Conceptualizing the Dimensions of Earth Literacy

This upcoming Spring Break, I will be leading an Alternative Break trip through the College of Charleston to Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center in Washburn, Tennessee. I was extremely pleased to be selected for this position in September due to my yearning to learn more about how to live in a more sustainable manner, and in turn gain more insight on how to teach others to do the same. The first semester of this school year consisted of a lot of preparation in regards to the proper way to teach the participants of my group, who are students, how to be more of an active citizen. However, this semester, every other week, I lead an orientation session for my participants in matters that are specific to Narrow Ridge.

This challenge I faced led me to reflect on what I thought was most important to teach my participants in the few meetings we have before we embark on our journey in March. I realized that although our trip is to an “Earth Literacy” Center, I was rather unfamiliar with the term. Educating myself on what Earth Literacy is seemed to be the most logical first step to take. I called the director of Narrow Ridge, a woman named Mitzi, and learned much more from that call than I originally imagined I would.

Prior to the call, I thought of Earth Literacy as a term that described reading about the planet, and being able to draw conclusions based off of scientific data. I was quickly informed that Earth Literacy is more than reading about the planet and its systems; it’s dedicating yourself to the planet in a profound manner. Mitzi described Earth Literacy to me as “being in a relationship with the Earth.” The concept describes one being able to read the Earth like they’d be able to read someone they’re in a relationship with. As one spends more time with the person they are in a relationship with, they learn more about the person. The same applies to spending more time with the Earth, outside. Mitzi described to me that although there is science involved with Earth Literacy-climate change/science deniers should be dealt with in a proper manner-most of what is involved with Earth Literacy is infused with wonderment and mystery. It’s essential to go into nature and be in awe of what the natural world has to offer. The concept of humans belonging to the Earth is also a vital part of Earth Literacy. Humans today, and historically, have thought of the Earth as a place that was made for us, for the functions that please us on an everyday basis. What many people don’t realize is that we belong to the Earth, it doesn’t belong to us. Therefore, we should nurture it, not harm it. What’s most important, however, is that in order to fully understand Earth Literacy, one must spend enough time in nature to truly understand the power that the Earth has.

This conversation certainly had an impact on me. Although most of what Mitzi said seemed so obvious, I had never thought so in depth about how I must be in a relationship with the Earth in order to truly nurture it and live in a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between myself and the planet. When I asked the group participants about their relationship with the planet, many said they wish to have a better relationship with the Earth, but living in urban Charleston has stopped them from doing this. This made me upset, so I turned to Mitzi for answers. She described how being Earth Literate is more than just what it appears to be; humans are a product of the Earth, so even nurturing relationships with others is embodied by the term Earth Literacy.

After all of these descriptions of what Earth Literacy entails, I truly had, and continue to have, a different outlook on the planet. Mitzi helped me realize that we, as a 21st Century society, continue to treat the Earth horribly, but it has become the new normal. Everyday activities that humans perform harm the Earth very much, but we have all become accustomed to this way of life being extremely normal. We must retrace our steps, and ensure that the relationship humanity has with the Earth is intense, profound, strong, and mutually beneficial.