I attended a lecture by Robin Kimmerer several weeks ago. I’ve been frustrated with how people see environmental problems as “not their problem,” but Dr. Kimmerer’s lecture helped me understand both why that occurs and how we could go about helping people understand the relationship between their own lives and the health of the environment around them.
Dr. Kimmerer spoke about the connections between ecology and environmental science and traditional ecological knowledge. Whereas ecologists try to quantify the value of ecosystem services, many indigenous cultures have a “culture of gratitude” that recognizes the benefits of a healthy ecosystem. At first these ideas seemed very similar to me, but they actually reflect very different viewpoints. The ecosystem services perspective is based on how much we can take and whether resources are more valuable left alone or harvested. In this worldview, it is hard to see interactions between humans and the environment as ever being positive – just negative or neutral.
People with a culture of gratitude, however, recognize their role as a part of the ecosystem they live in and that they can have many kinds of interactions with other parts of that ecosystem, even (and especially!) positive. Dr. Kimmerer attributed this to their sense of place, or their understanding of their niche in the ecosystem.
So I guess the next step is figuring out how to get people to feel more connected to the place they live and to understand the kinds of impacts they can have.