Ecoliteracy for All


Originally written at the invitation of the Wildlife Trusts, 4 November 2015.


Photo by me. River Arrow, Daughter.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home,” as Gary Snyder once wrote.

Despite rejection from some quarters, the reality of the incredible life fundamental to Earth’s biosphere is that we humans are part of it.

Our actions are inextricably linked with its wellbeing. Anthropogenic climate change and the loss of living species, both individually and in their interconnectivity and breadth (biodiversity), are the twin flames of nature discordance. We are overdue in doing something substantial to change this.

In that context, why have so many people lost (or never knew) all sense on how to truly look after our home? Many have no idea of this context, further, have little understanding of the outcomes of every day decision making in life.

Economic drivers, with ‘self’ at the heart, dominate National discussion. We need to change this too. The roots of the problem are our dysfunctional relationships and, consequently, daily damaging interactions with nature.

What about the POWER of education?

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ~ Maya Angelou

Many nature-oriented people will tell you they have been inspired by both contact with nature, whether prolonged or as a treat, and also by key mentors, usually in early life. Instead of being some kind of random blessing, why don’t we consider a catch-all, a truly EGALITARIAN system of mentoring and exposure to nature reconnection?

I’m writing this to ask YOU to consider persuading a consensus to adopt our educational infrastructure to facilitate this universal need. You are the voter, you wield more power than you think. Radical? So be it. With the State of Nature as it is, we need this kind of ‘radical’ in order to reach a point where it becomes social norm.

Ecoliteracy (or ecological literacy), is a term coined by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra to promote nurturing ecological values, and ultimately the well-being of the Earth and its ecosystems, through mainstream education (inside and outside of the classroom). It includes the consideration of the consequences of human actions and interactions via principles of living systems, designs inspired by nature, ‘systems thinking’, the transition to sustainability, collaboration, community building and citizenship.

An ecologically literate society would be a sustainable and resilient society that did not destroy its own home. Ecological literacy is a powerful concept as it also creates a foundation for an integrated approach to environmental problems.

Centre stage in any effort to achieve sustainable co-existence on Planet Earth the student, child or adult, an individual human person with empowered potential to address urgent and complex environmental issues whilst being nurtured herself into a life of competent opportunity, peace and fulfilment.

Around her, the learning environment itself is one whereby she can absorb, by way of osmosis, to think about ecological systems and her impact upon them, be introduced to a myriad of values and approaches and be inspired to select and then act upon her own. This is not simply an ode to science, per se, but also to colour, to creativity, to storytelling.

Here in the UK, we are already seeing kindlings of transition to peaceful co-existence with each other and with all other species, not least through a growing Ecoschools movement, Forest schools, Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots groups, and NGO facilitated groups such as Wildlife Watch (my own daughter was a member and benefitted from many happy meetings and activities when she was younger). But let’s open this opportunity up to all, cradle to grave.

In the spirit of equity and in reciprocity for all that we take from non-human community, let’s establish this system of thoughtfulness and action, so that each individual is empowered to act whichever place in society they choose to occupy, from farmers to financiers, mechanics to medics; across all spheres and inter-generational, with infectious and inclusive enlightenment.

I have enormous faith in the altruistic powers of an informed community. An informed community is the route to true sustainability and peaceful coexistence. There’s a natural justice to it. Crossdisciplinary, multi-intelligences (not simply academic), applied action. Not one person should be excluded. We all have something to bring to peaceful co-existence with nature, if only we all realised. It’s an exciting prospect!

We care for and nurture our loved ones. To understand them, we need to know their patterns, systems and interconnections too. It is simply the same when we look to non-human lives. If we perceive and understand non-human beings as extended family, kin, we’ll begin to care and nurture through love and respect. And we’ll make better decisions in everyday life.


The Center for Ecoliteracy has developed a set of ‘core competencies’ which I want to share with you, by way of introduction.

The head, learning to know

• Approach issues and situations from a systems perspective

• Understand fundamental ecological principles • Think critically, solve problems creatively, and apply knowledge to new situations

• Assess the impacts and ethical effects of human technologies and actions • Envision the long-term consequences of decisions

The heart, learning to be

• Feel concern, empathy, and respect for other people and living things

• See from and appreciate multiple perspectives; work with and value others with different backgrounds, motivations, and intentions

• Commit to equity, justice, inclusivity, and respect for all people

The hands, learning to do

• Create and use tools, objects, and procedures required by sustainable communities

• Turn convictions into practical and effective action, and apply ecological knowledge to the practice of ecological design

• Assess and adjust uses of energy and resources

The spirit, learning to live together

• Experience wonder and awe toward nature

• Revere the Earth and all living things

• Feel a strong bond with and deep appreciation of place

• Feel kinship with the natural world and invoke that feeling in others






2 thoughts on “Ecoliteracy for All

  1. Marius Alexander Schulz


    thanks for the article. It´s positive to read.

    I´m somehow irritated by the abstract relationship to nature – maybe I´m lacking it to fully understand?

    I mean, is the issue that we don´t connect with nature, anymore? Is it really the education? I think we know whats right in terms of nature in most cultures, but how do we act upon that knowledge?

    Things – as economist – I´m thinking about are decision support tools. It´s so hard to buy regional food for example, because origin often is printed on the back of a product in small letters – you´re not even remindet to think about region. Here nudging-regulation would come in handy – simple example: regulate shelves to be seperated by foreign or distance and national or regional and clearly marked.

    Big decisions would require tools. Like if you buy a car, you consult expert knowledge – quality, maintenance cost, security, reliability: we´re lacking the sustainability report. Combining both would mean for example to aggregate properties into indicators and then nudge towards individually (this still is a value of markets) prefered products.

    This is multi-dimensional optimization and it can be done in 3d with objects, it can be calculated by algorithms (it´s similar to Support Vector Machines using distance to hyperplanes). One even could explain, what´s the benefit over the secondbest product, eventually. So what I´m talking about is actionable information – transparency, reminders, key benefits / reasons.

    The issue is awareness in everyday situations: buying sustainably should be applicable even beeing stressed?

    Another thing is scandals: once you know what your product does wrong, it´s allready bought. What would happen, if you sell a smartphone with an information: “This product is produced with 17% childlabour” – which isn´t acuall data, just hypothetical? Should we change marketers freedom of promotion?

    I thougt, you may are interested in the object-based optimization model, which is explained in this German article. There is a translation widget. .


    PS: I love the idea to teach children about nature, though I fear markets just are to lets say “fast”.

    1. Thank you Marius. Decision-making cannot be limited to humans as consumers in markets. Humans are beyond that ~ we are thinkers, producers, transporters, growers… to understand Earth systems means to work within those flows, to not exceed our planetary boundaries, and to be fair to each other and all other species. Children learn to value natural processes, diversity of species, where they (we all) fit comfortably in them, and to proliferate life not destroy it. With realisation comes action. If you are interested further, please do look at Ginny.