Understanding the Environment
Most humans retain a sense of kinship with natural environments. Even urban
dwellers will seek out little moments of nature and will feel deep satisfaction
when they can sit for a moment in park, watch birds or find their way to a beach
to hear and feel the reassuring action of waves. A sense of natural beauty is
rooted in old primate preference for food-rich, flowering plants and
trees, for savannahs with abundant game and vistas that are simple and easy to
Our deepest recognitions come from contact with rocks, wood, fire, metal,
bone and water. The history of the unique features of our mind is rooted in a
very slow, gradual transformation from creatures who lived in nature to
creatures who transformed the nature of rocks, bone and wood into tools, weapons
and shelters. The finest of homes to this day display rock, wood and fire.
Civilized humans still cook meat over fires in back yards and fires improvised
on beaches, feeling more peaceful and authentic on a camping trip when they are
closer to their inner and wilder nature. Children enjoy beach experiences and
get busy moving sand, rocks and sticks creating orderly arrays and
constructions. They delight when they find shells and crabs living under rocks.
We now have an extensive and objective understanding of the environment. The
term “ecosystem” refers to an understanding of how living creatures interact
with the physical features of the planet. Almost every student in modern schools
learns the basics of ecosystems and can tell you that we need clean air, clean
water and food to sustain human populations. Some of these students will take
the lessons seriously and act more responsibly toward their local environments.
Most students, like most adult citizens, treat knowledge of ecosystems as an
abstract exercise and will consume, pollute and ignore the negative
environmental consequences of their actions. This is not to argue that these are
irresponsible or bad people. It is to argue that school, book and television
knowledge is too abstract to be widely applicable and that humans only respond
to locally perceived environmental conditions.
Good parents have a sense of responsibility to ensure a healthy happy future
for their children and subsequent generations. Some adults well qualified to be
good parents have explained their reluctance to have children because they were
not optimistic about the future.
Some of the most responsible parents that I know have taken the environment
seriously and have educated themselves and their children about the ways of
nature and the proper conduct of humans in the preservation of natural
environments. Schools often include environmental studies in the
curricula. The best teachers are well informed and make an extra effort to take
children on field trips to study and enjoy natural environments. They inform
children about the problems we have created in the context of finding local
solutions that the children can implement close to their homes and schools.
Children can learn about distant human problems in the context of
communicating with and helping less privileged children.
Reduced consumption is an essential strategy in affluent countries. No child
should believe that selfish consumption is proper conduct. For example,
driving a car is the most polluting act an average citizen commits. Air
pollution would be reduced if each car-driving person drove their car less. If
children understand the connection between car-driving and the damage caused by
"natural calamities" such as floods, fires, hurricanes, and droughts -a
more responsible use of motor vehicles will emerge.