Ecoliteracy Braid

One thing that Serena and I have in common is that we both got our love of the environment from our grandmothers. Perhaps this is a common theme because life was simpler in their time, and as such they had more of an opportunity to connect with and appreciate the environment around them. Gardens were an essential for families, as it provided food that would last them throughout the winter and into the next year. Serena mentions how her grandmother:

“love[s] everything,

From [her] compost, plants, and trees,

[She} inspires [her].”

The ability to appreciate the simplicities of life is something that is sorrowly lacking from our generation. Similarly, our relationships with our grandmothers disrupts the colonial narrative that often dominates our society. Today, it is common for grandparents to be placed in senior centers, and visited occasionally, but are often treated like they have nothing that they could contribute anymore. After all, how could they possibly understand the intricacies of our modern day society? Contrarily, Indigenous societies traditionally valued elders, and they would be responsible for teaching the next generations and passing on their knowledge, both of the land and their history on it. Perhaps this is why the lessons of our grandmothers stuck with us, while the lessons we had on the environment in school disappeared from our memory: the relationship we formed with them made their lessons all the more important.

Madison Lemmon’s poem about her friend disrupted mine in the sense of what ecoliteracy truly means. Where my grandma focused on the simple things in life, like having a garden and being content with what we have, Madison’s friend takes even more steps to reduce her impact on the environment. Perhaps this is because the definition of what it means to be ecoliterate changes as our understanding of the environment and our impact on it changes. In my grandma’s time, you only had to limit waste and appreciate nature to be considered ecoliterate, partly because most people didn’t believe in climate change (so anything you did was considered helpful). Now, we realize that we need to make bigger changes to our lives in order to slow down climate change – it is no longer just a faraway idea that won’t affect us, everyone will be impacted. As such, Madison’s friend takes more drastic measures, by composting, recycling, watching what she eats, educating herself on the issues, making others aware of what she knows, and so much more. It is apparent that she is living her life according to the Leap Manifesto, which claims:

“Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go. So we need to leap.

This leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land.”

The small changes that our grandparents maintained are no longer enough. Appreciating the beauty of nature, while important, is not going to stop climate change. We need to begin to change how we live our lives, like Madison’s friend, if we truly want to make a difference. We can start by acknowledging our colonial history, and working to undo it. Just like how Serena and I learned the most from our elders, acknowledging the Indigenous people’s rights and connection to the land will help us to make a better future for all. Debates about pipelines that will destroy so many ecosystems won’t even be an option. Clear-cutting forests and not replanting won’t be a reality. Undoing more than a century of colonialism won’t happen overnight, but we can take a leap for a better future.

Serena’s and Madison’s poems both acknowledged the actions of the individual. While her grandma’s actions aren’t going to stop climate change on their own, they inspired Serena to become more attached to the environment and want to help. Likewise, Serena’s actions will likely inspire those around her. Madison’s friend discovered her passion for the environment at a young age, and while people admired her passion, they questioned what she could possibly do. Now, she has degrees in environmental studies, which she uses to better the environment and make others aware.

“Now,

You’ve made an impact.

You take public transport, you’re a vegetarian, you shop local, you recycle and compost.”

People are starting to realize that their actions help, no matter how small they may seem. You don’t need to wait for a large group of people to join you before you start to change, as Madison’s friend realized. Just like how Serena’s grandma inspired her, Madison’s friend inspired her and many others to change, and their actions will inspire others to care as well. We don’t/shouldn’t need to wait for a large group of people to want to help make a difference. The change starts with us, and whatever we are able to do to help. Others will see the difference you are making, and will follow suit. If we are constantly waiting for someone else to start, we will never accomplish anything, yet this is exactly what many people do. Rather than doing what we can, like the hummingbird that tried to put out the forest fire on his own, we wait for others to step up. We need to take responsibility for our own actions if we ever want to make a change and put out the metaphorical “forest fire” that is climate change. We can hope that others will see our actions and follow suit.

Ecoliteracy Poem: Secret Garden

Grandma,

You loved me

Nurtured me

Held me

You showed me the connections

As we sat in your garden

That is how I remember you

Strong

Intelligent

Beautiful

Your garden was a secret oasis

Not only for me

But for all living things

It was there that you taught me to care

That a flower has as much life as us

That without them

We cannot be

You taught me that I was lovingly created

Just like all I see

You taught me to not be wasteful

And use what I have for what I need

You taught me that we were here

For a reason

Even if I have yet to see

You taught me that this world was a gift

And we need to take care of it

Watching our actions

To make sure it lasts

And show our appreciation

You taught me many things

In that garden

Where life was at peace

CJ #2: Plugging into Environmental Protection

 

Energy consumption is one of the leading threats to our environment. Coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil fuels give us use of lights, heat, and appliances. Unfortunately, the burning of them also releases large amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere, contributing to climate change in a drastic way.

For my “powerful acts of reciprocity with the land” (Kimmerer 174), I have decided to limit my energy consumption. Electricity is something we have begun to take for granted. We flip a switch, not even thinking about the current that is now free to flow to our lights. We don’t think of how far that electricity has had to travel, or even where it came from. We don’t think of the thousands of pounds of coal that are being burned to produce it or the CO2 that is an inescapable by-product of this reaction. Limiting my consumption will cause me to appreciate how easy hse me to appreciate how easy itaving electricity makes my life, become aware of the larger impacts that are a result of this ease, and will help me re-discover how nature already provides many of these services in a natural way. Natural light during the day, sun and wind to dry clothes (that also leaves them smelling nicer than the dryer), entertainment in the wildlife and colors of plants, and so many other things that we have found a way for technology to give us are already found in nature.

My visual representation shows two clothes lines made of power cords; one is plugged in (left), while the other is not (right). The cord that is plugged into the outlet represents actions that I plan to begin to incorporate into my life, and are things I believe everyone should do. Rather than drying my clothes in a dryer, I will hang them on the clothesline to dry. I will change all my incandescent bulbs to LED, which will reduce the amount of energy they use, while also having a longer life span, reducing my waste production as well. Other actions I plan to take are to live in the climate (not using air-conditioning in the summer, or excessive amounts of heat in the winter), unplugging unnecessary appliances (such as computers) when they are not in use to prevent unnecessary energy drain, spending my free time reading or outside rather than watching TV, turning down the water heater so that it uses less power, and turning down the thermostat at night and when I’m not at home.

The cord that is unplugged represents things that I currently do and that I plan to stop doing. Some examples are using the dryer to dry clothes, buying new products rather than repairing what I have (thus using more energy in the production of it), leaving electronics on or plugged in all day even when I am not using them, and buying food that is not locally grown (and thus used more energy in production, processing, and shipping).

I believe that this will not only help my impact on the environment to lessen, but it will also have an impact on my physical and psychological health. It is proven that spending time in nature lessens stress and helps to focus the mind. I will be spending more time outdoors both for recreational purposes and for chores (when I am hanging clothes on the line, etc.). The actions I plan to take encourage me to be outside more often than I currently am, which will help my overall quality of life and appreciation of nature to increase.

According to “Leave No Child Inside” by Richard Louv:

“Even as children and teenagers become more aware of global threats to the environment, their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: ‘I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.’ His desire is not at all uncommon. In a typical week, only 6 percent of children ages nine to thirteen play outside on their own” (https://orionmagazine.org/article/leave-no-child-inside/).

The fact that only 6 percent of children go outside on their own to play is frightening. The lure of video games and cartoons has become an obsession, causing many kids to forget how to play for real. I know that I am no less guilty. I spend time watching shows on Netflix when the weather is perfect to go for a walk or a bike ride. The steps I plan to take to reduce my energy consumption will help me to go outside rather than sitting on the couch, and could help others as well if they chose to take the same steps. This means that these actions not only help the environment become healthier, it helps the people doing them become healthier as well, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

CJ #1: We Are One

It was finally time. We could take home the flowers we had grown from seeds for the last couple of months. We all eagerly run over to the large planter containing all of our flowers, carefully marked with popsicle sticks.

“Hold on!” our teacher calls from across the room. “If you want to take your plants home, you must remove it from the pot without damaging any of it’s roots, or any of the other flowers’ roots, so be careful.”

Okay, I think, that can’t be too hard. As a group, we devise a plan to carefully dump the planter out so that we can see the roots and where each one ends. We hall it outside to make sure we don’t make a mess, then carefully tip it over.

Uh-oh.

As the roots are exposed, it becomes painfully obvious that this won’t be an easy task. The roots are so thin and fragile, and so tangled together that it is impossible to tell where one flower begins and another ends, but we try to slowly untangle them. When it becomes apparent that this will not happen, our teacher starts talking again.

“You can’t do it, can you?” she asks.

“No,” we all reply glumly.

“You see how the roots are all interwoven and connected? Our whole world is like that.”

We all look at her as if she has three heads. We don’t have roots, we’re people. One kid is quick to point this out, and that we can move and think, whereas plants can’t.

“Maybe they can’t move or think in the same way we do, but plants have their own ways of communicating and living. And we have one thing in common with them: the Earth. We all have our metaphorical roots here. It sustains us, nourishes us, and shelters us, whether we are plants, animals, or humans. The world doesn’t choose to only support one or the other. And if it did, none of us could survive, because we would have no food or shelter.”

She pauses while we all process this.

“So, if you think about it, how can we rate one life above another?” she continues. “That bush that you pull out of your yard because “it’s in the way” or “isn’t pretty,” may be home to a ton of life, be it bugs, birds, or other plants or animals. If we got rid of all the bugs simply because we find them gross and annoying, birds and other animals would starve, and plants wouldn’t be pollinated, so they wouldn’t produce food or seeds, and they would go extinct. Can anyone tell me what would happen then?”

“There would be no food for the animals…or us.”

“Exactly. Everything is so interconnected, that we can’t affect one life form without affecting another. On a larger scale than just your front yard, we can think of climate change. The global temperature is warming, and glaciers are melting. That means that polar bears and other animals will lose their home and will likely go extinct. What else might happen if they glaciers melt?”

We all look at each other, unsure of what to say.

“Think of the oceans,” she hints, before continuing. “The oceans will rise, covering land that people, animals, and plants currently live on, so people all around the world will be effected. And it’s not because there’s only pollution happening in the arctic. Pollution from all around the world is contributing to the temperature rise, which is impacting specific regions more than others.”

I had never thought about this, or how my actions could affect people on the other side of the world. Living in Saskatchewan, I grew up surrounded by the prairies, and had found my identity in the golden wheat fields and the purple of flax. Everywhere else seemed too far away for anything I did to have an impact on. But this lesson showed me just how close we really were. I imagined roots spreading from my feet, through the ground and around the world, giving life or choking out people and animals I had never met. Would I ever be able to see the elephants in Africa, or would the temperature increase kill them off before I could? What about the bears I had seen when we visited my dad’s childhood home? Was I unknowingly going to be responsible for their deaths?

We learned more from that hands-on experience than she could have ever taught us alone. If she had tried to teach us about the interconnectedness of our world without showing us how our plants grew to be so entangled, we would never have understood that our actions effect people on the other side of the world, just like up-rooting a plant on one side of the planter effects plants on the opposite end. This Environmental Education experience helped us to better understand and develop a more accurate picture of the world we live in, and our place in it. As Kimmerer states: “I had been fooling myself that I was the only teacher. The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness.” While our teacher may have had to explain the larger picture, the land gave us the image that explained it, and allowed us to understand a concept that would have been lost on us otherwise. As future teachers we need to remember that we are not the only one teaching our students. They learn just as much, if not more, from their interactions with the environment and other living things.

It was on that hot, summer day that I realized my place in the world. Until then, I had always seen people as sort of separate from the environment and drew imaginary lines between the city and the ‘wild’ to make this distinction clear. After this lesson, I realized just what a big impact my actions can have, and that humans aren’t separate from the environment. We find our identity in the land, just like the deer have theirs in the grasslands, the bears find theirs in the mountains, and the elephant have theirs in the African plains. If we lose our land, or rather, if we continue to destroy it for materialistic purposes, we will lose our identity, just as so many others will.