Is there any doubt that we are in an ecological crisis? We can no longer rely on simply educating, legislating, and engineering our way out of the crisis. We have been increasing educating about environmental issues and ecological principals pretty steadily since the first Earth Day in 1970. To what end? Our race towards ecological devastation, be it fully melted ice-caps to inedible fish due to mercury poisoning, seems to be accelerating.
Historically, we’ve passed landmark legislation to clean the water and the air. Since that legislation nearly 45 years ago, there has little legislative progress to make decisions collectively to preserve the “commons” we all share and rely upon for survival—air, water, forests, energy resources, oceanic species, etc. In fact, it appears we are losing ground. Instead of recognizing and acting on threats to our survival in the loss of the commons, we have instead devolved into arguing with one another about the existence of the threats to the commons, and therefore cannot agree to even take action to preserve the commons.
For our survival, we appear to be clinging to a future we’ve seen in Star Trek. At some point in the future we will become engineering masters allowing us to fix any issue that arises, even controlling the climate and weather if necessary. I’m quite a fan of the future—as I think it is safe to say that I have seen every incarnation of Star Trek more than once, but I don’t have any reason to believe that future is anything more than fantasy. Though we have politically put much lip service to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in education, I don’t see this happening either. The majority of our students’ experiences in elementary school is prepping for reading and math tests, which isn’t leaving any room for the STE of STEM. We are not producing a new generation of engineers to have any hope of even making this fantasy come true. And even if we were, is there any indication, based on the current political trends, that the next generation engineers would even recognize the ecological problems or would the energies and creativity go into more advanced smart phones and fitness watches?
I don’t have any reason to believe that any of these efforts will lead to anything more than ephemeral changes for the better in our behaviors until we address what Fritjof Capra refers to in his book, The Web of Life, as the “crisis of perception.”
I can hear you now, “Oh good, you tell me the world is coming to an end and it’s a crisis of perception. That’s a little too abstract for me.” In fact, Capra anticipated this response in the movie Mindwalk, for which he co-wrote the screenplay for based on his research into a systems view of life.
Until we individually, and then collectively, change the way we understand, interact with, and “be” in relationship with natural world, any changes we make may produce short terms shifts in rote “environmental” behavior with positive results, but not long-term understanding among the populace so that everyone has the ability to understand the interconnectedness of our lives with all of creation. We must be able to individually and collectively have the perceptive abilities to understanding the complexities of the web of life that makes up creation to ask “what then?” It is the ability of this question that David Orr defines the true hallmark of ecological literacy. A populace that can ask and answer this question before we make personal, political, and societal decisions leading to action (or inaction) is a foundational skill required to not only fix current environmental issues, but more important prevent the next set of environmental issues.
Eventually the Earth will heal itself, but we as a species will become what Peter Leschak refers to as nothing more than an interesting footnote in the life of our living planet some call Gaia, but I for one don’t feel the need to hasten this outcome.