How Ecologically Literate Are You?


From where you are now, do you know where north is? Do you know from which direction prevailing winds originate? Do you know which spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here? Where the boundaries of your regional watershed are? Where does your garbage go? If you don't know the answers to most of these questions, then maybe it's time to find out to increase your ecological literacy.

And what is "ecological literacy" anyways? According to environmental writer and Oberlin College professor David Orr, to be ecologically literate is to not just know these facts but to also:

" know the rudiments of ecology [to] understand that no good economy can be built on the ruins of natural systems [to] have experience in the out-of-doors [to] understand the rudiments of environmental ethics [to] understand the difference between optimum and maximum, stocks and flows, design and planning, renewable and non-renewable, dwelling and residing, sufficiency and efficiency, can do and should do, health and disease, development and growth and intelligence and cleverness."

In his book Earth in Mind, Orr makes a wonderful case for why "ecological literacy" is important and how the extent of it is directly connected to our "rootedness in a place" and by our capacity for "biophilia", defined by E.O. Wilson as the "urge to affiliate with other forms of life." It means not just learning indoors, but regarding nature and our native places as rich sources for learning and seeing the bigger picture within which we dwell.

Yet it is not just about seeing the bigger picture, but also about "recovering our sense of place." Orr points out that the spread of ecological degradation is tied to the fact that as opposed to a "dis-placed people who have been physically removed from their homes," we have become "a 'de-placed' people, mental refugees, homeless wherever we are. We no longer have a deep concept of place as a repository of meaning, history, livelihood, healing, recreation, sacred memory and as a source of materials, energy, food and collective action."

It may seem like a tall order to begin this process, but it may be the first step to understanding how one can act to solve one small portion of the sum total of our ecological crises.

Take the "The Big Here" test at Kevin Kelly's website.

See also ::Quote of the Day: David Orr on "Biophobia", ::TreeHugger Radio: David Orr and the Science of Hope and Optimism

Image: Nature's Classroom Institute