Commonplace Blog Post #2 – Ecoliteracy as a Concept and Way of Being

September 23, 2015 Derek Hall 4 Comments


Drawn by Derek Hall (2015)

Ecoliteracy is a relatively new, but very valuable term. Coined in the 1990s by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra, it seemed that the world was finally ready to expand our horizons and take a more thorough look at where we were heading as a species that was living on a ball of dirt floating in space, our home, planet Earth. We were ready to begin questioning our ethical and moral responsibilities regarding sustaining the Earth for future generations, and we needed definitions and new ways of implementing programs that would give students invaluable tools to assist our global efforts in sustainability. Orr and Capra were at the cusp looking down and analyzing those roots. They both knew without a doubt that results would only come if we began treating education as a platform for ecoliteracy, or vice versa. In his 1994 paper “Earth In Mind – On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect”, David Orr went so far as saying that all students, regardless of their field of study, should know at the very least a basic understanding of things such as the laws of thermodynamics, sustainable agriculture and forestry, environmental ethics, and so on. By educating future generations with these tools, essentially imprinting even a minor amount of environmental knowledge in every academic discipline, an ecoliterate student would operate in a more conscious and sustainable fashion by default. Through Orr’s suggestions, the results of an ecoliterate way of being would be automatic. People would be more aware of our place in the world, and the social construct would progress in ways that it never had before.

Capra said that the role of ecoliteracy is “intended to facilitate understanding of nature’s principles, while fostering a deep respect for living nature through an experiential, participatory, and multidisciplinary approach” (Capra, 2007). I think the key in that statement is ‘deep respect’. When students begin to truly respect the environment, and they really foster a genuine sense of yearning to seek sustainability, I believe that whichever industry they enter in the future we would ALL be better off for it. For example, a student might enter into university as a Geology major. They might realize that they want to pursue work in the oil sector upon graduating. I would think that a student that has embraced ecoliteracy as a way of being would be more careful regarding what their companies stance is on something controversial such as fracking. Perhaps they would work hard to research new, greener methods of fracking, or they might even turn down a placement if they are privy to an oil corporations shady track record regarding waste management and sustainability. This goes for every industry on the planet! When we develop ecoliteracy as a way of being, we are expanding our horizons into accepting our role as pieces in a massive living system. As described by Donnella Meadows in “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System”, there are so many different variables to look at. Once we define an element of our environment, that does not mean our work is finished. The world we live in is an ever-changing, constantly expanding and retracting, massively interconnected web of variables.

Ecoliteracy as a way of being is simply accepting our role in nature, even if that means we have to actually look after a few things and accept that we can make changes needed. Not every corporation out there will start being environmentally and socially responsible, but future companies formed from ecoliterate students most certainly will. If we want to really balance things out to continue progressing towards sustainability, perhaps we need to put less value in economic sectors and put more emphasis in environmental and social sectors.


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