The concept of ecological sustainability was introduced more than twenty years ago by Lester Brown, who defined it as a sustainable society that is capable of satisfying its needs without reducing the opportunities of future generations. This classic definition of sustainability is an important moral exhortation, but it tells us nothing about how to really build a sustainable society. For this reason, the whole concept of sustainability remains complex for many people.
What we need is a practical definition of ecological sustainability. The key to this definition is to realize that we do not need to invent sustainable human communities from scratch, but we can use as a model the ecosystems of nature, which are the sustainable communities of plants, animals and Microorganisms. Since the most prominent feature of the biosphere is its innate ability to conserve life, a sustainable human community must be designed in such a way that its way of life, business, economy, physical structures and technologies do not interfere with the Innate ability of nature to sustain life.
This definition of sustainability implies that in our struggle to build sustainable communities, we must understand the principles of organization that have developed ecosystems to sustain the threads of life. To understand this is what we call ecoliteracy. In the coming decades the survival of humanity will depend on our ability to understand the basic principles of ecology and live accordingly.
We need to teach our children-and our political and corporate leaders!-the fundamental facts of life, for example, that matter continually revolves through the network of life; That the energy that moves the ecological cycles flows from the sun; That diversity assures us elasticity; That the waste of a species is the food of another species; That life, since its beginnings more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by fighting but spinning and working. Teaching this ecological knowledge, which is also an ancestral wisdom, will be the most important role of education in the 21st century.
A new paradigm
Fully understanding the principles of ecology requires a new way of looking at the world and a new way of thinking in terms of relationships, connection, and context. Ecology is first and above all a science of relations between the members of the ecosystem communities. To fully understand the principles of ecology we need to think in terms of relationships and context. This contextual or systemic thinking involves several perceptual changes that go against the mainstream of traditional Western science and education.
Instead of seeing the universe as a machine made up of elementary building blocks, scientists have discovered that the material world is ultimately a network of inseparable relationships patterns; That the planet as a whole is a living system, and a regulator. The vision of the human body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is being replaced by one that not only sees the brain, but also the immune system, body tissues and even every cell, as living cognitive systems. This vision no longer sees evolution as a competitive struggle for existence, but instead sees it as a cooperative dance in which creativity and constant emergence of novelties are the driving forces.
When we study the basic principles of deep ecology, we find that they are interrelated. No individual organism can exist in isolation. Animals depend on the photosynthesis of plants for their energy needs; Plants depend on the carbon dioxide produced by the animals, as well as on the nitrogen produced by the bacteria in their roots; And together, plants, animals and microorganisms regulate the whole biosphere and maintain the conditions that make life possible. Sustainability, therefore, is not individual property but owned by a complete network of relationships. It always implies a whole community. This is the deep lesson we need to learn from nature. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture the community.
Everything is related
When we teach this in our schools, it is important for us that children not only understand ecology, but experience it in nature – in a school garden, on a beach, or at the birth of a river-and that they also experience the community while Study. Otherwise, they could leave school and be first-rate theoretical ecologists but very little care about nature, the Earth.
The community is essential to understanding sustainability, and it is also essential for the teaching of ecology in the multidisciplinary way it requires. In schools, it is necessary to integrate several disciplines to create an ecologically oriented curriculum. Obviously this is only possible if the teachers of the different disciplines collaborate, and if the school administration makes such collaboration possible. In other words, conceptual relationships between the different disciplines can be made explicit only if there are corresponding human relationships between teachers and administrators.
Ten years of work has convinced us that education for sustainable living can be practiced better if the whole school becomes a learning community. In this community, teachers, students, administrators and parents are all interconnected in a network of relationships, working together to facilitate learning. Teaching does not flow from top to bottom, but there is a cyclical exchange of knowledge. The focus is on learning and everyone within the system is both a teacher and a student.
In the conventional view of education, students appear as passive apprentices, and the curriculum is a set of default, out-of-context information. Our educational pedagogy for sustainable life completely breaks with this agreement, we involve students in the educational process with the help of projects based on real life. This generates a strong motivation and involves students emotionally. Instead of presenting information outside of the predetermined context, we encourage critical thinking, questions and experimentation, recognizing that learning implies the structure of meaning according to the student’s personal history and antecedent Cultural.
The earth is our common home and creating a sustainable world for our children and for future generations is our common task.