How to become a natural being

  • 14/02/1996

How to become a natural being INTERCONNECTED, compassionate, vulnerable: these are some of the words that convey people's feelings about their relationship with the earth. Environmentalism is not just a set of beliefs, concepts and practices; it is a way of being a 'being' enriched with feelings, memones and life experiences. This concept-feeiing interface is what Mitchell Thomashow sets out to explore in Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist.

The author, an educator who has long been involved with environmental issues, conveys strong personal feelings about environmentalism: the despair about the fate of an endangered species, the joy of a walk in the forest, the sense of loss at the destruction of a landscape. He seeks to help people develop their ecological identity - the way they should perceive themselves vis-a-vis nature.

Self-development with reference to ecosystems is essential to the difficult and often frustrating task of environmental advocacy. The author shows the path towards this ecological identity, using experiences of his own and his students. Thomashow uses case studies and quotes extensively to strengthen his theoretical standpoint.

The book contains several learning activities in this direction. The 'Eco-confessional', for instance, requires students to relate personal stories of ecological irresponsibility, which can help relieve their guilt and develop a sense of responsibility for earth's resources. Another such activity is 'Catalog of Personal Property', where students are asked to make out a detailed list of everything they own. The exercise boosts their self-esteem and brings out the guilt that arises of the knowledge that over-possessing material goods inevitably involves extraction of the earth's resources.

The book raises questions on the issue of preservation versus conservation, the ecological consequences of day-to-day human activities, and on whether there should be an 'environmental elite' to formulate public policy. He discusses several means to achieve ecological identity like the "practice of the wild" (learning to live using nature as a guide and teacher), the " natural history excursion" and the "path of citizenship" (the political and professional obligation to educate people about ecological threats. Although in the book there are frequent references to US contexts and cases, for educators all over the world involved in environmentalism, there is a lot of information about environmental issues and their application.

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