One of the most potentially difficult aspects of ecological discourse, particularly for those encountering such literature, ideas and practices for the first time, is often the terminology used. Many people, including practitioners and educators of ecology and sustainable practices, have a tendency to use terms which are believed or expected to be understood by everyone in the same way. Yet, as is the case with the terms ecological consciousness and ecological awareness, there are many instances where meaning can become interchangeably used, yet fail to be commonly understood in the same way.
In the first of our two-part series on ecological consciousness and awareness, we examine the meaning behind the two terms. In part two, we will be exploring how we can implement these attitudes in our daily lives.
What Is Ecological Consciousness and Awareness?
Ecological awareness tends to refer to education and knowledge. To become ecologically aware means to learn about and become better informed, and therefore more knowledgeable, about how our actions impact the environment and the associated ecosystems. By developing greater ecological awareness, we are thus able to understand not only the impact of our decisions and actions, but learn how to anticipate these changes before they occur and act in such a way as to protect our natural environment. Through greater ecological awareness, we can deepen our understanding and learn to find alternative approaches and ways of behaving which promote the natural environment and which allow us to live in harmony with Nature.
Yet, ecological consciousness, refers to something slightly different and more nuanced. Ecological consciousness instead refers to a way of being. It is not only about becoming better educated in the field of ecology and sustainability, but instead, the term refers to an entirely different way of approaching, perceiving, experiencing and interacting with the natural world.
Ecological consciousness requires a deep respect for the natural world and all things within it. It’s generally understood to be a term which reflects the psyche of an individual in relationship to and with Nature. In such cases, the cognitive, ethical and emotional aspects of an individual are all regulated through the lens of ecological consciousness. For such individuals, there is a deep connection to and engagement with all aspects of the Natural world.
Application of Ecological Consciousness and Awareness
Ultimately, ecological awareness and ecological consciousness have become terms which are very often used interchangeably because they are very much connected and linked to one another. On a very basic and general level, both terminologies reflect the growing realization and acceptance by society as a whole that we, as a species, need to become more aware, more conscious, of the natural world all around us. Furthermore, both terminologies have ultimately emerged from the growing social awareness that we need to make changes to the ways in which we live our lives, if we are to successfully take the necessary steps to protect our planet from further damage as the result of human activity.
Greater understanding of the impact of human activity and our choices upon our planet has led to a developing acceptance that all living things are more interdependent than was perhaps accepted in the past. As a result of such shared knowledge, there is a greater willingness to view the world and Nature through a more holistic lens.
Increasingly, issues of ecology are seen as a common responsibility shared by all living creatures. Both ecological awareness and ecological consciousness promote a system of values which require that all individuals and subsequently, we as a collective society, adopt more sensitivity to the natural world around us. In practical terms, this requires that we become more in touch with Nature and develop a value system which prioritises the environment above our individual needs.
In so doing, we will be better placed to make choices which reduce the negative impact of mankind upon the natural world, protect the environment and the ecosystems which we live alongside. Most importantly of all, such a value system will enable us to change our existing attitudes towards the natural world so that we may create a more sustainable lifestyle for ourselves and future generations.
It can seem daunting to begin to engage with concepts such as ecological awareness or ecological consciousness. However, in reality, it all begins with a willingness and desire to learn more about the environment and what steps we can each take as individuals to protect it and help it to thrive.
This week, we invite you to take some time to consider your relationship to nature and the natural world. How do you engage with the natural environment? Do you feel connected to it or far removed? Consider too how your everyday choices, from your chosen method of travel, to the amount of energy you use, to the amount of household waste you produce, impact the environment.
Begin to note whether there are small changes you could make to your daily lifestyle which could help to protect the natural world. If you can, make one change this week.
The first step to developing ecological awareness or consciousness is to become aware of your existing attitudes and actions. Through this awareness, you can then begin to make changes which can benefit the natural world all around you. Whilst these will take time, every small change made by every individual collectively adds up. Over time, these changes in attitude can become a part of your everyday normality and together we can develop and implement healthier, more sustainable lifestyle changes which benefit all life on our planet.