Many times I have been asked to define the characteristics of an environmentally literate person. I have always responded that environmental education must be part of the solution to any environmental problem. Indeed, having an environmental education must precede advocacy. We need to know what we are talking about. We need the credibility of knowledge as we propose and formulate solutions to complex global issues.
There are basic understandings for those who study the environment. For example, it is understood that all living things are interdependent, that their populations are influenced by other organisms as well as the limitations of the physical environment. There are strong and powerful physical processes that shape the structure of the earth such as the daily effects of waves and tides along a dynamic shoreline. And it is not beyond comprehension that human beings, through their numbers and technology, can also affect large ecosystems.
Environmentally literate people have what I call an ecological eye. They see connections everywhere. They understand the necessity of good observations, efficient classification, and careful analysis. They make meaningful and thoughtful choices before deciding on a course of action. They are very skeptical of simple, short-term fixes to problems that have taken decades to develop. They examine the historical context of an issue. They are open to new ideas and concepts and have a strong appreciation for original research.
But there are also some indications of an environmentally literate person through their behavior. First of all they don’t litter. In fact they are very careful in their consumption patterns and take no resource for granted. They worry about the disposal of an item BEFORE they purchase it. They know exactly the source of their drinking water. They have a passion for energy conservation and are not afraid of wind turbines. They do not view shopping as a form of recreation. They care deeply about the welfare of other living things and not just dogs and cats. Indeed they happen to like BOTH humans and piping plovers.
And environmentally literate people care about others including future generations. They know that world resources are finite and limited, that ecosystems are fragile and sensitive, and that the throwaway mentality is dangerous and suicidal. They are much smarter than most politicians. They are not impressed with public policies based on bumper sticker slogans that are self-serving in the short term and self-destructive for the long run. In short, environmentally literate people are in tune with their surroundings. They believe in volunteer simplicity and they are grateful and appreciative of the bountiful natural wonders in their lives.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.