Taking Nature's Course
Taking Nature's Course
Aboard a boat in the Gulf of Mexico recently, Vernon Asper, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi, told NPR: "The very best thing probably is to let nature take its course."
He was not, of course, alone in his response (in this case, referring to the deep-water microbes that decompose oil.) In the face of the daunting Gulf of Mexico oil spill — still spilling, one month after the explosion — it is tempting to resort, on rational or spiritual grounds, to thoughts about the healing powers of nature. We poor humans, after all, don't yet even know how much oil has spilled, or how to stop it.
But how might things have turned out differently if more of us had understood the course of nature — and acted on that understanding — before this crisis hit? Would we have better estimated nature's capacity to compensate for human mistakes and limited ourselves to actions and technologies whose consequences we could manage? Would we have learned to calculate and live within an energy budget that doesn't require dangerous extraction practices?
If there is any good at all to come of the latest Gulf disaster, it is that more people might recognize the very real need for schools to accept responsibility for nurturing a new kind of understanding and caring, which has been variously called ecoliteracy, ecological intelligence, and education for sustainable living.
We urgently need schools to prepare young people for a world marked by climate change, water shortages, and significant threats to food security — and then share the teaching and learning experiences that inspire them to develop more creative, sustainable ways of living.
Education for sustainable living recognizes that the skills and wisdom that were once sufficient for our survival as a species are no longer adequate for modern life. It reveals the hidden web of connections between human activities and nature's systems and our impact on the planet, health, and social systems. And it points young people in the direction of better, more sustainable ways of living.
The Center for Ecoliteracy is a nonprofit dedicated to schooling for sustainability. Through our books, seminars, and direct work with educators in more than 400 communities over the past 15 years, we have discovered that better ways of teaching and learning are possible, and have been able to celebrate the potential of a vital movement on behalf of education for sustainable living.
Surely, it's better than hoping that nature will bail us out of our messes.