Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Ecoliteracy is a Life Skill

Nowadays, there’s an abundance of information about sustainable living solutions. At every turn there is more news about 'green' products and technologies, ‘green’ homes and holidays, communities and cities… It is great to see so much human ingenuity and energy committed to creating a better world.

However, our transformation from wasteful societies voraciously eating into the Earth’s Natural Capital, to sustainable societies living harmoniously within the bounds of Nature is going to fundamentally depend on our collective mindset.

A sustainable world demands of us different values, different ideas, attitudes, priorities and ways of being. We’re also going to need to have different knowledge and different skills.

One of the most striking shortcomings of modern, consumerist life is the profound and widespread ignorance about how Life really works. 'Ecoliteracy' is a word coined by physicist Fritjof Capra, and it means knowing and acting according to the basic facts of Life.

Way back in the 70’s and 80’s, Dr Capra was urging us away from a damaging mechanistic view of the world by presenting erudite and compelling teachings on holistic systems-thinking. In essential, best-selling books such as “The Tao of Physics”, “The Turning Point” and “The Web Of Life”, Dr Capra made the need for the paradigm shift beautifully clear – we cannot understand the world wisely and intelligently by studying and explaining components.

Life is encapsulated by eco-systems – dynamic sets and networks of relationships, nesting within each other and connecting with everything else – Everything. To understand how the world really works we need to understand relationships, connections, contexts, systems – and we cannot shy away from their complexity. In essence, this is a long-heralded call for the human mind to stretch beyond the rational, intellectual cleverness that it takes to understand a tangible component, and to invoke all our intelligences to comprehend the intangible Web of Life that sustains all the different components in a system. This kind of thinking and knowing underpins sustainable living.

While this may seem daunting, Dr Capra has this succinct reminder:

"We do not need to invent sustainable human communities. We can learn from societies that have lived sustainably for centuries. We can also model communities after nature's ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the biosphere is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a manner that its technologies and social institutions honor, support, and cooperate with nature's inherent ability to sustain life."

Dr Capra went on to found the Center For Ecoliteracy - - dedicated to sustainable living education aimed at school children. It advocates four guiding principles as an anchor for all sustainability education:

  • Nature is our teacher
  • Sustainability is a community practice
  • The real world is the optimal learning environment
  • Sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place

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