Guest commentary: Solution to our country’s environmental challenges is ecological literacy |

Guest commentary: Solution to our country’s environmental challenges is ecological literacy

Chris Lane
Guest commentary

In this unique time, our federal leadership is taking no action to address climate change, is dramatically reducing environmental regulations that protect our air, water and food, and believes that the use of more fossil fuels is the solution to energy independence.

Personal politics aside, this direction reflects a lack of basic ecological literacy: no connection with nature (usually occurring in elementary school), no understanding of human dependence on ecosystem services (concepts learned in middle school), and no knowledge of even rudimentary environmental economics — where, in this case, short term economic gains will be offset by longer term external human health and mitigation costs (principles explored in high school and college).

At the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, we believe it doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Christian, American or foreigner, black or white. Being ecologically literate transcends these labels and leads you to the understanding that in a world of 7.5 billion people (and growing), we all must be conservationists.

The vast majority of conservationists don’t even self-identify as such. But, if you would rather that bulldozers not raze the woods, desert or beach you love, then you might be a conservationist. If you like the idea that some places should be truly wild and free, then you might be a conservationist.

And, if you want clean air, clean water, clean food, a stable climate for you and your children — these transcend our differences and our politics — then you are a conservationist.

Ecological literacy has never been more important in our country’s history. ACES works each day to teach and inspire citizens, students, policymakers, land managers and tourists to integrate environmental science and ecological literacy into the fabric of their daily lives.

This year, ACES is celebrating its 50th anniversary of “educating for environmental responsibility” as our founder, Elizabeth Paepcke, so presciently said decades ago.

ACES has come a long way in 50 years. In the past year alone, ACES taught life, earth and environmental sciences every day in regional schools to a total of 5,500 students, providing more than 2,700 in-school classes and 420 outdoor field programs. ACES partnered with 56 schools to help them meet state science standards and connect thousands of youth to the natural world.

At Rock Bottom Ranch, our “regenerative agriculture” techniques are used to educate both youths and adults how to grow food sustainably, highlighting replicable models of sustainable, low carbon-footprint agriculture while providing local, healthy food for regional residents.

ACES’ forest division has forged groundbreaking new science on forest health through our Forest Health Index, State of the Forest Report, and our one-of-a-kind Forest Forecast model, showing where tree species will exist in the future given varying climate change scenarios.

ACES continues to protect and restore habitats in our region. Through the Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan, we are helping restore local forests and enhance wildlife habitat in portions of the 4,860-acre planning area.

Through our lectures and events, we convene eco-luminaries from around the world and continue to incubate community leaders and promote civic engagement.

For the past 50 years, ACES has aimed to create an environmentally literate citizenry requisite for societal well-being. It is our hope that for the next 50 years ACES can continue to act as an integral part of Aspen’s “environmental conscience,” safeguarding the reason above all else why most of us choose to live here — the natural world.

At this crucial moment in our country’s history, I want you to be aware of your own power — and shared responsibility — to determine the future of this planet.

I ask you to transcend the political fray, get involved, and join us in our work to educate for environmental responsibility.

Chris Lane has been the CEO of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies since 2012.

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