Ecological Literacy: What is it? Why is it important?

The sign here at Mountain Park Environmental Center includes the phrase, “Dedicated to the promotion of ecological literacy.” Some of you may be wondering just what “ecological literacy,” or ecoliteracy,is!

Ecoliteracy could be broken down to include the following four components:

1. An understanding of how the earth works, including basic ecological concepts (i.e. ecosystems, energetics, population and community ecology, carrying capacity, material cycles).

2. How humans fit into the ecology of the planet, including familiarity with the human threats to ecological integrity (i.e. global warming, ozone depletion, habitat destruction).

3. Possible solutions to these human threats to the earth’s ecological systems. The foundation upon which these first three components of ecological literacy are built is the fourth component.

4. A feeling of kinship, or connection, with the natural world. Rachel Carson called this connection a “sense of wonder,” and Harvard’s E.O. Wilson refers to it as “biophilia.” Aldo Leopold’s essay “The Land Ethic” refers eloquently to this “love, respect, and admiration for the land.” There is little doubt among countless thinkers and scientists that the manner in which the human species is presently living on the planet is, in the big picture, not sustainable. We live on a finite planet that simply has limits; sustainable human activities must reflect an awareness of such limits.

The road to a sustainable human enterprise, both locally and globally, requires making wise decisions about a wide range of environmental issues. Intelligent, informed decisions about land-use, growth, energy-use, open space, pollution, and many other issues require citizens who are ecologically literate.

All of the programming here at Mountain Park Environmental Center is in some way connected to promoting ecological literacy. Learning the names of our wildflower neighbors, searching for western tanagers and other bird residents of the area, listening to the words of Thoreau under a full moon, elementary students playing Nature games, lectures on ecological restoration projects…these all have to do with deepening our knowledge, appreciation, enjoyment and connection with Nature.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”-John Muir