Friday, September 11, 2009

Environmental Ethics and Environmental Education

Foundational to the work we do at the Nature Centre toward fostering environmental citizenship, is the work we do in encouraging an environmental ethic in the population. There are many paths to a environmentally literate population with a strong sense of environmental ethics. However, often metaphor is required to illustrate what an environmental ethic (or any other ethical framework) would look like.

While at my summer residency at Royal Roads University I had the chance to explore worldviews and environmental ethics. Here is a sampling, with some new thought and content, of some of the ideas we explored. Credit goes to Natalie Bowes who co-wrote the document from which this post was generated.


Nothing is static. The wind blows, water flows, birds fly and all manner of life is always on the move. Even the rocks degrading in the face of wind and water are changing; rock to sand, sand to dust, dust to mineral, inevitably leaching back into the oceans and lands of the earth to help drive life. We are part of this dynamic system. Everything we are and do is tied our interplay with the living Earth. And, everything we are and do affects the Earth. In the words of Thomas Berry, “We are Earth reflecting back upon itself”.

While phenomenally complex and often subtle, if we look carefully we can see these interactions at work; not just on a species-species basis but at every level of organized and seemingly random life. Between these places of organization, there are transitional zones; places where either literally or metaphorically, there is interplay that brings together disparate factors to create new possibilities.

Florence Krall (1994) refers to these special places as ecotones. In biology “ecotones are transitional regions between two different habitats” (Mortimer-Sandilands, 2004, p.45) The Aspen Parkland of Central Alberta can be seen as a giant ecotone. It is a zone of convergence for the ecology of Boreal forest, the prairie grasslands, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the tumbling Badlands. In this space biotic life and abiotic factors influence each other to create a unique system made up of - yet unlike - all the surrounding systems.

While providing rich zones of convergence and interplay that can facilitate positive change, ecotones can also stand as barriers to those unable through the mechanics of biology and/or geology or through social constructs of power, to interact with them. An ecotone, with its ability to facilitate change and create new connections is an excellent metaphor for the path one could take in fostering an environmental ethic.

At the Nature Centre we are an evolving ecotone comprised of a variety of interactions between people from around the region, plants, animals, climate and all the connections those interactions create. The ecotone we collectively create through the Nature Centre can be stimulated to affect positive behavioural change, which with inputs of education and positive reinforcement, can lead to the uptake of an environmentally positive ethic.

Now, it should be made clear that we don't sit around in meetings and have discussions about how we "create an ecotone and use it to foster change". Rather, by visiting the Centre, taking part in a program, going for a walk in the Sanctuary, reading this blog, subscribing to our Facebook group or any of the other ways to interact with us, your fellows and the environment, you are creating and evolving the ecotone. We are merely picking strategic points to interact with it and help it along toward an environmental ethic.

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