Essays on ecology

  Dialog and perspective

Available essayes:

Delusive words - or how we evade a conversion of the mind

Ecology means dialogue

From "Green Trends in Education" to "Earth Education"

Dialog and perspective:
- Ecological literacy /eco-literacy
- Eco-psychology
- Bio-regionalism
- Indigenous knowledge

Sustainable transportation - and how to

Keep it simple - sweetheart !

Ecological literacy / eco-literacy
Indigenous knowledge

Ecological literacy / eco-literacy

Fewer and fewer know more and more about tinier and tinier bits of nature. While more and more people, due to the increasing urbanisation of modern life, are experiencing an increasingly remote and superficial relationship to earth and nature in general. Following this development, and despite an increasing level of information, most people today lack the fundamental insights and skills needed for managing the basic conditions for life on Earth. We are no longer able to read the landscape and do not understand the signs of nature as communication. In short, we've grown into eco-illiterates.

The concept of 'Eco-Literacy' (eco-alphabetisation) should be seen as an attempt to coin a term with a conceptual content as fundamental as alphabetisation. In other words, 'Eco-literacy' tries to investigate what kind of basic educational effort we need to launch in order to enable everyone to acquire the basic skills needed for an ecologically sustainable life on earth.

In his book 'The Web of Life' Fritjof Capra used the concept of 'ecological literacy', denoting the insight and knowledge needed in order for man to create and uphold sustainable societies. To do so, we need to understand ourselves as part of The Web of Life, and to study the ecosystems of nature. We have to understand the underlying principles of natural ecosystems, and to use them as our basis for building our own societies.

In his Book 'Earth in Mind. On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect', David W. Orr set up a goal defining what every student, regardless of his or her chosen career and profession, needs to learn. No student should be allowed to graduate from any high school or university without a basic knowledge of the following:

  • ecological principles
  • the laws of thermodynamics
  • caring
  • energy relationships
  • cradle-to-grave analysis
  • living properly on a location
  • limits to technology
  • optimal size
  • sustainable agro-forestry
  • sustainable economics
  • environmental ethics

He adds a number of practical skills needed for the art of living properly on a location: subsistence farming, simple artisan skills, the use of solar energy and familiarity with local plant and wildlife, and local conditions in terms of water and soil.

Moreover, the concept of 'eco-literacy' comprises the ability of comprehensively perception and thinking. Comprehensive thinking is an approach to real life that requires a preparedness to see the whole before its separate parts. Comprehensive thinking asks for coherence and context, emphasising relations, interactions and cyclicity; and it acknowledges that living entities cannot be reduced to the mere sum of their individual parts.

Want to learn more about 'Eco-literacy'? Use it as a keyword on the Internet.

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Eco-psychology is a new concept trying to integrate ecology and psychology, and to investigate the psychological, philosophical, cultural and spiritual roots of the man/nature relationship.


In other words, eco-psychology is about the relationship between external and internal ecology. It considers the health of man and Planet Earth as interdependent and inextricably linked entities. Eco-psychology is based on the assumptions that:

  • our planet is a living system
  • mankind - in our interplay with every other life-form on earth - is linked up with this system
  • neither global nor individual human problems can be solved without respecting this connection.

Basically the needs of people and the needs of our planet are identical. The external ecological crisis reflects man's internal crisis, and human awareness is involved in its creation as well as its cure. So eco-psychologists don't consider it possible to work with people only, and they consider it a delusion that we could possibly 'save the human soul', while the biosphere is deteriorating. These are reciprocal processes.

They think of the human psyche as being born by earth, and its profoundest levels as being rooted in the earth. The core of human conscienciousness is the 'ecological subconscious', representing the entire evolution of life on earth.

More interested in Eco-psychology? Use 'Ecopsychology' as your keyword to search for more on the Internet.

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In order to explain the concept of 'bio-regionalism' we need to start with the definition of a bio-region. A bio-region denotes a geographical area characterised by certain general natural conditions - typically the catchment area of a small river with a uniform flora and fauna. (As an example, Western Jutland, Denmark could be termed a bioregion).

Frequently, any such region is also characterised by a shared history and culture. And here we are at the heart of the concept: the shared history and culture embodies a shared approach to the specific potentials of a local area. In other words, bio-regionalism is a management strategy rooted in an era when self-realisation was more directly tied up with locality than today. The cultural diversity and variation in produce and traditions found in the regions of Europe, and in different Danish regions, too, is a manifestation hereof - from the pre-McDonald era!

Now, why is such a locally based strategy being propounded as a conscious management alternative? Above all because the present management strategy comes at considerable environmental and human costs - and non-sustainable ones, which is becoming increasingly clear. As an example, a US average Calorie 'travels' 2000 miles before being eaten!

But in addition to the environmental aspects, the present strategy has a number of political, cultural and psychological aspects.

People's political involvement and their sense of shared responsibility is inversely proportional to their distance to influence and insight; so the more local communities are being deprived of fullness and meaning, the more detrimental to democracy.

A bio-regional strategy intends to localise economy and culture by strengthening local cycles and by providing a platform for sustainable regional production. Local subsistence production will help to reduce the problems generated by transportation (CO2 emission), and will also help to recreate the basis of biological and cultural diversity.

In a psychological and educational perspective this is about restoring the meaning of 'the place'. A sense of belonging, togetherness, identity; because, in a literal way, we are made aware of ourselves as being parts of the land, the landscape, the place.

Bio-regionalism means local involvement, increasing our knowledge of the place where we live, our ecological 'address', thus creating a basis for developing a sustainable culture.

You can attune to this line of thought by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where does my drinking water come from?
  • What is the mean precipitation in my home area?
  • What are the prevailing winds?
  • How was my region first formed and shaped?
  • Name two wild herbs of your area that are edible or have medicinal qualities
  • Name two sedentary and two migratory bird species of your area.
  • What direction does your front door face?
  • What kind of tree do you find closest to your home?
  • Where does your waste end up? 

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Indigenous knowledge

Once all humans could be considered indigenous people, in the sense that they were more or less settled and lived in direct relation with the possibilities offered by their region.

However, in the second half of our millennium - and especially in our century - migration of people from region to region, and between countries severed many of the ties that once existed between people, and to the land that nurtured us. A lot of (ecological) knowledge was lost in the process. Where it still exists among indigenous people, we are witnessing considerable efforts by many parties (notably the pharmaceutical industries) to collect and document (and patent!) such knowledge, before it risks being irreparably lost as these communities are crumbling away.

Amongst the indigenous people there are also efforts to preserve their knowledge. In this case efforts are closely linked up with their struggle to preserve the local communities, of which their knowledge is a part. For this is a knowledge that lives and is passed on as an inextricable part of culture and tradition, imbedded in the cosmology of the people and in landscape ecology as well.

So what makes 'indigenous knowledge' particularly interesting in the present context is not the specific knowledge, but much rather the inspiration to be found in the context of such knowledge and learning. Obviously anyone devoted to finding an instructional and educational basis for an ecologically sustainable development should have an eye to those societies and cultures that, despite a parallel historical process, have chosen a development pathway different than our own western Christian civilisation model.

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