“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy. To deal with those, we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. We scientists don’t know how to do that”
— Gus Speth
“The common factor that connects the effects of climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature is the destructive world view of many human beings. Man’s worst enemy is man himself. “
— Bill Graham
“For people, their story of the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.”
— Thomas Berry – Dream of the Earth
As an environmental educator, I believe that the future welfare of my high school students is in jeopardy. Many of these fine young people are unaware of the world that much of the adult generation is leaving for them — a future world that includes limited food supplies, less land available to support all life on earth, and social unrest. Many of us adults are apathetic about Nature even though Nature is our home upon which we all depend. Much of the human adult population over age 25 harbors a worldview that separates humanity from Nature. We see this apathy expressed in human attitudes about the climate change crisis and a deep distrust of scientists and educators. In addition, our adult population has actively participated in the pollution of our society’s value system resulting in an economic free-for-all that has caused the over-consumption of Nature’s resources.
I offer this question to you:
How can humans thrive within a natural world that has the ingredients necessary for our survival but, at the same time, is threatened by human destruction of that world?
In answer to this question, Earth Charter offers a challenge to we environmental educators and to all stewards of Nature.
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. … the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that amid a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”
Despite the impact of a large apathetic group of humans over age 25, there is a significant group of people in this age range who are very effective stewards of our Earth and who hold the power to help our youth embrace a worldview that can result in them advancing the well-being of our home — Mother Earth. These people include teachers (particularly environmental educators), scientists, and all other humans who embrace Nature as being the provider and protector of life on Earth. Through their worldviews and their informed actions, these people act within a framework of protecting our home while the older generation of naysayers with their destructive worldview die off.
It is my view that the first thing that this powerful group of stewards of Nature, environmental educators, and young people must do is to intensely focus on the replacement of humanity’s “Story of Separation” with a “Living Earth Story”.
Another word for “story” is “worldview”. Worldview is commonly defined as a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world that guides us. The worldview of a large part of modern adult humans is believing that we are separate from Nature, from each other, and from the community of life. This worldview is commonly called the “Story of Separation”. This story erroneously portrays humanity as being able to control and predict Nature. The “Story of Separation” results in human behaviors of exploitation, excessive economic growth, extremes of wealth and inequality, and the misuse of Nature’s resources which result in the effects of climate change, consumerism, and overpopulation. For many of our adults the “Story of Separation” is their guiding worldview. But for humanity to survive, we need to be living a worldview that is in synergy with our home — Mother Nature. It has been proposed by several people and organizations that we humans need to embrace the “Living Earth Story”. A “Living Earth” is an environment where everything is interconnected and interdependent. It is an environment where life’s energy flows from our sun and then between every living creature on Earth. Indeed, the health and well-being of all life on Earth depends upon the preservation of this energy flow. For Earth’s human population to survive, this pattern of interdependence must become a powerful part of our consciousness. In the “Living Earth Story”, we humans believe in the power of community and interdependence — not separation.
The “Living Earth Story” can have its birth and growth in the minds and hearts of our youth while in the classroom and while being outdoors. Interdependence can be studied and practiced in the classroom, in Nature, and in human society. My teaching methods focus on inquiry-based seminars and field trips (with primary, secondary, and high school students), where we trace Nature’s vital energy flow and explore the consequences if we humans interrupt that flow. We explore interdependence in Nature and in human society. The theme of my entire program is “Everything in Nature is Interdependent and Interconnected”. My students and I embrace the “Living Earth Story” as learning takes place.
It is my view that, if enough environmental educators and their schools throughout the world introduce and focus upon the “Living Earth Story”, our younger generations will gradually adopt and practice the “Living Earth Story” as the way of life that is already practiced by Mother Nature. As our older human generations die off, younger humans will operate in unity with Nature and achieve sustainability.
I invite environmental educators and other stewards of Nature to join me in a dialog where we can all work together to create a plan of action for helping our young people adopt and practice a worldview that is guided by the “Living Earth Story”. Please provide your comments in the space at the end of this essay or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.
Here, I offer several references regarding the “Living Earth Story”. To respect your time, with each reference I provide a short summary.
Free Book. “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons from Our Web of Life”
I encourage you to download a free copy of this 180-page PDF book written by me. You can download the book by following the instructions on the right-hand side of my web site home page at www.freshvista.com. It is the purpose of this book to share with environmental educators, my students, and other stewards of Nature my suggestions for guiding their young people toward the development of a sustainable “Living Earth” worldview. You are welcome to use any of this material in your work.
Nature’s Web of Life: The Soul and Science of an Interdependent Nature
This is my web site at https://www.freshvista.com. The home page summarizes the content including a list of many essays on interdependence in Nature. I also provide a short video which might prove useful to your students.
The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning.
This is a wonderful book by Jeremy Lent ( https://www.jeremylent.com/flourishing-future.html )
The premise of this book is that our current sustainability crisis is a product of destructive human worldviews that can be reshaped. The book opens with a dedication to those “future generations” (our youth) who can reshape humanity’s worldview into a living earth story. The book continues with an excellent history about how our current worldviews about Nature evolved from previous generations of humans, how we are currently experiencing unnecessary suffering, and how these current worldviews are “…driving our civilization toward collapse”. Lent suggests that we modern humans “reach within ourselves to feel our deepest motivations as living beings embedded in the web of life, and act upon them.” This serves as a suggestion to all of us who are working with youth to create a new legacy of future environmental leaders who understand that:
“A Great Transformation of older worldviews would need to be founded on a worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on the earth into the future…. The new worldview would be based on the emerging systems view of life, recognizing the intrinsic interconnectedness between all forms of life on earth, and seeing humanity as physically and spiritually embracing the natural world.”
The need is strong, for tools and strategies that reconnect us with the perception that we are part of a community of unique life, that is totally interconnected and that shares, and is generously welcomed by the planet. In the sense of a loving and careful systemic vision, the Earth Charter brings essential reflections. It works like a compass, a north that indicates fundamental inspirations for new actions. They are principles and values that guide us towards a new path, for the common good, for sustainability.
Worldviews and Values in Ecology
“The task for us is now clear, but complex: it is to develop worldviews and value systems that might improve on our chances for ecological survival and a meaningful future development for all life on earth within a global biotic community. It is to the accomplishment of this task that one worthwhile step might be to seek to rediscover the significance of the worldviews and the ultimate values of traditional cultures. We cannot copy or simply take over their worldviews, but we can learn from the ways in which the traditional cultures perceive their unity with all living beings. Furthermore, we can learn from the way they are able to adapt to present life conditions which put limits to what we can and should do now. We can learn from the ways such cultures seek ways in which to transform the world so that the human presence will continue to exist for generations to come along with other forms of life in the biotic community. Because, if we do not regard that task in all seriousness as a significant, meaningful, and even ultimate task, we might one day find that there will be no need any more to look for ultimate values in other areas – because there simply will not be any beings around to realize any kind of values at all. If we are to avoid such a dreadful fate, we need to do our job by working out ultimate values of such a nature that they arise out of an ecological worldview and thus reflect a spirituality of survival for all life on earth.”
Changing Our Worldview for A Sustainable Future and The Role of Dialogue
“The best mechanism for us to declare our responsibility to each other would be through intercultural, interfaith and interdisciplinary dialogues such as between the natural and social-human sciences. Dialogue is the meeting of hearts and minds in the form of cooperative and positive interaction between people of different faith, traditions, spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at the individual or institutional level. Its aim is to derive a common ground in belief and strategy for common action, through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values and commitment to the common good. Dialogue is communication between people of faith (who agree to disagree on certain issues such as their differences); it is the experience of travelling together and working in projects that are of mutual importance. To engage in dialogue also means to be able to take oneself out of one’s own group; seeing oneself as others would see oneself and seeing the future of humankind as a whole.”
Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability
Ecocentrism finds value in all of nature. It takes a much wider view of the world than does anthropocentrism, which sees individual humans and the human species as more valuable than all other organisms. Ecocentrism is the broadest of worldviews, but there are related worldviews. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism (ethics that sees inherent value to all living things) by including environmental systems as wholes, and their abiotic aspects. It also goes beyond zoocentrism (seeing value in animals) on account of explicitly including flora and the ecological contexts for organisms. Ecocentrism is thus the umbrella that includes biocentrism and zoocentrism, because all three of these worldviews value the nonhuman, with ecocentrism having the widest vision. Given that life relies on geological processes and geomorphology to sustain it, and that ‘geodiversity’ also has intrinsic value, the broader term ‘ecocentrism’ seems most appropriate.
David Korten – Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth
(40 minute video)
David Korten addresses the ecological crisis that is created by economic growth and suggests alternative strategies. His book that brings together the important teachings of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and the many books about an economic system that protects life on Earth rather than destroys it. David Korten suggests that the Sacred Money and Markets story, the one that drives our lives today, be replaced by a Sacred Life and Living Earth story that preserves the community of life.
According to Korten, “we have created a global suicide economy designed to make money with no concern for the consequences for life”. He goes on to suggest that we must modify our worldview to align with the Society of Friends who suggest that:
“Our understanding of the testimony of simplicity is about removing the excesses that distract us from the life of the Spirit, as well as not using more than our fair share of Earth’s resources. Our testimony of equality would guide us away from a society of such income inequality that exists today. And our testimony of community would lead us to a society where the good of the community comes before the good of the individual.”
Korten then goes on to describe in more detail critical design choices:
“Realigning the basis of our economy to living households and communities, and away from computer-driven financial markets and corporations, is the essential first step toward a healthy, sustainable future. Ownership is power. When that power resides in global financial markets and corporations, it supports making money. But, when distributed among living people in living communities, it supports making a living.”
I encourage you to share your ideas with me. Please provide your comments in the space at the end of this essay or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar. (Twitter hashtag: # environmentaleducation)