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Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World, by David Orr - Essay Example

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Part I: In the Introductory pages of Ecological Literacy, Orr states that, at the time, there were three crises looming: soil degradation, loss of cheap energy and the possibility that we would be reaching ecological thresholds. In nearly the same breath Orr discusses the failure of capitalism, a system theorized by Hobbes and Locke who postulated humans as entirely self-interested and developed an economic system on that model, with exploitation as the place where people interact…
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Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World, by David Orr
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Download file to see previous pages A social trap is some condition which makes it advantageous for us to do something in the short run which is deleterious to us in the long run. Orr speculates that social traps are contributing to our orgy of non-sustainability. Because we can, and because we have designed our societies in such a way as to make fossil fuel burning almost mandatory, we "have" to keep on driving millions of cars every day; even though we can see the day when they will have to come up with an alternative, and waiting until it's necessary will be too late to avoid a lot of adjustment pain. Dishonest bookkeeping is a concept by which, when we put a price tag on something, we ignore all of its costs: one of Orr's examples is that of a weapon costing a certain number of million dollars to build, but even that is cheap considering that the cost of cleaning up its damage is not included in the original cost, and neither are the eventual effects of what we didn't spend the money on: if three million children currently living below the poverty line had been given nutritional supplements for two years, the long run advantage of having healthy children (who could become productive members of society, who could focus in school and thus learn things that we will need later, who developed naturally so that they did not later need state aid for medical care) would have caused a certain net gain for society; and the absence of all of those benefits of nutritionally sound little bodies will have real costs later.
A third interesting concept is that of scale: it is posited that different systems, like farms or cities, will balance at a particular size, and to exceed that size, as in the case of agribusinesses and cities, will begin to create weakness and disease in the system.
Modernism was based upon man over nature, upon technology being used to 'overcome' our environment and industrialization as the great liberator from a subsistence lifestyle and promoting new and better ways of overcoming nature; so that, in terms of scale, if we wish to fit more people into a space, we just build high-rise apartments; if we wish to work all night, we have 24 hour days and temperature controlled environments at all times. It can be 74 degrees everywhere one goes--in Alaska as easily as it is so in Arizona. Completely divorced from ones environment, it is sometimes easy to forget that there is an 'out there' out there; at least until it comes crashing down on us in ways we aren't prepared for.
Postmodernism is the attempt to overcome the unsustainable consumptionism of modernism and use technology to live in harmony with the environment in such a way that everybody has enough and the world is left better, or at least as well, as we found it for our children. Orr recommends that we posit a sustainable society as based upon a calculus of self-interest because "no rational society rewards members to undermine its existence." This requires taking a long-view approach to decision-making; as well as a new kind of education which might allow us to gauge the effects of our decisions in a holistic way.
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