environmental litercy

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Reading for the Earth

daya dissanayake

Reading for the Earth is a campaign launched by the Earth Day Network to help increase environmental literacy among young readers.

"I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues...Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - Earth Day Net quotes from Dr. Seuss. America honours Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 - Sep. 24, 1991) by having adopted his birthday as the annual date for National Read Across America Day.

It is a campaign we should start in our country too. We have to speak for our trees, because they too do not have tongues to speak, or eyes to shed tears or weapons to defend themselves. In Thailand trees are saved by ordaining them. Buat ton Mai (tree ordination ritual), trees are blessed and wrapped in saffron robes. In India Bishnois are committed to preserve animals and plants, since the 15th century following Guru Jambeshwar. Korea has designated and protected 11,573 trees which they have inherited from their 5000 year old past. In Japan, it is the surrounding forests, and not the buildings that mark the true shrines of Shintoism. It is not enough to be literate, we have to be 'Environmentally Literate'.

Environmental Literacy is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably. It is the ability to ask "What then?", says environmental educator David Orr. He says it is also the ability "to see things in their wholeness".

The environmentally literate person should understand not only the language, but its grammar, literature and rhetoric", as voiced in 'Environmental Literacy in America' (2005), by Kevin Coyle, on the first page he writes, "most Americans believe they know more about the environment than they actually do....surveys show a persistent pattern of environmental ignorance even among the most educated and influential members of society". If such was the situation in America, where they talk so much about the environment, it could be worse in the 'developing' countries, for 'development' means destruction, and destruction of the environment.

Man would have been more 'environmentally literate' when he was 'illiterate' by the standards set by the 'civilized man'. He was a part of nature, he belonged to nature and his environment, instead of trying to own and enslave the environment. Pre-historic man may not have known the scientific reasons for their actions, but they would have known about the results of such actions and to ask "What then?"

Today we are environmentally illiterate, even though we think we know everything. We think we are the most intelligent animal on earth and also the most powerful. It it like the same syndrome we try to see in children of a few very rich families, who believe they do not need a formal education or be literate in order to make money or to enjoy the money earned by their parents.

We have to learn a lot about our environment and the effects we are having on it, because we ourselves are causing all the damage and destruction. We have learned to destroy, in the mistaken belief that we are building, that we are creating. What we have gained is 'Destructive Literacy'. We use the scientific knowledge, the discoveries and inventions, for the purpose of destruction.

It is because we learnt to burn fossil fuel, that we have to learn about a carbon footprint. It is because we learnt to meddle with molecular biology and genes, that we have to learn about the destruction by genetically modified plants and animals, and human beings someday. It is because we learnt to develop synthetic chemicals and drugs we have to learn of their side effects and long term effects.

We are also responsible for the 'nature-deficit disorder' in our children, because we have caged them as prisoners inside concrete jungles, luring them with electronic equipment, social media, cyberspace and artificial environments. Flowers they see are from the florist, sprayed with artificial scents. The fruit they eat are from cool cabinets in the shopping malls, artificially ripened after poisoning with agrochemicals. The milk comes in smart packing or as a tea whitener in powder form. Vegetables have been doused with pesticides and unwanted artificial fertilizer from the day the seeds are planted. And the children believe they are enjoying the luxuries of the modern civilization.

It is because they have never had an opportunity to enjoy the luxuries of our 'primitive' villages, where they could smell the natural scent of the fresh flowers, taste a fresh uncontaminated fruit plucked from a tree, drink a cup of fresh warm milk in the morning, or eat the vegetables plucked from their own garden or from the wilderness bordering the village.

Reading for the Earth should also include the environmental impact of the production of paper, that every sheet of paper that has been produced has to be utilized to its maximum, to justify the murder of the tree which had to be cut down, the water that had to be wasted, and the pollution that had been caused in manufacturing paper.

Reading for the Earth should also encourage our children to use electronic reading matter as much as possible, wherever and whenever the facilities are available, and try to avoid making any hard copies of e-papers, e-books or even e-mail, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Let us Read for the Earth, because we are reading for our future generations.

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