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Ecological Intelligence

bothsidesnow's picture

“When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well, and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating "blah."  It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation if impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.”- Paulo Friere

The possession of ecological intelligence lies in the ability to intervene and act in a way that considers the relationship between humans and the earth, not just awareness. Acknowledgement of the need for climate change action is the first step toward ecological intelligence but it is only academic. In Western thinking, intelligence is valued on a self-centered level, where personal and financial success depends on competition. This modern definition of intelligence creates the drive to move forward, without looking back. As C. A. Bowers says in his "Steps to Ecological Intelligence" that “undermining the intergenerational knowledge of the community” contributes to the loss of the ecological intelligence, as old ways of thinking are archaic and obsolete.

Paulo Friere commented on the thought and the action aspects of intelligence, saying “if action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism...Action for action's sake negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible.” The heads of governments and corporations, who are deemed intelligent in the sense that they are individually successful and have power, are not ecologically intelligent. Unlike the unheard voices who embrace ecological intelligence for their survival and that of the other civilians, the world and business leaders have not needed to and therefore have not, to the detriment of those suffering everyday.

Naomi Klein is a social activist who fights for the changes that will provide a place for ordinary people to help the earth and each other. Her “Leap Manifesto” for Canada demonstrates the practice of ecological intelligence. Her main point is that humans cannot rely on their governments or big business to be responsible for extensive solutions to climate change problems. In her essay about the current Paris climate conference, she points out the civilians, due to the ban on protests, are left out of the conversation. Klein also says “a wealthy western country is putting security for elites ahead of the interests of those fighting for survival.”

I saw a recent photo online of the thousands of pairs of shoes laid out in the public squares of Paris, as representation of those who would be in the streets but cannot. While this act shows that the activists and general population want their voices heard and that there is strength in numbers but shoes cannot speak; they cannot act. These people, who experience the world everyday from a multitude of backgrounds, collectively have the ecological intelligence to help each other and the Earth. The leaders do not, as they are isolated in their many responsibilities that are not solely concerned on the issue of climate change.

These people need the (green) vehicle that Naomi Klein and Van Jones, an environmental advocate, are creating as a platform for their ecological intelligences. Jones and his “Greening the Ghetto” movement also seeks to bring environmental public works projects to urban areas. His audience is broad; he speaks to high-school dropouts, to crowds of everyday people and also formally presents his same plans to mayors, the Speaker of the House, and other powerful figures.

While Jones’ and Klein’s plans for combatting climate change still are limited by the fact that they bring them to conferences to receive some support from the government, they are mobilizing the general population to be ecologically intelligent. They cover one of the key ideas that C. A. Bowers wrote about in his “Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence.” Bowers referenced indigenous cultures as having ecological intelligence through their dependence but also gratitude toward the earth. A part of Klein’s plan focuses on the respect of indigenous people’s rights for the lands they want to keep separated from those that are exploited and to fund their clean energy projects first. It makes sense that the voices of  those who have always listened to the Earth best and are more connected to taking care of it are heard. While Jones aims to connect inner-city dwellers and impoverished youth to green projects, he is allowing for more people who may have never been given the chance to join the conversation.

So, how can we join the conversation? How can we learn to be ecologically intelligent in everyday life? The thought is overwhelming, however ignoring it because of its difficulty only adds to the problem. As those politicians, leaders, and CEOs of big business are intelligent from their ability to gain the positions they have through traditional education, learning to be ecologically intelligent depends more on interacting with the world around us. Even though we may be learning from older generations and each other in our present world, that does not inhibit us from moving forward. Maybe the solution is to take the definition of ecological intelligence as we know it and create a balance between its traditional community-based values and the needs of the world today.

Works Cited:


Bowers, C.A. "Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence." OMETECA. 14-15. 43.

Peter Burton. “Naomi Klein’s ‘Leap Manifesto’: we can’t rely on big business for a climate fix.”

The Conversation (December 4, 2015).

Paulo Freire, The Importance of the Act of Reading. Trans. Loretta Slover. Brazilian Congress of Reading, Campinas, Brazil. November 1981. Rpt. Journal of Education 165, 1 (Winter 1983): 5-11.

Naomi Klein, What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned, The Guardian (November 20, 2015).

Naomi Klein. “The Leap Manifesto: A Call for Caring For the Earth and Each Other.” Common Dreams (September 15, 2015).

Elizabeth Kolbert, Greening the Ghetto: Can a Remedy Serve for both Global Warming and Poverty? The New Yorker (January 12, 2009).


Anne Dalke's picture

What strikes me first, in your exploration of 'ecological intelligence,' is your opening claim: that it must encompass action. Intelligence alone is a misnomer in this arena: it has to involve praxis, intervention, doing. You're calling here for a form of intelligence that is "not just academic," but that is also neither "self-centered" or "competitive," and is not focused on "individual success and power." You draw on the work of Naomi Klein and Van Jones in mobilizing the general population --including marginzalized groups such as indigenous people, inner-city dwellers and impoverished youth-- as an alternative to top-down, governmental intervention by those in power.

If you'd like to keep developing this paper for your final revision, I'd say that your last paragraph --"So, how can we join the conversation?" is a great place to start. How might BMC students " learn to be ecologically intelligent in everyday life?" What in the College's mission statement "creates a balance between its traditional community-based values and the needs of the world today"? How might the curriculum, course of study, individual classes --or larger community arrangements-- be re-structured to nurture what Freire calls "true praxis," rather than (or along with?) what we currently say we are doing, i.e. providing "a rigorous education" that "values critical, creative and independent habits of thought and expression"?