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really bad in the world,” he said. “But what can somebody like me really do?” Without pausing, I rattled off what I myself had heard


many times before. It was a typical list of what simple actions individuals can take to reduce their footprints. “Recycle,” I pontificated. “Plant a garden. Change your light bulbs.” The words spilled out of my mouth as effortlessly as nursery rhymes. But as the student turned away, I could see disappoint-


ment on his face. He seemed to see right through my words. Did he recognize an educator’s hidden fear of delving beyond the superficial, a refusal to look honestly at myself as somehow complicit in the state of the planet? There we were, hav- ing studied about the massive historical transformation of the planet’s ecosystems, and I, the Teacher, was expecting to satisfy my pupil’s desire for true answers by some light scientific inquiry and a paltry list of dos and don’ts. With the best of intentions, I had belittled this young man.


I had taken a moment in which he extended an open hand toward unfettered learning and I had not the wherewithal to offer him more than a lump of educationally-bereft coal. I began to reflect: Why was I so quick to answer in the way I had? Could my sole focus on ideas like resource manage- ment be overshadowing something just as important? As environmental educators, we help young people


understand the mechanical processes behind our ecological footprints.We encourage them to adopt bite-sized behaviour changes. But children, in all their authenticity, recognize that our ways of thinking are not lasting ways, and that fixes like recycling are nowhere near what is needed in the face of today’s immense challenges. Then how do we as educators go beyond casual treatments of ecological issues to help our youth grapple with solutions in all their daunting immensity?


Beyond footprints


For both educator and learner, “standing up” to face the shadows of one’s beliefs can be a frightening—even embar- rassing—experience. The Irish poetWilliam Butler Yates once wrote: “It takes more courage to dig deep into the dark corners of one’s own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on the battlefield.” We educators must have the cour- age to reflect on our own beliefs. If we genuinely long for an education which transforms, we must acknowledge that educational practices based on our present beliefs may be part and parcel of the very ecological crises we encourage young people to overcome. My student’s response that day had compelled me to venture beyond how I usually thought about environmental issues. I wondered: What lay past discussions of such things as footprints? As we know, the ecological footprint is an empirical mea-


sure of the physical impact of human activity on the planet, measured in hectares (acres) of various types of land use. It allows us to have a better grasp of the Earth’s physical limits with respect to our consumption of resources and production


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of waste. However, the footprint concept is limited to the external world of behaviour—on physical quantities for which we can account. Although useful, the footprint analysis seldom goes further. This is why the emerging concept of the “ecological thoughtprint” is essential for educators. In his book A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting


On the last day I was approached by a


young man, who looked like he had been holding back a troublesome question for some time. “Listen, we know that things


are getting really bad in the world,” he said. “But what can somebody like me really do?”


explains that the ways in which we have thought about Nature have always been important drivers for our actions. How we rationalize our treatment of Nature helps to steer our behaviour. For instance, many in North America justify large-scale cattle farming and beef consumption with a way of thinking that regards non- human animals as inferior automatons valuable only for their use as food and economic worth (in fact, the term capital may originally derive from heads of cattle). In both complex and subtle ways, how we think about Nature and rationalize our actions affects


what we choose to do both as individuals and societies. This is the basis for the ecological thoughtprint. It is also


what sets this concept apart from the popular but inadequate notion of the ecological footprint. The ecological thought- print is a description of the specific ways of thinking related to Nature in which societies and individuals attempt to legitimize their activities. Rather than narrowing its focus to behaviour, we may think of the thoughtprint as how the mind decides where and how to plant the foot.


A journey of recognition


In order to move us toward transformative education, it is inward to this most thorny concept—the ecological thoughtprint—that we must now take a careful step. Just as an archaeologist would dig up layers of the past for inter- pretation, I went back over the course of the school year to examine how and what I might have been thinking about ecological issues. What I found, as with Plato’s lone cave dweller, were troubling shadows on cave walls. Not only had I focused solely on external ideas like


footprints. Not only had I neglected any discussion of how culture relates to one’s actions, but I also discovered a grave contradiction: my own ways of thinking were in conflict with my best intentions—and with the ultimate aims of environmental education. To better understand this, let us reflect on the passage


given earlier in which I describe my unit on environmental issues: “Following our textbook, we explored the ways in which modern science and technology serve as society’s best means to fully comprehend and solve environmental problems…” In the above passage, we find some of the ways of thinking which served as the basis for how and what I was teaching:


• scientism, the faith that modern science is the only authoritative source of knowledge;


• technological utopianism, a belief that advances in technology will solve any societal problem;


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