’s creatures, except we humans live in a world of connections and practice interdependence. 

 

A Sense Of Wonder

 

David Orr is a strong advocate for utilizing Nature as the classroom for building consciousness for Nature in the minds and hearts of the youth of our world. In 2012, he eloquently celebrated reconnecting children with the natural world with an essay entitled “A Sense of Wonder for Young Minds . Parts of that essay  are reproduced below:

 

A revolution in education is under way and it is starting in the most unlikely places.
The revolutionaries are not professional educators from famous universities, rather they are elementary school students, a growing number of intrepid teachers, and a handful of facilitators from widely diverse backgrounds. The goal of the revolution is the reconnection of young people with their own habitats and communities. The classroom is the ecology of the surrounding community, not the confining four walls of the traditional school. The pedagogy of the revolution is simply a process of organized engagement with living systems and the lives of people who live by the grace of those systems.
Perhaps “revolution” is not quite the right word, for it is more akin to a homecoming. We all have an affinity for the natural world, what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls “biophilia.” This tug toward life is strongest at an early age when we are most alert and impressionable. Before their minds have been marinated in the culture of television, consumerism, shopping malls, computers, and freeways, children can find the magic in trees, water, animals, landscapes, and their own places. Properly cultivated and validated by caring and knowledgeable adults, fascination with nature can mature into ecological literacy and eventually into more purposeful lives.
A curriculum that enables young people to discover their own homes as described here is not an add-on to the conventional curriculum. It is rather the core of a transformed education that enables young minds to perceive the extraordinary in what we mostly mistake for the ordinary. There has never been a time when we needed the kind of transformation described here more than at the end of a century of unprecedented violence and at the dawn of the new millennium. We need it, first, to help open young minds to the awareness of the forgotten connections between people, places, and nature. But we need a transformed curriculum and schools as the start of a larger process of change that might eventually transform our communities and the culture beyond. If this occurs, and I believe that it will, it will begin with small everyday things: freshwater shrimp, the trees along the banks of streams, the lives of ordinary people, the stories we tell, and the excitement of children.
D.H. Lawrence once said that “Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes it water and nobody knows what it is.” It is magic, the kind that can only be found in nature, life, and human possibilities once we are open to them. The kind of education I have in mind takes young people out of the classroom to encounter the mystery of the third thing. In that encounter they discover what Rachel Carson once called the “sense of wonder.” And that is the start of a real education. ” 
Here is further commentary by David Orr entitled  “Environmental Education and Ecological Literacy”  that was published in the Holistic Education Review.

 

EARTH CENTERED learning rests on seven propositions

  1. All education is environmental education. Conventional education,for the most part, excludes our dependence on nature.
  2. Environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline or department. Interdisciplinary environmental education remains an unfulfilled promise because it was taught in discipline centered institutions.
  3. The study of place is a fundamental organizing concept for education. Formal education prepares students to reside, not to inhabit. A resident is a temporary occupant. People who do not know who they are because they do not know where they are. However, the inhabitant and a place mutually shape each other.
  4. For inhabitants, education occurs in part as a dialogue with a place and has the characteristic of a good conversation. Good conversation with nature has the purpose of establishing what is here, what nature will permit, and what nature will help us do here.
  5. Environment education should change the way people live, not just how they talk. Real learning is participatory, experiential, and interdisciplinary, not just didactic (instructing). The flow should be two ways — between teachers; who function best as facilitators, and students, who are expected to be active agents in defining what is learned and how.
  6. Experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking. Understanding nature demands a disciplined and observant intellect.
  7. Education that addresses the challenge of building a sustainable society will enhance the learner’s competence with natural systems.
The educated person has the knowledge necessary to comprehend interrelationships and the attitude of caring or stewardship. Competence can be derived only from the experience of doing and the mastery of “practice”. Knowing, caring, and practical competence are the basis of ecological literacy.

 

Ecological literacy, furthermore, implies a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to one another and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainability. 
Ecological literacy is to know that our health, well-being, and ultimately our survival depend on working with, not against, natural forces.
Ecological literacy is to understand the speed of the crisis that is upon the human race. It is to know magnitudes, rates, and trends of population growth, species extinction, soil loss, deforestation, climate change, ozone depletion, resource exhaustion, air an water pollution, toxic and radioactive contamination, resource and energy use, that is the vital signs of the planet and its ecosystems. 
Ecological literacy requires a comprehension of the dynamics of the modern world of humanity. It requires a thorough understanding of the ways in which people and whole societies have become destructive of the natural world.  The ecologically literate person will appreciate something of how social structures, religion, politics, technology, patriarchy, culture, agriculture, and human cussedness combine as causes of our predicament.  Ecological literacy requires an understanding of the major importance of sustainability. The concept of sustainability implies a radical change in the institutions and patterns that we have come to accept as normal. Sustainability implies a new ecology that is the basis for the redesign of technology, cities, farms, and educational institutions as well as a change in metaphors from mechanical to organic, industrial to biological.
Environmental literacy requires a broad familiarity with the development of ecological consciousness which includes efficient resource management, and a broad search for pattern and meaning including issues of value and ethics. It requires more durable directions toward prudence, stewardship, and the celebration of the Creation. 

 

Using Natural Space For Teaching Outside Of The Classroom

 

I have had the honor of working with Deb Perryman, an Elgin, Illinois high school teacher who, among many honors,  received the 2004 Illinois Teacher of the Year award and the 2014 Environmental Educator of the Year award by the Environmental Education Association of Illinois. She was recognized for implementing environmental education in and out of the classroom, including using 35 acres of natural space outside of Elgin High School as an instructional tool. Her story is documented by PBS in an excellent Youtube video. Her teaching style incorporates both indoor and outdoor classrooms.

 

In addition to her teaching duties, Deb has developed the National Biodiversity Teach-In which is described in their web page:

 

“We are the students and teachers of the Environmental Science classes at Elgin High School, and this is our project, that started in 2014, to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and to inspire our participants to take action in its protection.”

 

Hope For Mankind’s Future Comes From Instilling A Deep Consciousness For An Interdependent Nature In Our Youth.

 

One of the most important conservation strategies available to us humans is the creation of a deep consciousness of Nature in the minds and hearts of our youth. The youth of the world, age 25 and younger, represent 50% of the human population. Our youth are generally untainted by the cultural disconnection from Nature that is characteristic of most adults over age 25. With our youth, we have the opportunity of building a legacy for future generations that will serve to guide young people along a pathway of preserving and sustaining Nature for the benefit of life on Earth. 

 

All life on Earth depends upon the flow of energy throughout our Earth’s ecosystems. The pathways for this energy flow touch every living organism on Earth including we humans. These pathways are interconnected and interdependent. By creating a human consciousness for the idea that nothing in Nature lives in isolation and that everything is interconnected and interdependent, we lay the groundwork for respecting and conserving the very basis of life. 

 

We can instill this connectivity consciousness in the souls of our young people through both example and environmental education that is conducted outdoors.

 

The Power of Teaching About Nature Outdoors

 

While I am a marine biologist, I am not a trained teacher. Much of what I do as a teacher/mentor has developed through direct experience.

 

One of the most powerful lessons that I have learned is to teach outdoors because my students will respond more effectively. The reason is that the outdoor learning experience is BOTH information-based and emotionally-based. Ideas take root in young minds when they touch, feel, taste, and smell. When I gave a seminar or class indoors, my students will always exhibit resistance to learning. Either they won’t read the assigned material or they will show signs of inattention. But, when I conduct a class outdoors, I usually give the students a bag or box to collect things that relate to the material I want to teach. The students turn the experience into a treasure hunt. They are proud of what they have found. And, we keep the material so that we can review our field trip in the classroom during the next class session. The collected material is also used for the student teaching experiences discussed below. If we are doing our work on a beach, we will always go in the water for a swim after class.

 

I teach energy flow in Nature inside a mangrove forest at a local estuary. We start by outstretching our arms to feel the sun’s energy. We then work our way down through the mangrove tree as we search for creatures that are acquiring energy. We work ourselves all the way into the root system and the surrounding detritus as we note examples of energy flow and energy transformation. As a review, we then draw food web diagrams to take back to class with us for review.

 

By working in this manner, the ideas of energy transportation and transformation become incorporated into the student’s knowledge base. They see, feel, and touch the ideas of interconnection and interdependence first-hand.

 

Building And Maintaining Legacy

 

My primary contact is with senior-level high school students. However, in the course of their learning experience, senior high school students learn to become the teachers of younger students from 4th-grade primary through junior high school. My group of student-teachers are called the “Green Team”. They both manage and teach this program. I am only a mentor and technical adviser. There is a certain magic that takes place when my Green Team students teach younger students. Normally frisky 4th and 5th graders listen with great attention when the Green Team is doing the teaching and allowing everyone to touch, feel, and listen. The young students listen and respond with zeal. 

 

Our Green Team program consists of two parts — all taught by student-specialists.

 

First, the Green Team provides a 45-minute introductory talk to the young students in their classroom about Nature’s energy flow and about what to expect during the upcoming field trip. A box of specimens (plant parts, skeletons, rocks, etc), previously collected by my students, are brought into the classroom so that the young students can view, touch, taste, and smell while the talk is being given.  This session ends with instructions about safety and behavior during the field trip. 

 

Within a week of the introductory talk, the young students will go to the local estuary for a hands-on experience. 

 

First, the young students play the “string game”. The string game is an activity that can be used as a demonstration and simulation of connections in Nature. In this simulation,  students represent plants and animals living in the habitat which is being visited. Each student has a picture of who he or she is representing in Nature. Sitting in a circle, students connect themselves to each other using a ball of string to represent the ways in which they depend on each other for their energy flow. As they make connections, the string forms a visual web of life. In the final part of the simulation game, the students will experience what happens when a connection is destroyed. Here is an excellent 8 page PDF document that describes the process.

 

The young students then visit the nearby mangrove forest and focus on energy flow as described in an earlier paragraph. Near the end of the field trip experience, the young students will review what they have learned by sitting in a circle and answering the question: “What Did You See?

 

Throughout this experience, the teachers and the learners are building a legacy. My Green Team teachers are passing on what they know to a group of younger students. The hope is that someday the younger students will pass on their inspired knowledge to others. The Green Team program is conducted at a local private kinder through 12th-grade school. So, there is an opportunity for younger students to become teachers when they reach high school. Furthermore, we are hoping to expand the Green Team program to other schools in the community.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 passing of this consciousness to future generations.

thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

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.

Ecoliteracy -The Power of Legacy

Legacy building is about being mindful of the opportunity and the responsibility you have to serve humanity

 

Webster’s dictionary defines legacy as, “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.”  Legacy is not bound by age or time served. Your legacy is not defined at the end of the road but rather by the moments that you share your life with others. Your legacy is reinforced and modified by the feedback that you receive.  Legacy represents your body of work at each stage of your life as you establish and accumulate the required knowledge and wisdom to contribute to the growth, innovation, and opportunity of the people that surround you.   Your legacy grows with each new experience and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition. Leaving a great legacy is arguably the most powerful thing you can do in your life because it enables you to have influence well into the future – even after you are out of the picture yourself.

Legacy building is the act of establishing and evangelizing an ecoliterate worldview to current and future generations

 

Recently I gave a talk to a group of 40 senior citizens about mankind’s negative impact on Nature and the grim prospects of mankind in the near future. I proposed that, to survive as a race, we humans needed to change our worldview from apathy toward Nature to one of harmony with Nature. I noted that the age of about half of the human population is 25 years old or younger. These fresh minds are a center of influence that is open to new ideas and new world views. I stated that environmental educators are creating a legacy as they pass on a new and positive worldview to young people. In turn, these young people could then pass on their knowledge and a new worldview of harmony and interdependence with Nature. During my talk, I suggested that senior citizens could define their legacy by playing a vital role in guiding their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren toward a sustainable lifestyle. I offered a number of ideas to the group in hopes that they would be motivated.

As I prepared my talk, I came to the realization that legacy building is a powerful tool for building ecoliteracy in other people. If teaching methods make a subject interesting,  children and youth are receptive to the awe and wonder of Nature. They will participate in activities which will reinforce the learning process.  They love to look, touch, feel, smell, and taste. In turn, children and youth can influence adult members in their family as well as the next generation. The idea of legacy building is a powerful conservation tool over the years. I played with some numbers.

What would happen if an environmental educator were able to guide only two young people each year toward a sustainable worldview? In turn two of these youth, each year,  would guide two more people. Let us assume that, as an educator, you have an environmental education class of 20 young minds. Let us also assume that you are able to significantly influence two (10%)  of these people to a point that they are able to eventually influence two other young people to a point of action. And so on. Over ten years,1,024 people will be strongly influenced by your singular influence in one year. If you do this each year for 10 years, your effort will result in 10,240 new stewards of Nature. If there are 1,000 environmental educators providing significant influence over 10 years to only 10% of their students, their legacy will be over one million young people becoming significant stewards of Nature. This very basic mathematical exercise demonstrates the significance and power of legacy building. By empowering a small group of youth each year, one is able to eventually create a huge cadre of influential stewards of Nature well in advance of the projected 50 year date when it is thought that the human race will be in mortal danger of collapse due to its own ignorance.

Whether you are an environmental educator or a parent or a grandparent, multiplying and spreading your ecoliteracy and example to others is a powerful conservation strategy. By educating locally, but thinking globally, you become the initiator of a network of social energy that can grow and save Nature from human destruction. Your influence now can help build a future positive equilibrium in, at least, some corners of Nature’s existence.

 

Building And Maintaining Legacy – A Case Study

 

I work with senior-level high school students. In the course of their learning experience, senior high school students learn to become the teachers of younger students from 4th-grade primary  through junior high school. My group of student-teachers is called the “Green Team”. They both manage and teach this program. I am only a mentor and technical adviser. There is a certain magic that takes place when my Green Team students teach younger students. Normally frisky 4th and 5th graders listen with great attention when the Green Team is doing the teaching and allowing everyone to touch, feel, and listen. The young students listen and respond with zeal. 

 

Our Green Team program consists of two parts — all taught by student-specialists.

 

First, the Green Team provides a 45-minute introductory talk to the young students in their classroom about interdependency in Nature as well as discussing what to expect during the upcoming field trip. A box of specimens (plant parts, skeletons, rocks, etc), previously collected by my students, are brought into the classroom so that the young students can view, touch, taste, and smell while the talk is being given.  This session ends with instructions about safety and behavior during the field trip. 

 

Within a week of the introductory talk, the young students will go to the local estuary for a hands-on experience. 

 

At the beginning of their estuary experience, the young students play the “string game”. The string game is an activity that can be used as a demonstration and simulation of interdependency in Nature. In this simulation,  students represent plants and animals living in the habitat which is being visited. Each student has a picture of who he or she is representing in Nature. Sitting in a circle, students connect themselves to each other using a ball of string to represent the ways in which they depend on each other for their energy flow. As they make connections, the string forms a visual web of life. In the final part of the simulation game, the students will experience what happens when a connection is destroyed. Here is an excellent 8 page PDF document that describes the process.

 

The young students then visit the nearby mangrove forest and focus on the flow of Nature’s energy from the sun, through the mangrove leaves, and on to other organisms within the estuary ecosystem. Near the end of the field trip experience, the young students will review what they have learned by sitting in a circle and answering the question: “What Did You See?

 

Throughout this experience, the teachers and the learners are building a legacy. My Green Team teachers are passing on what they know to a group of younger students. The hope is that someday the younger students will pass on their inspired knowledge to others. The Green Team program is conducted at a local private kinder through 12th-grade school. With this experience, there is the hope that the younger students will become Green Team teachers when they reach high school. We are currently expanding the Green Team program to other schools in the community.

 

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 on 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 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.

 

Ecoliteracy – Our Earth Is A Living System

Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent

 

Interdependence is an important word that refers to the tendency of all creatures in Nature  to be linked and interdependent upon other creatures.  If we were to draw a diagram of this interdependence, we would see a massive network of living creatures, including ourselves, either directly or indirectly connected. This network of life is commonly called a “living system”.

Interdependence is a defining feature of all of Nature because Interdependence is necessary for the transportation and the transformation of life’s vital flow of energy. Earth’s connectedness with the sun’s energy is of primary importance because the sun’s energy drives all life. Throughout our Earth’s  living systems, this energy from the sun is transported and then transformed into forms of energy that are useful to plants and animals.

While we may not realize it, we humans encounter and connect with living systems every moment of our lives. Our bodies are interconnected, self-maintaining living systems. Every person we meet, every organization we work with, every animal, every tree, and every ecosystem is a living system that transports and transforms energy.

A thorough understanding of Nature’s living systems, as well as energy flow within these systems, is key to the development of successful conservation programs by human beings. When a conservation program developed by humans proves ineffective, it is usually because there was insufficient comprehension of living systems and Nature’s energy flow within these systems.

 

Nature is composed of hierarchal, interconnecting and interdependent living systems

 

The terms “ecosystems”, “complex systems”, and “living systems” have the same meaning. Living systems are the vehicles  by which Nature’s energy, the operating currency of Nature, is transported and transformed. Ecosytems cycle energy and nutrients obtained from external sources. By understanding where and how energy flows within an ecosystem, we can understand how an environment operates. We can build this understanding by first studying what modern science has to say about systems.

Simply stated, a system is a collection of objects that somehow interrelate with each other to function as a whole and produce some effect that no single object within the system could do on its own.

Earlier in the 20th century, the modern scientific worldview chose to explore and describe both man-made systems and Nature’s living systems using a worldview known as “reductionism”. Reductionism is the theory that any system, simple or complex, can be described by analyzing its parts. The reductionist worldview holds that the behavior of a system is nothing more than the sum of the behaviors of its parts. For example, the idea of reductionism is that you can describe how an entire automobile operates by disassembling it, laying the parts on the garage floor, and calculating how each part functions.

As twentieth century biologists realized with increasing frustration, reductionism cannot explain the self-renewing processes of life. And equally important, reductionism cannot predict what Nature’s living systems will do. A familiar example is government biologists who set annual quotas on the number of elk that can be killed by hunters. Their reasoning is that these calculated quotas will result in an ecological equilibrium between elk and their environment. These calculated quotas erroneously focus on Nature’s building blocks as independent entities and not Nature as a system of interdependent entities. Furthermore, it has been erroneously assumed that these government scientists had the power to predict how Nature would respond. It is important to know that the behaviors of living systems are not predictable by mankind

David Suzuki, in his book “Legacy” notes that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring:

“..taught me that in focusing on parts of Nature, in examining them in controlled conditions in flasks and growth chambers, we study artifacts, grotesque simplifications of the real world, scrubbed of the context of weather, climate, and seasons, devoid of variations in temperature, humidity, and light….while studying bits of Nature under controlled conditions can provide powerful insights, we had to be very cautious in extrapolating those tests to the real world”.

Even though the logic of reductionism has been shown to be incomplete, the reductionist process is still used by many biologists to design and implement real world conservation programs. However, those who have embraced systems thinking look at the processes of Nature instead of Her components. They see Nature as a highly interconnected group of systems.  Processes such as the cells of organisms, human bodies, a forest, or an entire planet, are not just a heap of disjointed parts.  They are dynamically organized “systems”. These processes all involve the transportation and the transformation of the energy necessary for life. Modern systems science has realized that each element in a system is part of a larger interconnected and interdependent pattern that connects and evolves by discernible principles.  This fresh worldview has spread throughout much of the natural and social sciences. But somehow, it has escaped the attention of many individuals and groups who work and teach in the life sciences.

What follows are descriptions of the characteristics of living systems.

Nature’s Living Systems Are Self Organizing and Leaderless

By shifting their focus to relationships instead of separate entities, scientists made an amazing discovery that was new to the western mind.  They discovered that Nature is capable of organizing Herself. Scientists set out to discern the principles by which this phenomenon occurs.  They found these principles are simple and constant throughout the observable universe including sub-organic, biological, and ecological systems. Human-based mental and social systems are also self organizing.

One way of looking at a group in Nature is to observe and study the complex collective behavior of the group. We can can easily view complex collective behavior in bird flocks, animal herds, and fish schools where each individual creature follows relatively simple rules of movement with no central control or leader. This ability of a system of organisms to make its own structure more complex is called “self-organization”. Self-organization produces unpredictability. No amount of information at the level of the individual component can reveal the organizational pattern of the system. Yet, paradoxically, it is the combined behaviors and interactions of individual components that define behaviors at a system level. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This “whole” is the “emergent behavior” of the system. Bird flocks, fish schools, and animal herds are examples of emergent behavior.  Within complex collective behavior, energy and information are passed between individuals in a group.

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Complex Systems”

The study of Nature is the study of her living systems and how energy flows within these systems. Using the terminology of Western Science, a living system is a “complex system”.  The terms “complex systems”, “living systems”, and “ecosystems” are synonymous.

By definition, a complex system has a large number of members capable of interacting with each other and adapting to their environment without a leader or a blueprint.

The interaction between members may occur with immediate neighbors or distant ones. The members can be all identical or different. They may move in space or occupy fixed positions. They can be in one of two states or have multiple states.

Ant colonies are complex systems that are sometimes described as living “super-organisms”. They are extremely complex, leaderless, and unpredictable. Yet these colonies exhibit systematic order. The ant colony is the result of many tiny individual ants working in a community of ants to create and sustain an entire colony. The colony possesses characteristics that none of its individual ants possess.

Different complex systems in Nature, such as bird flocks, immune systems, brains, and human social systems have much in common. These commonalities include complex collective behavior, the ability to pass information and energy, resilience using feedback mechanisms, and hierarchal structures. We can easily view complex collective behavior in bird flocks, animal herds, and fish schools where each individual creature follows relatively simple rules with no central control or leader. It is the collective actions of vast numbers of these individuals that give rise to the complex and changing patterns of group behavior. Complex collective behavior is very difficult or impossible for humans to predict or control. This lack of predictability is a fundamental reason why some conservation programs are ineffective.

In the course of contributing to the group’s collective behavior, every individual in a complex system both transports energy and transforms energy. Connectivity between an individual fish (or a bird, or a human in a crowd) and its nearest neighbors is essential if a living system is to exist. In the case of fish schools, the connection between individual fish is the effects of each individual’s sensory organs that define proximity. The phenomena of this emergent behavior in groups is one form of proof that connections in Nature are absolutely essential if systems like fish schools, bird flocks, or human crowds are to exist.

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Open” Systems

Nature’s living systems are defined as  “open systems” because they permit the inward and outward flow of energy and matter. Any open system can interact with systems or components external to itself. In the course of these interactions, energy can be both transported and transformed within and between systems. These processes permit the variety and intelligence of life forms to arise from interactive currents of matter, energy, and information.  Human beings are open systems.

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts

Each system, whether it be a tiny atom or a huge galaxy, is a whole.  That means that it is not reducible to its components.  Its distinctive nature and capacities derive from the dynamic relationships of its parts.  This interplay is synergistic (two plus two equals five), generating emergent behavior and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts.  For example, the forward motion of a car cannot be predicted from the explosive combination of oxygen and and gasoline in the car’s engine before that combination occurred.

Nature’s Living Systems Can Self-Stabilize And Maintain Their Own Equilibrium

Thanks to the continual flow of matter, energy, and information, living systems are able to self-stabilize and maintain their equilibrium.   This self stabilization enables living systems to self-regulate amidst changing conditions in their environment.  This process, known as feedback, monitors the effects of their own behavior and realigns their behavior with pre-established norms, much like a like a thermostat. Feedback processes are how living systems learn and evolve.  If this feedback process is blocked or ignored, by human or other activity, there is a risk of system collapse.

Every object or organism within a system is influenced by its own actions as well as its surrounding environment.  One example of feedback is thermoregulation in warm-blooded animals. Cooling of the blood stimulates certain centers in the brain which “turn on” heat-producing mechanisms in the body. Through certain physiological processes, the body temperature is then brought back to the normal level.

Nature’s systems are not predictable because the effect of Nature’s feedback loops is non-linear. A nonlinear relationship is one in which the cause does not produce a proportional effect.  These non-linear relationships result from the systems feedback mechanisms which are, in turn, usually driven by unpredictable influences external to the organism being affected.  The sudden appearance of a predator is an unpredictable event which will cause an organism’s feedback system to respond in a non-linear fashion. Feedback systems that respond to a number of different unpredictable influences result in the complexity and unpredictability that we see in Nature’s living systems and their organisms.

Nature’s Living Systems Evolve In Complexity With Time

Living systems not only maintain their balance amidst the flux of energy and matter, but also evolve in complexity.  When challenges from their environment persist, living systems can fall apart or adapt themselves into new and more functional states using the feedback phenomenon.

Complexity in Nature is universal. You cannot describe any living system such as an ecosystem by doing mathematical equations, by simply using your logic, by soliciting the consensus of the public, or by chatting with government naturalists sitting around the table at a meeting called to decide on what to do about an ecological situation. The only way to find out how any living system will behave and what will happen is to actually run the system – something that is usually impossible to do.

Nature’s Living Systems Are Nested Hierarchies

Living Systems are hierarchal. Systems are nested within systems. A given subsystem becomes part of a larger system. With this hierarchal structure comes the connectivity necessary for energy and information flow between systems. The cells in our bodies become organs which operate to serve the entire body. Our body is connected to the energy and oxygen producing systems provided by our environment. And so on.

Every living system is a whole in its own right. It is comprised of subsystems, and simultaneously is an integral part of larger systems.  This results in “nested hierarchies” which are systems within systems, processes within processes.

Each new hierarchal level – say from atom to molecule, cell to organ, person to family – generates new emergent properties that are not reducible to the properties of the separate parts.  In nested hierarchies,  order tends to arise from below, as well as summoned or inspired by its environment..

Living Systems Are Sensitive To Initial Conditions

One of the most important characteristics of living systems is their sensitivity to initial conditions. In ecological terms, a small change in how one cares for an ecosystem may ultimately result in unpredictable and catastrophic events later in time.

Most Conventional Practices For Conserving Living Systems Will Not Work

Our scientists in their ivory towers as well as ecologists in the field continue to debate about the best way to conserve our earth. The two popular and competing conservation strategies either prohibit people from occupying “protected” land areas or permit and encourage human involvement in land use. Both strategies have a fatal flaw. The flaw is that it is impossible for humans to predict or control the future activities of Nature.  These key facts are ignored by many workers in the field of conservation when they try to develop conservation programs. The outcome of any well-meaning actions is impossible to predict.

This raises the question: If we impose our reasoned action on a system that has neither a leader nor predictable results, how can we expect a given outcome? The answer is that we can’t! The idea that man can control Nature is one of the most misguided illusions of those who profess to be stewards of Nature.

The systems worldview of life fails to resonate with current conservation practices which assume that human input will achieve a predictable result. Conservation managers set reference points and targets based on the assumption that equilibrium or a steady state will be achieved. This idea is blatantly false. Indeed, Nature’s living systems are dynamic. They are always moving. Equilibrium shifts as Nature’s feedback systems adjust. Human predictability is impossible. Consequently, current conservation practices will ultimately be ineffective.

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

 

For Your Further Consideration

  • 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 ecoliterate 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 Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education 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 on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • 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  Below

 

Ecoliteracy – A Systems View Of Life

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community but his ethics prompt him to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).” –– from Aldo Leopold “A Sand County Almanac” 1949

The Systems View of Life Is A Unifying Vision

In order to become ecologically literate and to survive on this Planet, we need to learn how to think in terms of relationships among the various members of the Earth Household. Any living system, whether it be an organism,an ecosystem, or a social system, is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those properties of smaller parts.

Author Jeremy Lent suggests that we must understand Nature as a networked system: 

“The systems perspective offers important insights into the nature of reality that upend many assumptions forming the basis of the predominant worldview. It tells us that the relationship between things is frequently more important than the things themselves. It emphasizes that everything in the natural world is dynamic rather than static, and that biological phenomena can’t be predicted with precision: instead of fixed laws, we therefore need to search for the underlying organizing principles of nature.”
“These principles, it reveals, occur across widely different domains, from heart rhythms to climate variations and from lake ecologies to internet social media connections. It also shows how self-organized systems are fractally embedded within one another: a cell may be part of an organism, which is part of a community, which is nested within an ecosystem, which in turn is part of Gaia.”

Systems thinking  means that understanding life requires a shift of focus from objects to relationships. Each species in an ecosystem helps to sustain the entire food web. If one species is decimated by some natural catastrophe, the ecosystem may still be resilient enough to survive if there are other species that can fulfill similar functions. In other words, the stability of an ecosystem depends on its biodiversity. Biodiversity is a popular word that describes the complexity of Nature’s network of relationships. Nature’s ecosystems.

Without A Relationship With Nature, We Have No Life

We commonly think of the word “relationship” to describe a  personal, romantic, or passionate attachment of some kind. One might say: “I have a great relationship with my daughter”. Or, in your Facebook profile, you might state “I am in a relationship with Sandy Smith”. But rarely do we hear or read about the most important kind of human relationship that is so critical to the maintenance of life itself. This kind of relationship is a relationship with Nature.

Perhaps one reason for this omission is that much of humanity does recognize our dependency on Nature. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature.  Many scholars point out that the unchecked, exponential population growth of the human race will result in the resources of the Earth being unable to supply food for humans within the next 50 years. This dire prediction has come about because humanity has failed to look upon Nature as a relationship.

Some years ago, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi published a seminal book entitled “The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision” .  Capra is well known as one of the fathers of modern systems science. Since the 1960’s, modern science has undergone a major paradigm shift by recognizing that:

…the material world, ultimately, is an evolving and ever-changing system in which complex structures are developed from simpler forms. Nature is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships. The planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system. A central characteristic of this systems view of life is that all living systems are complex networks where there are countless interconnections between the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life.

An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.

The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.

The human concept of economics is another powerful example of how we might end up damaging or destroying relationships within human society by damaging Nature. Capra notes that:

The outstanding characteristic of most of today’s economic models – whether they are promoted by economists in government, in the corporate world, or in academia – is their assumption that perpetual economic growth is possible. Such undifferentiated and unlimited growth is seen as essential by virtually all economists and politicians, even though it should by now be abundantly clear that unlimited expansion on a finite planet can only lead to disaster. Since human needs are finite, but human greed is not, economic growth can usually be maintained through artificial creation of needs by means of advertising. The goods that are produced and sold in this way are often unneeded, and thus are essentially waste. The pollution and depletion of natural resources generated by this enormous waste of unnecessary goods is exacerbated by the waste of energy and materials in inefficient production processes. The continuing illusion of unlimited growth on a finite planet is the fundamental dilemma at the roots of all the major problems of our time.

Indeed, we humans are an integral part of Fritjof Capra’s systems view of life.

What does the term “systems view” mean when it is applied to life? It implies looking at a living organism in the totality of its relationships. But clearly, the idea of a relationship of interdependence with Nature is ignored by most of the human race. Instead, we pursue a reckless dominance that might wipe out our species.

In April of 2018, the Ecologist Journal published an essay by Fritjof Capra entitled “The Way To Sustain Life Is To Build And Nurture Community” . 

Capra’s essay is a wonderful summary of modern systems science thinking that has been completely ignored by many organizations who are carrying on “conservation” projects in Nature. What follows is a series of quotes from Capra’s essay that suggest a new way of thinking about conserving Nature. 

The Systems View of Life Requires A New Kind Of Thinking

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

“The first step in this endeavor, naturally, must be to understand how nature sustains life. It turns out that this involves a new ecological understanding of life. Indeed, such a new understanding of life has emerged in science over the last 30 years.”

“The systems view of life requires a new kind of thinking — thinking in terms of relationships, patterns, and context.”

“One of the most important insights of the systemic understanding of life is the recognition that networks are the basic pattern of organisation of all living systems. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs – i.e., networks of organisms; organism are networks of cells, organs, and organ systems; and cells are networks of molecules.”

“The network is a pattern that is common to all life. Indeed, at the very heart of the change of paradigms from the mechanistic to the systemic view of life we find a fundamental change of metaphors: from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network. “

” Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

” Sustainability, then, is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community. This is the profound lesson we need to learn from nature. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community.”

“Today, it is becoming more and more evident that the major problems of our time — energy, environment, climate change, economic inequality, violence and war, and so on — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent. They require corresponding systemic solutions — solutions that do not solve any problem in isolation but deal with it within the context of other related problems.”

“Unfortunately, this realization has not yet dawned on most of our political and corporate [and scientific] leaders who are unable to connect the dots. Instead of taking into account the interconnectedness of our major problems, their so-called ‘solutions’ tend to focus on a single issue, thereby simply shifting the problem to another part of the system — for example, by producing more energy at the expense of biodiversity, public health, or climate stability. Moreover, our leaders refuse to recognize how their piecemeal solutions affect future generations. What we need is solutions that are systemic and sustainable.”

Ecoliteracy And The Understanding Of Nature’s Systems Is Vital To Sustainable Living 

In the coming decades the survival of humanity will depend on our ecological literacy — our ability to understand the basic principles of ecology and to live accordingly.”

“This means that ecoliteracy must become a critical skill for politicians, business leaders, and professionals in all spheres, and should be the most important part of education at all levels — from primary and secondary schools to colleges, universities, and the continuing education and training of professionals.”

“We need to teach our children, our students, and our political and corporate leaders the fundamental facts of life — for example, that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that matter cycles continually through the web of life; that the energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun; that diversity assures resilience; that life, from its beginning more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by partnerships and networking.

Environmental Educators Hold The Key To Altering Humanity’s Misguided Worldview About Nature

Is there any hope of building an ecoliterate worldview of systems thinking within humans? I think so !! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and interdependence. By being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth.

Through hands-on, place-based education:

  • Ask each student to describe his or her relationship with a plant or animal.
  • Ask students to draw a complete food web diagram, INCLUDING THEMSELVES,  of the ecosystem that they are observing.
  • Have the students play the Web of Life game that includes themselves.
  • With care, guide the students away from consumerism.

Hopefully, with these ideas and other ideas, our children can develop an ecoliterate “relationship consciousness” and become legacy builders — Nature’s evangelists for future generations.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 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.

Ecoliteracy : We Need An Ecoliterate Citizenry

“In the opening years of the 21st century, we face enormous challenges. We can no longer afford the luxury of pursuing various intellectual and vocational disciplines apart from environmental and social realities. We must reform our economy and way of life towards a life sustaining society. To do this, we need an “ecoliterate” citizenry, aware of our interconnectedness with all living beings, and willing to act on that awareness. Now all education must include ecological education.”    — Molly Young Brown

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

Unless you live in the most remote and inhospitable reaches of this planet, I challenge you to find land or sea areas where there is no sign of mankind. Much is written about mankind’s huge negative impact on this planet. By 2050, the human population will have grown from the present 6 billion people to 9 or 10 billion people. To feed 9 billion people, every acre of agricultural land in the world will be used to produce food. Wars will break out over the control of land. The structure of human societies will need to be altered. Survival strategies will replace the ethics of a civilized society.

Eco-journalist George Monbiot says that:

“For many years, scientists have warned that we are crashing through the Earth’s ecological limits. We know we are in the midst of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. Yet we seem constitutionally incapable of acting on this knowledge

From infancy, our minds are shaped by the culture we grow into, which lays trails we learn to follow, like paths through a field of tall grass. Helping us to construct these patterns of  meaning are powerful root metaphors embedded in our language. Without our conscious knowledge, they guide the choices we make.

Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct ,argues that the peculiar character of Western religious and scientific thought, that has come to dominate the rest of the world, has pushed both human civilization and the rest of the living world to the brink of collapse. This worldview underpinned the scientific revolution, which brought us the astonishing marvels and benefits that have transformed our lives. But it also embedded in our minds some catastrophic root metaphors, that help to explain our current relationship to the living world. Among them are the notions of human detachment from nature and our dominion over  nature. We need to change our root metaphors.

This doesn’t mean we should abandon science: far from it. The study of complex systems reveals nature as a series of self-organised, self-regenerating systems whose components are connected to each other in ways that were, until recently, scarcely imaginable. It shows that, as the great conservationist John Muir proposed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Far from standing aside from nature or being able to dominate it, we are embedded in it, intimately  connected to processes we can never fully control.

Human over-consumption of earth’s limited resources has raised deep concern by many. But yet, any positive changes in the attitudes of many humans about Nature seems elusive. We face a void of meaning. We seek to fill it with a frenzy of consumerism. “

To change our behavior, Jeremy Lent  suggests that humans need a culture shift that redirects humanity’s path to a flourishing future. 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.

Early hunter-gatherers, for example, understood nature as a ‘giving parent,’ seeing themselves as part of a large extended family, intrinsically connected with the spirits of the natural world around them. When agriculture first emerged about twelve thousand years ago, new values such as property, hierarchy and wealth appeared, leading early civilizations to view the universe as dominated by a hierarchy of gods who required propitiation through worship, ritual and sacrifice.

Beginning with the ancient Greeks, a radically new, dualistic way of thinking about the universe emerged, conceiving a split cosmos divided between a heavenly domain of eternal abstraction and a worldly domain polluted with imperfection. Christianity, the world’s first systematic dualistic cosmology, built on the Greek model by placing the source of meaning in an external God in the heavens, while the natural world became merely a desacralized theater for the human drama to be enacted. 

The belief in the divinity of reason, inherited from the ancient Greeks, served as an inspiration for the scientific discoveries of pioneers such as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, who all believed that they were glimpsing in the mind of God. The ensuing 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. We accept technocratic fixes to problems that require more integrated, systemic solutions on the premise that nature is just a very complicated machine. A machine that is entirely separate from humanity.

We see continued economic growth in Gross Domestic Product(GDP)  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. And 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 disconnection. 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.”

From the ancient Chinese culture that viewed harmony in nature, we can say that the idea of a sustainable flourishing of our earthly home, Nature, is not new. It has simply been ignored by our western culture. Domination and control of Nature is the westerner’s idea of existence. Yet, Nature operates in a harmony created by interconnection and interdependence that is necessary for life’s critical energy to flow between and through all forms of life. It is this unwillingness of we western humans to accept the physical reality of how Nature operates that could ultimately destroy our race.

Nature can live without we humans, but humans cannot live without Nature

One perspective of this crisis comes from the concept of deep ecology which suggests that we humans free ourselves from behaviors based on outmoded notions of our separateness from Nature. The Deep Ecology Platform listed on the web site at Schumacher College  is reproduced here:

1. All life has value in itself, independent of its usefulness to humans.

2. Richness and diversity contribute to life’s well-being and have value in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs in a responsible way.

4. The impact of humans in the world is excessive and rapidly getting worse.

5. Human lifestyles and population are key elements of this impact.

6. The diversity of life, including cultures, can flourish only with reduced human impact.

7. Basic ideological, political, economic and technological structures must therefore change.

8. Those who accept the forgoing points have an obligation to participate in implementing the necessary changes and to do so peacefully and democratically.

In contrast to reform environmentalism, which treats the symptoms of ecological degradation – clean up a river here or a dump there for human well-being – deep ecology questions fundamental premises of the Industrial Growth Society. It challenges the assumptions, embedded in much Judeo-Christian and Marxist thought, that humans are the crown of creation and the ultimate measure of value. Deep Ecology offers us a broader and more sustainable sense of our own worth, as viable members of the great, evolving community of Earth. It holds that we can break free from the species arrogance that threatens not only ourselves but all complex life forms within reach.

Legacy-focused environmental education can restore an active ecoliteracy to human culture

The Deep Ecology Platform, however, needs a vehicle that will help embed these ideas into the western culture. This vehicle is the environmental education of young people up to age 25. This group, represents half of the world’s population. This group is generally free of the constraining and destructive worldviews of those over 25 years old. And, this group responds positively to hands-on, place-based education where connections are made to their senses of awe and wonder. Environmental educators, instead of offering uninspiring lectures on ecological theory, would engage in Socratic (inquiry-based) dialogues that focus on energy flow in Nature. In doing so, the very definition of life, interconnection, and interdependence, becomes the primary theme. This systems approach to environmental education has the potential of creating a legacy, a consciousness, and a respect for the flow of life. Furthermore, the idea of conserving Nature by conserving Her energy flow pathways has the potential of altering current ineffective conservation strategies. An active ecoliteracy provides the knowledge and the tools that equip our youth to take the positive action that is necessary to sustain a healthy environment for all forms of life on earth, including us humans. This active ecoliteracy must be passed on to future generations through our youth.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for 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 on 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 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.

What Is Ecoliteracy ?

One of the most urgent issues facing humanity is fixing our broken relationship with the earth, on which all life depends”  — Sir Ken Robinson

As an environmental educator who works with senior level high school students, my definition of happiness is sending my group off to college knowing that they fully comprehend and practice the definition of life that:

“Everything  in Nature is Connected and Interdependent.”

My students know that the reason for this “systems worldview” of Nature is that the flow of energy from the sun and through every plant and creature is essential for life to exist on our planet. Every plant and animal, including we humans, receives energy from another source, transforms that energy into a useful form, and then makes some of that energy available to other life forms.  I suggest to my students that the conservation of Nature by we humans is the identification and the preservation of Nature’s energy flow pathways.

I have been critical of those proposed conservation strategies that ignore this systems view of life despite the fact that this view of life was a part of the Eastern  worldview some 2000 years ago and a part of modern western scientific thinking for at least 25 years. I have been deeply concerned that many schools and universities do not teach their students how to apply this fundamental system’s view of life.

There is a powerful phrase that is beginning to gain an influential headway in the fields of education and science. It is a phrase whose effect is just beginning to flow into the western worldview of humanity. It is a phrase whose effect has been important to eastern thought for centuries. That phrase is  “ecological literacy”. A common form of expressing this phrase is “ecoliteracy”.

Ecoliteracy is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible.

Ecoliteracy is the power that comes from the knowledge and consciousness of how nature’s living systems operate. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities, constructive collaboration between members of a community,  and using these principles for creating sustainable human communities. Ecoliteracy takes place when we humans let Nature become our teacher. Ecoliteracy takes place when we form a legacy by  passing our knowledge and our ecoliterate worldview on to other members of our community.

Daniel Goleman  says that:

“Today’s threats demand that we hone a new sensibility, the capacity to recognize the hidden web of connections between human activity and nature’s systems, and the subtle complexities of their intersections”.

Ecoliteracy has gained enough new attention through its own web site . Ecoliteracy has gained some respectable champions including thought leaders Jeremy Lent and George Monbiot ; the father of modern systems science,  Fritjof Capra; environmental educator and author, David Orr; and Richard Louv who is  author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network.

Legacy is the means by which we empower an ecoliterate population of humans – both educators and learners.

A very important action word that expresses an essential part of the ecoliteracy process is “legacy”.  Legacy means passing on knowledge from one generation or class of people to another.  Without legacy, ecoliteracy cannot impact the future of humanity. Indeed, in this current stage of human history, legacy has been broken. Ecoliteracy has not been passed on to new generations, and the human race is consuming the earth’s resources beyond its capacity. By 2050, earth may not be able to sustain the human population.

The power to save humanity from itself rests with environmental educators and with our youth of age 25 or younger.

The role of environmental educators is to create a sustainable ecoliteracy within our youth and to maintain an ongoing legacy of that ecoliteracy. Our youth are at ages where the destructive and unsustainable consumptive worldview of the adult population is not yet embedded in their young person’s worldview. Presented properly, our youth are receptive to the awe and wonder of Nature.

Center for Ecoliteracy cofounder,  Fritjof Capra, suggests that we must teach our children the followingfundamental facts of life:

 

  • Matter cycles continually through the web of life.
  • Most of the energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun.
  • Diversity assures resilience.
  • One species’ waste is another species’ food.
  • Life did not take over the planet by combat but by networking.

We humans need to understand ourselves as part of The Web of Life

Fritjof Capra goes on to suggest that the concept of “ecological literacy” includes the insight and knowledge needed in order for man to create and uphold sustainable societies. To do so we need study the ecosystems of Nature. We have to understand the underlying principles of natural ecosystems, and to use them as our basis for building our own societies.

In his book ‘Earth in Mind. On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect‘, David W. Orr  says that the concept of ‘eco-literacy’ must also comprise the ability of comprehensive thinking. Comprehensive thinking is an approach to real life that requires a preparedness to see the whole before its separate parts. Comprehensive thinking asks for coherence and context, emphasizing relations, interactions and cyclicity; and it acknowledges that living entities cannot be reduced to the mere sum of their individual parts.

Author Molly Brown suggests that ecological literacy might be called “ecowisdom” because it encompasses such a broad array of understandings, knowledge, attitudes, and experience. She says:

“I began using the term “ecoliteracy” to indicate the learning we need to seek in all dimensions of human life: intellectual, psychological, somatic, social, and spiritual. As someone developing ecoliteracy, I aspire to the following capacities:

  • comprehension of the major ecological and social crises we face and their interrelationships
  • a sense of wonder and gratitude for the world
  • a strong sense of physical and spiritual connection to land and place
  • awareness of our interconnectedness and kinship with all life
  • a widening of identification beyond the individual ego to the “ecological self”
  • an understanding of basic concepts of ecology and systems thinking, and perceiving relationships among humans and all living systems through these lenses
  • the willingness to experience both the pain and joy of the world
  • lived values of cultural diversity, equality, justice, and inclusiveness
  • critical examination of prevailing paradigms, assumptions, and institutions
  • collaboration for social transformation and non-hierarchical governance
  • conservation of resources and energy; recycling, reusing, sharing, etc.
  • consideration of environmental and social implications in all consumer choices
  • attentiveness to wild nature for renewal and guidance”

From his book  Five Ways To Develop ecoliteracy , Daniel Golgman  talks about cautiously applying ecoliteracy to actual ecological issues. He emphasizes the precautionary principle for unintended consequences: When an activity threatens to have a damaging impact on the environment or human health, precautionary actions should be taken regardless of whether a cause-and-effect has been scientifically confirmed.

We humans must understand the basic principles of a connected Nature and how to live accordingly.

The survival of humanity depends upon our ecological literacy. This means that ecological literacy must become a critical skill for all humans to embrace if we are to remain on Earth.

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

A Legacy Worldview – Teach The Children Well

How do those of us who care and are aware face the grim dilemma of an unsustainable human population? Most certainly, conservation through obedience doesn’t work. Rules and policemen don’t teach anything. Laws, rules, and regulations can easily be ignored if one avoids individuals in law enforcement. The most likely and effective process is through education. However, the current attitudes of many members of the adult human population limit receptiveness to the idea of environmental education. Indeed, we have lost a large part of the adult population who will continue to live in unsustainable ways.

 

Nonetheless, education builds consciousness. It builds a capability to make good environmental decisions that are available to everyone — not just scientists and administrators. The challenge of environmental education is to build a legacy of conservation-minded people. Whether you are an educator or a student, your challenge is to pass on this legacy through your knowledge and your energy. Your job is to build a network of environmentally aware people through your example. In doing so, you will help build a future with people who care for the home in which we humans must live.  That is what this essay is all about.

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

 

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

 

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

Therefore, the basic objective of environmental education is to build a “connectivity consciousness” in our youth in hopes that our youth will build a legacy that influences the generations that follow them. This makes the relationships between generations an important connection in Nature. This idea of generation connectivity amplifies the huge importance and responsibility of environmental educators.

 

Through hands-on, place-based education that emphasizes inquiry-learning, we can develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. A consciousness that recognizes and accepts the fact that, for Nature at all levels to exist, everything in our universe, in our world, and in our local communities is connected. We can build this consciousness in our youth by offering ways to identify, understand, and preserve vital connections in Nature as well as the ecosystems that embrace these connections.

 

In a profound message called “Teach The Children”, poet Mary Oliver  says:
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms. Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Children and youth up to and including age 25 represent 50% of the human population. If teaching methods make a subject interesting for each age group, children and youth are receptive to the awe and wonder of Nature. They will participate in activities that will reinforce the learning process.  They love to look, touch, feel, smell, and taste.

In turn, children and youth can influence adult members in their family. Children and youth can also influence the next generation. The idea of legacy education is a powerful conservation tool over the years. Let us assume that you have an environmental education class of 20 young minds. Let us also assume that you are able to significantly influence two (10%)  of these people to a point that they are able to eventually influence two other young people to a point of action. And so on. Over ten years,1,024 people will be strongly influenced by your singular influence in one year. If you do this for 10 years, your effort will result in 102,400 new stewards of Nature. If your success rate is 15% instead of 10%, your legacy from a 10-year effort will be 590,490 people. If your success rate is 20%, your legacy from a 10-year program will be 10,485,760 people. If there are 10,000 environmental educators providing significant influence to only 10% of their students, their legacy will be 10,240,000 young people becoming significant stewards of Nature. This very basic mathematical exercise demonstrates the significance and power of legacy building. By empowering a small group of students each year, one is able to eventually create a huge cadre of influential stewards of Nature well in advance of the projected 50-year date when it is thought that the human race will be in mortal danger of collapse due to its own ignorance.

 

Multiplying and spreading your knowledge and example to others is a powerful conservation strategy. By educating locally, but thinking globally, you become the initiator of a network of social energy that can grow and save Nature from human destruction. Your influence now can help build a future positive equilibrium in, at least, some corners of Nature’s existence.

 

Conservation is the act of identifying, understanding,  preserving, and protecting Nature’s energy flow. Legacy building – passing it on to others – must be added to our definition of conserving Nature. Legacy building is empowering environmental stewards, directly or indirectly, at all ages and within all disciplines.

The legacy worldview incorporates both the systems worldview that was explored in the second essay and the environmental ethics discussed in the fourth essay. These two subjects are seemingly unrelated. However, both worldviews address interrelationships. The systems worldview focuses on the technical truths about Nature’s interrelated systems while the ethical worldview focuses on the qualities and guidelines for human interaction within Nature’s ecosystems. The legacy worldview passes on facts and guidelines for action through the transfer of ideas to other groups and future generations. The legacy worldview represents the positive influence that is so badly needed if humanity is to survive on Earth. Here are two examples of young people and their mentors building a legacy of environmental consciousness. 

 

The Green Team

 

I am privileged to mentor a group of 10 incredible high school seniors in an environmental education program in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. My students use hands-on, place-based, Socratic (inquiry-based) teaching strategies to help young people in the primary grades understand the flow of Nature’s energy and why everything in Nature is interconnected. This program, called the “Green Team”, uses a local estuary as the “classroom”. Being the “resident biologist”, my job is to provide the technical information necessary for the Green Team to build an effective teaching package. However, the actual teaching activities are conducted by my students.

Typically, the Green Team first provides a 45 minute in-class oral and video Socratic session to introduce the ideas about energy flow in Nature. Within a week of this activity, the students take a field trip to a local estuary. First, they participate in the “string game” activity where they learn about the complex connections in the ecosystem. Then, they enter a mangrove ecosystem, get wet, and trace Nature’s energy flow from the sun, through the mangrove system, into the estuary water plane, and out to sea. This activity is heavy with sensory activities. And, finally, the students participate in a “What did you see?” session.

 

The Green Team participates in legacy building. First, I passed the information on to my students. Then, they passed what they learned to younger students. With time, we hope that the younger students will become the new Green Team.

 

 The Little Acorns Program

 

Deborah Perryman is an award-winning environmental educator from Elgin, Illinois, USA who provides us with a second example of legacy building.  Deb is an Illinois teacher of the year recipient. She oversees the National Biodiversity Teach-In  which is run by her students. Her hands-on, place-based environmental teaching work is portrayed in this video.

 

Legacy Building Resource Material
 
Thanks for reading this blog essay. This website offers a free PDF version of a book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature”. The book offers education methodology and content for building a connectivity consciousness for Nature within your students. The methodology includes seminar-style Socratic learning in the classroom coupled with activities in Nature that emphasize Nature’s relationships and energy flow. The book also offers some activity sets that will prove useful as you implement your environmental education programs outdoors. In addition, there is a series of environmental case studies that can be used in inquiry-based learning sessions. You are free to use the material offered in these packages “as-is” or modify things to fit your needs. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book.  

 

For Your Further Consideration

 

Ecological literacy (ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand how our Earth’s natural systems make life on our planet possible. The essays in this website offer thoughts about ecoliteracy to all environmental educators,  students, and stewards of Nature.   The emphasis is on these key ideas:
  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. 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 (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, 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 be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a worldview in the minds and hearts of all of our youth. Environmental education must include the acts of passing this consciousness on to future generations.
  • 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