Educational site Wonderville “recently spoke with Canadian ecologist, Nina Munteanu, to help us understand what environmental sustainability is, why it’s important, and how we all play a role in maintaining our planet.”
Here is some of what we discussed:
Wonderville: What role do ecologists play in environmental sustainability?
Nina: Ecologists look at why things happen and work, and—perhaps most importantly—how they affect one another. Ecology is the science of relationships and consequence. Most people think we focus on just the natural (wild) environment; but ecology embodies much more than this. The word oicos / ecos means “home”. So, we—humanity—are very much part of it.
Ecology plays a critical role in living sustainably because it looks at the HOW and WHY of things from the smallest to the largest scale.
Ecology: The branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.
Environmentally sustainable behaviour is a lifestyle choice. It’s a choice to live lightly on the planet as participants, not consumers. Living sustainably helps maintain the natural environment and comes from respect for all life and the planet as a whole. To act sustainably, we need to understand what the environment needs to sustain itself without harm and degradation. We need to be ecologists and learn how to live in partnership. While industry is a significant actor in causing environmental impact, the role of the individual—how we act, what we do and share—is a key part of being sustainable. It comes down to the ordinary things we do, say and feel.
Wonderville: What do you feel is the most important thing people should know about environmental sustainability?
Nina: I think the most important thing to know about environmental sustainability is that we are all a part of it—we can all make a difference. Each individual action can lead to accumulated impact. Just as a small action like littering can, over time, lead to a larger waste pollution problem, a small action toward sustainability can grow into significant positive change. This can be anything from deciding not to buy and drink bottled water to planting a garden that attracts bees and butterflies. We need to recognize that everything is linked and that we need to respect the water, soil, vegetation, fungal and animal life.
Wonderville: What advice would you give to teachers when exploring sustainability in their classrooms?
Nina: Teachers have the wonderful ability to empower their students by showing them they have a voice. The key to successful sustainable practices is connection and caring. When people make some kind of connection with a thing, they begin to care and will more likely do something to protect it.
I recommend that teachers try to foster three things with their students when talking about the environment and sustainability:
- That their students make a connection with some aspect of nature, whether through enjoying a walk in the woods, or taking an interest in a particular animal species
- To explore the link between our actions and the consequences of those actions
- To brainstorm a stepwise solution—a series of steps they can take—to work toward living more sustainably and help them embark on something concrete (e.g., planting trees, creating a new policy in the school about water or littering, start a stream clean up program in their community, write letters to companies and government officials, etc.) There is nothing like actually doing something and seeing its effect take hold.
Teachers can also spark students with optimism for a possible future. By exploring and discussing what a sustainable future might look like – things like use of renewable energy, sustainable architecture, city planning and green infrastructure, and others—could spark an interest in sustainability-focused careers that can help make the world a better place.
“The awareness of being connected with all of Nature is particularly strong in ecology,” writes Fritjof Capra in the Sept/October 2018 Issue of Resurgence & Ecologist. “Connectedness, relationship and interdependence are fundamental concepts of ecology…we share with the rest of the living world not only life’s molecules, but also its basic principles of organization. Indeed, we belong to the universe, and this experience of belonging can make our lives profoundly meaningful.”
Thanks to Shannon McClennan-Taylor of MindFuel (Science Alberta Foundation) who first approached me to discuss environmental sustainability on their educational site Wonderville,which delivers STEM education to K through Grade 12. The future is with the children.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.