Petting the Dog to Save Ourselves From Ecological Ruin

In my last blog post, “When life is for the birds,” I introduced the term ecological identity. Let me elaborate on why understanding one’s ecological identity as individual’s is important to know, and especially essential for educators to understand. David Orr said, that “all education is environmental education—by what we include or exclude, we teach the young that they are a part of or apart from the natural world.”

First off, an ecological identity is like a fingerprint. Everyone’s got one. Like it or not, all of us and all of society are embedded in an ecosystem. Your biological systems are the result of millennia of natural selection and our societal structures that make up our culture are connected to, and a product of biological evolution and cultural evolution within the context of an evolving ecosystem. The fact is, we all are a part of the natural world even if we often feel apart from the natural world. Get over it and move on.

I believe this worldview of separation from the natural world so many of us enact is the foundation of our ecological crisis. Therefore, essential for a shift to sustainable lifestyles is to address this perception. Operating from this worldview has created a society that worships to the altar of continual, perpetual growth. This is of course physically unsustainable. Available natural resources and energy limit growth.

An economy and society requiring perpetual growth necessitates subduing Mother Nature. This is the only way we can extract as many resources as fast as possible to ensure continually growing GDP—resulting in an adversarial relationship between modern culture and the natural world. Ultimately this can only be self-defeating. The only sustainable and sane path is to proceed as if the natural systems within which our society functions provides the context for the evolution of our society, just as those natural systems provide the context for our species to become all that it has through biological evolution. We are a natural part of the natural world. Operating from a worldview of opposition and being “at war” with the natural world can only end in our eventual defeat. War with Gaia is unwinnable. To put it more succinctly, as George Carlin said, “the planet will shrug us off like a bad case of fleas.” Those familiar with Carlin’s bit about environmentalists were probably fearful I was going to use another quote! Google it.

While limited natural resources may put limits on some aspects of growth, we are not limited by the natural world as to what we can achieve as a society. What we can achieve is a population that, as easily as individuals discover their own identity within our society, they should then discover their identity within their ecosystem.

First step for educators and parents. Get kids out to “pet the dog.” Literally get the hands of our children in the dirt and exploring the natural world around them. It doesn’t have to be a pristine national park. In some respects, our national parks are not very natural as we have to work really hard and manage those ecosystems to make them appear to be untouched. Any patch of dirt with life besides humans on it will suffice to begin forming that relationship between the individual and the natural world. Think of it as scratching your dog behind the ears. What dog doesn’t like that? And what kid doesn’t like petting a dog?

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