People who know me personally know that I am not a trained ecologist, nor am I a scientist. Over the past few years, however, I have sought to “think ecologically,” and become what is called “ecologically literate.”
What does it mean to be ecologically literate? In a clear and compelling account, [environmental activist David] Orr argues that the essence of ecological literacy is “that quality of mind that seeks out connections.” In contrast to the narrow specialization that characterizes so much education today—across virtually all the academic disciplines—an ecological frame of mind seeks to integrate, to bring together, to see things whole. In Orr’s words, “The ecologically literate person has the knowledge necessary to comprehend interrelatedness, and an attitude of care or stewardship,” and this must be accompanied by “the practical competence required to act on the basis of knowledge and feeling.” Hence, “knowing, caring, and practical competence constitute the basis of ecological literacy.” Not only must we know, we must care. And not only must we care, but we must have the wherewithal to act responsibly, informed by such knowledge and passion.” -from For the Beauty of the Earth, p. 22
At times I have struggled to find the right expression for why I find certain subjects interrelated, and articulate how they appear in my mind. Sometimes the connections seem as delicate as a thread of silk; at others they are as taut and direct as a tightrope. While working through the book quoted above, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, I found a rather concise group of “laws” presented by the author, Steven Bouma-Prediger, that help me understand some of these concepts a little better. They are explored below.
1. The law of interrelatedness.
A “we are all in this thing together” type of law. No species in no place is in solitary confinement from any other. Including humans. We are dependent on plant and animal species for our own survival. At even the human level, our actions (individual and societal) effect our fellow men and women either directly or indirectly.
2. The law of multiple effects.
“We can never do only one thing. Our actions always have many consequences, some of which we do not know and cannot predict.” (Bouma-Prediger, 36)
3. The law of the conservation of matter.
An actual scientific law, relevant to ecology because nothing is ultimately destroyed—it just changes form. Applied to industrial production, carbon emissions, and waste disposal, its importance becomes apparent.
4. The law of the conservation of energy (the first law of thermodynamics).
Another scientific law. “It takes energy to get energy….when energy changes from one form to another, some of the useful energy is degraded or becomes less useful. This is the second law of thermodynamics: In energy conversion, entropy or disorder increases.” (Ibid, 37)
5. The law of dynamic systems.
“The earth’s living organisms and natural cycles are constantly changing, and creatures large and small adapt or cease to be.” (Ibid) I would extend this to human society as well, inasmuch that humans are organisms and that society can be considered “natural.”
6. The law of limits.
“There is not always more. Save for the energy income from the sun, the world is finite. We live, like it or not, in a world of limits.” (Ibid)
7. The law of complexity.
The world is exceedingly more complicated than we are aware of at any given moment.
As presented here, there are a number of things one must be cognizant of in order to be “ecologically literate.” These “laws” are a more concise, straightforward expression of what I perceive to be overlapping systems (or spheres of influence, perhaps a better metaphor because it provides three-dimensional attributes and implies a less mechanical, more ethereal imagery) of economy, environment, culture, government, philosophy, religion, and ethics. Each affects the others. “Thinking ecologically” therefore, for someone like me means teasing out how these systems relate to one another, discovering their points of contact and diversion. It is hard work, striving to think this way, but it is good work. I believe it is necessary work.
Have some turkey!
Have some ham!
Have some pie!
Hug your loved ones!
Don’t get in fights!
Skype with siblings far away!*
Play board games!
Play some football!
Watch some movies!
Take a nap!
Enjoy your family!
(I’ve now used up my exclamation points for the year. The quota will reset in 2011.)
Everyone have a great day.
In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light. We are
glad when the day ends, when the play ends; and
ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: children who are up in the
night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the
day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are
glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the
night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put the light
and relight it;
Forever we must quench, forever relight the flame.
from ‘THE ROCK’ by T.S. Eliot