"Modern education has certainly better equipped us to dominate nature rather than dwell in harmony with it."
- David Orr, The Campus and Environmental Responsibility

Ecological Literacy and Design

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As consumer culture distracts us from the reality of our earth centeredness, we risk the loss of ancestral wisdom and communication of time-tested modes of living sustainably on the earth. "Our consumptive lifestyle has led us to the very brink of annihilation. We have expanded our right to live on the earth to an entitlement to conquer the earth, yet 'conquerors' of nature always lose," writes Bill Mollison in Permaculture: A Designers' Manual.

In the 1970's, Mollison coined the term "permaculture" for permanent agriculture. He defined it as "the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."

Sim Van Der Ryn and Stuart Cowan second that as they remind us of the attributes of good ecological design in Ecological Design. They write, "the design respects species diversity, minimizes resource depletion, preserves nutrient and water cycles, maintains habitat quality, and attends to all the other preconditions of human and ecosystem health."

Mollison warns, "The sad reality is that we are in danger of perishing from our own stupidity and lack of personal responsibility to life. To create a mess in which we perish by our own inaction makes nonsense of our claims to consciousness and morality."

Additional information can be found on the Wikipedia pages on Ecological Literacy and Ecological Design.


McDonough, William, and Braungart, Michael
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
North Point Press, 2002

The authors present an alternative to the cradle-to-grave paradigm. They remind us that even though the reduce, reuse, and recycle strategy creates less waste, it doesn't eliminate it. Learn more from their website, Cradle to Cradle.

Mollison, Bill
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual
Tagari Publications, 1988

This is the bible for living a life that makes ecological sense, one that is consequently conducive to peace through cooperation. Mollison not only focuses on the specifics of natural systems, in all types of climates, and how we can successfully interact with these bodies of trees, water, soils and more, but he also discusses patterns in nature and how they can inform us in our own design of human communities.

Van Der Ryn, Sim, and Cowan, Stuart
Ecological Design
Island Press, 2007

The authors contend that ecological design is any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes.

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