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What is Earth Literacy?


Earth Literacy offers ever-greater understanding of the evolution of the Universe and the interconnectedness of all being. Rooted in evidence-based knowledge, this cosmological context informs a worldview, guides all fields of study, and inspires social change. Earth Literacy recognizes Earth as educator and honors the wisdom found in Earth systems as well as the mystery and numinous beauty within the Universe. Earth Literacy allows us to discover our role within the story of Earth and the Universe, transforming our beliefs and actions so as to create mutually-enhancing, sustainable, resilient relationships with Earth’s community of life.

What is Earth Literacy?

by McGregor Smith  (Founder of the Earth Ethics Institute in 1992)

Education gives students great power to manipulate and control the natural world. But it does not give them an ethic for wisely using that power.

Earth Literacy is an environmental movement in which life on earth is seen to be at a turning point.  The turning point is a crisis in our perception of reality.  To respond to that crisis, we are beginning to rethink the way we live our workaday lives.  The shift to Earth literate living requires a radical change in perception – as radical as the change our ancestors made from seeing themselves as a part of a flat, earth-centered, unchanging universe.   To live at such a moment of change is a gift and an honor.

Earth Literacy grew out of a “communion” agreement made when individuals from three farm-based learning centers, two colleges and a university, met to build relationships that would enrich the Earth in the bioregions where they lived.  The term “communion” was chosen because it described the binding force of the Universe in Thomas Berry’s new cosmology.

Earth Literacy is a budding curriculum aimed at freedom.  Albert Einstein said that we are prisoners of a delusion.  Delusion causes us to endanger our species and our planet.  When we entered the modern scientific age, all of reality changed except the way we think about it.  Our old way of thinking is our prison.  We think we are separate.  We do not calculate nature’s losses as our losses.  We imagine we are in control of the natural world.  We try to manipulate and fix nature as we would a machine.  That is why Earth’s capacity to sustain and regenerate life is diminishing.  For humans to continue on Earth, Einstein said we will have to master a new manner of thinking. 
If we don’t, humankind will drift into “ultimate catastrophe.” Earth Literacy’s budding curriculum is about awakening from that delusion.

The literacy crisis is most severe in prestigious universities and colleges.  The best educated people are most imprisoned by the delusion Einstein described.  Education gives students great power to manipulate and control the natural world.  But it does not give them an ethic for wisely using that power.  Earth Literacy expands the meaning of literacy.  It measures our ability to participate constructively in Earth’s evolutionary process.  It teaches us to become conscious members of the wonderful society of all living and non-living beings.1

Evolution has readied us for this moment in life’s story.  The truth we need is inside us.  It is a truth that must be felt, not merely analyzed.  The root word for education, educe, means to draw out.  Education’s task is to draw out our affinity for life.  It is to “open our souls to love this glorious, luxurious, animated planet.”  The bad news is that industrial-utilitarian education is too bewildered (wilderness-severed) to draw out the truth that is in us.  The good news is that our own nature will help us awaken to that truth, if we let it.2

Quantum physics, self-organizing systems and chaos theory are teaching new ways of thinking about reality.  The new ways are like the first chart books and maps used by early explorers.  The maps point in new directions. They describe landmarks never seen before.  They challenge us to reshape our fundamental world view.  They help us understand our bewilderment.3

The human story is one climax in a 14-billion-year journey.  We are participating in the creation of an ecological age.  Whether humans continue to exist in that age will depend on new relationships: relationships between humans and the natural world, between humans and the cultural world, and between humans and the violent world.  We must recognize the role sacred violence has played in creating and maintaining our world.4,5

You are the being in whom Earth is awakening and becoming conscious, aware and self reflective.  You are the Universe thinking about itself.  Your consciousness, the human consciousness, is switching Earth from automatic to manual control.  On automatic control, Earth’s finely balanced creative processes kept life sustainable.  The most profound questions we face is can humans achieve the wisdom and maturity needed to do on manual what Earth did on automatic for billions of years.  As one tiny, fragile person, your life is significant.  You are irreplaceable and irrepeatable.6

1No Limits to Learning: Bridging the Human Gap James W. Botkin et al, Pergamon Press.

2Earth In Mind, David W. Orr, Island Press.

3Leadership & the New Science, Margaret J. Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

4The Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry, Sierra Club Books; The Universe Story, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, New Story Productions.

5Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads, Gil Bailie, The Crossroad Publishing Company.

6”Fate of the Earth” audio tape, Miriam Therese MacGillis, Global Perspectives, (800)221-8897.

 Learn more here: Earth Literacy Notebook by Mac Smith

 Chandra links pulsar to historic supernova 


Earth Ethics Institute • An Earth Literacy Resource Center Serving MDC Administrators, Faculty, Staff,  and Students, as well as the South Florida Community
Miami Dade College • 300 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Room 3506-11, Miami, FL 33132-2204 • t: 305-237-3796 • f: 305-237-7724