Ecoliterate | Daniel Goleman

Summary of: Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence
By: Daniel Goleman


Ecoliterate takes a deep dive into the necessity of understanding and empathizing with ecological systems, pushing the idea of ecoliteracy as an essential teaching and community practice. Informed by the work of several scientists, this book explains how humanity has passed the safe boundaries in several crucial life-support systems. Readers will explore the various principles and practices detailed in the book, such as developing empathy for all forms of life, embracing sustainability as a community practice, making the invisible consequences of human actions visible, anticipating unintended consequences, and understanding how nature sustains life.

Ecoliteracy: Understanding Our Life-Support Systems

In his book, Johan Rockström defined nine life-support systems essential for human survival. We have already passed safe boundaries in many categories, but there is still hope. Ecoliteracy is the key to making necessary changes in biodiversity, nitrogen cycle, and climate change. This concept is similar to multiple and emotional intelligences as it promotes the understanding and empathy towards ecological systems. Ecoliteracy needs to be adopted as a teaching and community practice to ensure human survival. Communities represent a core pattern of organization for surviving over time.

Principles of Ecoliteracy

The book emphasizes five principles of ecoliteracy that educators can teach to raise awareness about the environment.

Ecoliteracy is composed of several interrelated strands that aim to assist individuals in developing empathy, sustainability as a community practice, making the invisible visible, anticipating unintended consequences, and understanding how nature sustains life. The first principle teaches students to build empathy for all forms of life by cultivating care and compassion for animals and plants. Teachers can achieve this by including plants and animals in the classroom or by having students visit animal rescue centers. The second principle emphasizes that every organism, including humans, exists as part of a community and depend on each other. Therefore, sustainability should be a community practice that values the common good and seeks to make life better for everyone. The third principle encourages students to see the visible and invisible consequences of their actions, understanding the relationship between different systems, and how they interact with one another. The fourth principle cautions individuals to predict the unintended consequences of their actions while recognizing that some environmental damage may result from human behavior.

The fifth and final principle is perhaps the most critical concept of ecoliteracy. Individuals cannot live separately from the natural environment that sustains their life. Recognizing this relationship will help individuals make choices that support interconnected systems, rather than harm them. The web of relationships that knit individuals to the natural world provides a new perspective and guide for making ecoliterate choices. Therefore, teaching these five principles of ecoliteracy can raise awareness and effect positive change for the environment.

Environmental Impact of Surface Mining

Surface mining is a profitable method of gaining access to coal and minerals below ground; however, it has caused outlandish destruction to local environments. Sixty percent of the coal obtained in the US comes from surface mining, which removes soil, rock, and ecosystems, and washes away toxins such as lead and arsenic. After mining, the company reshapes the whole area to replace the soil, replant trees, and restore the mountain’s general shape to useful landscapes. Surface mining has already destroyed 500 mountaintops, thousands of miles of streams, and 1,000,000 acres of forests. The US Environmental Protection Agency blocked 11 mining permits due to their impact on Kentucky’s waterways in 2010, but Governor Steve Beshear partnered with the coal industry to sue the EPA. A small group of people spoke with the governor and occupied the capitol building for a weekend, hoping to cease surface mining, though their heartfelt stories educated the other citizens instead. A basic, necessary ecoliterate education will reveal America’s invisible, pervasive relationship with coal. Although 45% of US electricity comes from coal, most people don’t know where the power originates. A South Carolina history teacher designed a course to clarify the widespread implications of coal. His students explored coal-mining sites, coal-processing plants, and ecosystems but found that the water at their retreat center was “tainted” and could not be used. Instructors interested in a similar course can use the application “What’s My Connection to Mountaintop Removal?” or show the film The Last Mountain to create awareness about coal’s impact on the environment.

Impacts of Oil Drilling on Arctic Indigenous People and Youth-led Environmental Conservation Efforts

The process of extracting oil from the protected area like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has direct consequences on the indigenous people, particularly the Gwich’in, whose food and culture depend on the Porcupine caribou that migrate through the region. Despite the money generated by oil drilling, the Gwich’in have refused it and worked to obtain their entire tribal land claim instead. On the other hand, a group of middle and high school students formed Rethinkers, aiming to make their community better by addressing diverse needs. The Rethinkers started with small tasks to fix issues in their school system, such as installing sinks and promoting energy conservation after the Deepwater Horizon Spill highlighted the need to reduce energy use. Overall, the journey towards environmental conservation and protection requires compassion towards other forms of life.

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