The Past Teaching the Present: Ancient Sanskrit Texts Discuss the Importance of Environmental and Species Conservation

The Past Teaching the Present: Ancient Sanskrit Texts Discuss the Importance of Environmental and Species Conservation

One of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century is the destruction of the natural environment. Researchers have found that environmental change over the last 60 years is happening at a rate unseen in the past 10 000 years. Human-driven climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land system change, and the high amounts of biochemicals flowing into oceans due to fertilizer use are said to have reached an unsafe level. With these problems in mind, environmental conservation has become a hot topic in modern society. Nevertheless, this concept has been around for a much longer period of time, and can even be found in Sanskrit texts from ancient India.

The Environment and Human Connection

Lessons about environmental conservation can be found within the teachings of Hinduism. Adherents of this religion believe, for instance, that the environment is made up of five great elements – space, air, fire, water, and earth. The human body is also composed of and is related to these elements. Additionally, each of the five senses is connected to one of the five elements. The link between the senses and the elements forms the basis for the bond between human beings and the natural world. Therefore, in the teachings of the Hindu faith, it is believed that the environment is not an external entity, but an intrinsic, inseparable part of human existence, as they constitute the human body.

The five elements of nature and the human body (earth, air, fire, water and ether/space) interconnect according to the Hindu faith. (

Dharma and Environmental Conservation

With this belief in mind, one may better understand the idea of protecting the environment as part of Dharma. The word Dharma has been translated as ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘cosmic order’, and even ‘religion’. It has been pointed out that in the past, Indian communities did not view religion, ethics, and the environment as separate aspects of life, instead there was interconnectedness between the elements - much like the way they viewed the relationship between human beings and the natural world. For example, the Bishnois protected animals and trees, the Swadhyayis built Vrikshamandiras (tree temples) and Nirmal Nirs (water harvesting sites) and the Bhils practiced their rituals in sacred groves. Rather than seeing their actions as ‘restoring the environment’, these communities understood that they were expressing reverence for the environment in accordance with the teachings of Hinduism.

Illustration of the Khejarli Massacre (1730) in which 363 Bishnol men, women, and children were killed while trying to protect trees from being cut down. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Code of Manu Samhita: Protection of Fauna and Flora

A more ‘active’ form of environmental conservation may be found in an important Sanskrit code of law known as the Manu Samhita . It is stated in the Manu Samhita that the protection of animals is one of the duties of a king. In the text, various offences against animals and the respective punishments are also listed. For example, if a person wounds an animal, the offender would be required to bear the cost of the treatment. If a noble animal (e.g. a cow, an elephant, or a horse) is harmed, a fine would be imposed on the offender. Furthermore, protection is given to many animals that are sacred in Hinduism and the killing of certain animals, including cats, snakes, monkeys and various birds, is a sin, and is punishable. Protection is extended to plant life as well. As an example, the punishment for felling live trees for the construction of factories, dams, bridges, etc., or for the purpose of obtaining firewood is the condemnation of the offender as a degraded person.

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The ancient Hindu belief holds cows as symbols of abundance, power, and altruistic giving. ( Himalayan Academy/Wikimedia Commons )

Reincarnation and the Unity of the Animal Kingdom

Hinduism, however, is not the only religion originating in India that promotes environmental conservation. This concept can also be found in the teachings of Buddhism. For example, the Sanskrit Jatakamala is a collection of tales regarding the past lives of the Buddha. Of the 34 tales, the Buddha is reincarnated as an animal, a bird, or a fish a total of 14 times. As this belief in reincarnation suggests that human beings may be reborn as animals and vice versa , the Jatakamala reminds its readers that there is an inherent unity and continuity between the human beings and the animal kingdom. Thus, the message of respecting and revering the environment is once more echoed.

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Bhutanese painting of the Jataka Tales, showing reincarnation. Phajoding Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan (Wikimedia Commons )

Using Ancient Teachings in Today’s World

These are some of the messages passed down from the ancient Indians regarding environmental and species conservation. Their message is one that human beings today ought to pay attention to. By viewing the natural world as an inseparable part of human existence, we may learn to treat it with more respect and reverence, and therefore begin to better protect it, rather than exploiting it to satisfy humanity’s seemingly insatiable desires.

Featured image: “Krishna and Balarama Taking the Cattle to Graze” from a Bhagavata Purana Manuscript (1520-1540), Museum Rietberg, Zurich ( Wikimedia Commons )

By: Ḏḥwty

Why Is the Environment So Important?

The environment is important because it supports the survival of human beings, is the source of natural resources, supports biodiversity and offers remarkable beauty. Moreover, the environment is responsible for air purification and disaster control.

Source of Natural Resources Apart from food, the environment provides several other natural resources necessary for the survival of human beings. The environment is the source of clean water, medicines, clothing, biofuels, wood and fossil fuels. These natural resources not only promote human survival on Earth, but they also enhance the living standards of people.

Furthermore, the environment supports most economic activities in the world. Economic activities, such as fishing, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, depend largely on the environment for sustenance. For example, agriculture is dependent on adequate rainfall and fertile soils. In this regard, lack of care for the environment may affect employment, food security and production from such industries negatively.

Air Quality and Disaster Control The environment assists in the purification of air from the atmosphere. Plants release oxygen during the process of photosynthesis while using up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The removal of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases from the environment ensures maintenance of the quality of air. In addition, the regulation of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere helps to reduce effects of global warming and climate change.

Moreover, undisturbed natural ecosystems can moderate severe weather phenomena and limit their damage. For example, coastal swamps slow water flow and hold water during severe sea storms. In addition, trees help to reduce wind speeds hence making them less destructive to settlement areas

Natural Beauty The environment provides natural beauty for the amusement and relaxation of human beings. Environmental features like waterfalls, rivers, lakes, oceans, wildlife and forests offer soothing relaxation to the human psyche. In this regard, natureÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s beauty is essential for human health. For example, beautiful landscapes and a relaxed, cool atmosphere offer a conducive environment for the treatment of mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Supports Biodiversity The environment provides resources which support plants and animals. Resources, such as water, air and nutrients, ensure the survival of biodiversity. In return, biodiversity affects the natural cycle of elements like carbon and nitrogen, soil fertility, water purification, pest and disease cycles. This mutual dependability is essential for the sustenance of the ecosystem.

Home to Human Beings All goods and services used by humanity come directly or indirectly from the Earth and its environment. The environment helps to sustain human life by providing food, breathable air and natural resources. In addition, human beings live and thrive within EarthÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s environment. As a result, EarthÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s environment is humanityÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s only home where people can freely live without restrictions.

Because of the important nature of the environment, it is prudent to protect the environment from environmental degradation, pollution or any other harmful effects. This can be done through water conservation, proper waste disposal and preservation of biodiversity. Through these and similar measures, protection of the environment prevents the depletion of natural resources thereby ensuring the stability of the ecosystem. It's also ethical to preserve the environment for future generations.

The Evolution of Horses

Imagine a world in which horses of all colors, shapes, and sizes roamed the world, some barely larger than a small dog. That world no longer exists--but once it was real. Today's horses represent just one tiny twig on an immense family tree that spans millions of years. All the other branches of the horse family, known as Equidae, are now extinct. The earliest known horses evolved 55 million years ago and for much of this time, multiple horse species lived at the same time, often side by side, as seen in this diorama.

Ancient Horses

Some 10 million years ago, up to a dozen species of horses roamed the Great Plains of North America. These relatives of the modern horse came in many shapes and sizes. Some lived in the forest, while others preferred open grassland.

Here, two large Dinohippus horses can be seen grazing on grass, much like horses today. But unlike modern horses, a three-toed Hypohippus tiptoes through the forest, nibbling on leaves. A small, three-toed Nannippus, shown here eating shrubs, ate both grass and leaves.

In the background are several other large mammals alive at that time, including Procamelus, a camel relative a herd of Dinohippus horses Gomphotherium, a distant relative of true elephants and Teleoceras, a hornless rhinoceros.

A Brief History of Horses

By 55 million years ago, the first members of the horse family, the dog-sized Hyracotherium, were scampering through the forests that covered North America. For more than half their history, most horses remained small, forest browsers. But changing climate conditions allowed grasslands to expand, and about 20 million years ago, many new species rapidly evolved. Some--but not all--became larger and had the familiar hooves and grazing diets that we associate with horses today. Only these species survived to the present, but in the past, small and large species lived side by side.

Changing Sizes

Horses were once much smaller than they are today. But there was not a steady increase in size over time. Little Nannippus, shown in the diorama at full adult size, was actually smaller than its predecessors.


The Dinohippus shown grazing on the left is a close relative of horses today. Like modern-day Equus, Dinohippus had single-toed hooves and ate mostly grass. The other extinct species shown in the diorama had three toes and never developed single hooves.

Who Started Earth Day?

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was determined to convince the federal government that the planet was at risk. In 1969, Nelson, considered one of the leaders of the modern environmental movement, developed the idea for Earth Day after being inspired by the anti-Vietnam War “teach-ins” that were taking place on college campuses around the United States. According to Nelson, he envisioned a large-scale, grassroots environmental demonstration “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.”

Nelson announced the Earth Day concept at a conference in Seattle in the fall of 1969 and invited the entire nation to get involved. He later recalled:

“The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes and air𠅊nd they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

Denis Hayes, a young activist who had served as student president at Stanford University, was selected as Earth Day’s national coordinator, and he worked with an army of student volunteers and several staff members from Nelson’s Senate office to organize the project. According to Nelson, �rth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

How to Promote Environmental Awareness

Before you can begin promoting environmental awareness in your community, you must first make sure that you have a thorough understanding of environmental issues. Stay up to date on environmental news, read books and other resources, and learn about the issues affecting your own community. It’s much easier to talk to others about the environment if you’ve already taken the time to educate yourself.

Numerous resources are available to promote environmental awareness and education: group learning (inside or outside of the classroom), informational and inspirational seminars, online courses, books, articles, videos, and brochures are just a few of the tools that can get you involved in promoting the environment.

A good course of action that ensures your continued participation is to pick an environmental issue that strikes you as the most urgent. The amount of environmental issues seems limitless, and while they are all important, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Try choosing one issue to focus on at a time. You will soon see that all environmental issues are intertwined and will find your niche of interest.

Examples of Environmental Issues

Here are several cause-and-effect problems that harm our environment:

  • Oil Drilling- This issue is one that causes a great deal of environmental destruction. Our dependence on fossil fuel is a global addiction that affects every aspect of the world. Oil spills and offshore drilling poison marine life, oil drilling (on land) suffocates the earth, and the combustion of fossil fuels add to the increased atmospheric CO₂, which in turns causes the progression of global warming and ocean acidification. This is a multifaceted issue and is a good cause to get involved with because it covers such a broad spectrum of issues.
  • Deforestation- Millions of acres of forest are cut down for industrial benefit, such as large scale farming, oil mining, and the production of paper goods. Deforestation causes wildlife and biodiversity extinction because the loss of habitat threatens many species’ existence. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a Red List of environmentally threatened species with up-to-date information.
  • Production of Plastic Goods- Currently our society creates a great deal of waste and much of that waste consists of plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010 alone 31 million tons of plastic waste was created. This waste ends up all over the globe in both land and water, a good example is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Not only is plastic waste an issue, but the production of plastic is also dependent on fossil fuel combustion. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2010 191 million barrels of liquid petroleum gases(LPG) and natural gas liquids (NGL) were used in the U.S. alone to produce plastic goods.

Archaeology Sub-Disciplines

Through the two archaeological theoretical platforms of processualism and post-processualism, many subdisciplines have arisen. Some examine one aspect of the archaeological record while some are based on methodology.

Computational Archaeology

A relatively recent application is the use of digital technology in the application of data analyses. As with any other scientific discipline, computers are used to perform complex or large calculations that humans could not possibly hope to achieve individually. It includes technology such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems) (23), surveying and satellite data for spatial analysis. It also involves the study, use and application of statistical models for big data analytics in human behavior, probability models, intrasite analysis (digitized data of stratigraphic relationships 3D modelling, artefact concentration and distribution), predictive modeling and heritage conservation. There is also profound use for information sharing within academia and with the public.

Environmental Archaeology

This is a broad subdiscipline that examines human interaction with the natural world (24). It's divided into three broad areas:

  • Archaeozoology, the study of how humans interacted with animals in the past. This examines ancient hunting practices and the transition to farming. Professionals in this area will spend a lot of time looking at bones and apply spatial analysis, distribution models and animal husbandry
  • Archaeobotany is the study of past human relationships to plants. Similarly, they will look at ancient farming practices, land clearance, examine landscape changes as indicators of human action, study palynology and phytoliths. Archaeobotanists experience some overlap with archaeozoology in that they may examine entomology as indicators of plant type change
  • Geoarchaeology is the study of the matters of the Earth as it pertains to the human past. Palaeoclimate data from a time of human interaction with the environment (such as the last Ice Age) is classified as geoarchaeological. It looks at broad distribution data such as pottery and flint tools and tries to calculate the spread of a technological culture

This data allows archaeologists to examine data in large and broad areas, or as a global phenomenon, examining changing technology, and natural and anthropomorphic environmental change (20, p225).


With strong links to ethnography, this is the examination of technologically primitive people - their beliefs, practices, hierarchies, technology, methods and social values (20, p13). This human-based qualitative data is then used to theorize and come up with potential explanations for past human records. It has its limits. Caution is urged as it does not necessarily follow that the reasons a modern technologically primitive people in the East Indies do things a certain way that ancient Native Americans did the same thing(s) for the same reason(s). However, it has helped examine some long-standing mysteries in archaeology. Seminal work in Alaska by Lewis Binford helped archaeologists understand practices of paleolithic peoples of the Mousterian Culture in France and Germany (20, 186).

Experimental Archaeology

This is an area of applied science and one of the most fascinating for the student. Experimental archaeology may seem a fun practice from the outside, but it's just as relevant and just as useful as any of the other subdisciplines. Simply, it is about reconstructing the past through creating replicas of materials through methods available only to those peoples. Experimental Archaeology examines stone tool working methods, how to create certain edges and flakes, the development of early bronze and iron smelting and mining, how to construct a building and making clothing. Experimental archaeology allows us to test theories about the logistics, technology, material through the application of “hands-on” archaeology (25). This has made for good television too with several successful TV shows across the world introducing the public to archaeology.

Feminist Archaeology

A subdiscipline of post-processual archaeology, it largely studies the role of women in each society - their working roles, attitudes towards them, and perception of gender differences (35). But it also looks at social attitudes towards class, race and sexuality. It is at the forefront of critiquing older models of looking at ancient cultures through a modern lens as a comparison to current models. This is the kind of bias against which post-processual archaeology stands. Division of labor and the assumption of male=hunter, female=homemaker are challenged through feminist archaeology. The term “feminist archaeology” has been challenged though. Many now refer to this area as “gender archaeology” as it incorporates roles of both men and women as well as gender identity.

Forensic Archaeology

Specializing in the discovery and recording of human remains, many forensic archaeologists work in criminology examining recently deceased for signs of a crime. They are present at signs of mass shootings and terrorist attacks as well as murder sites. The reason they are considered archaeologists is that they use the same methods and tools that would be used on a historic site (26). Nor do they just look at bodies. They will examine environmental remains, soil samples, botanical data and the stratigraphy for evidence. However, they will also work with historic remains to examine whether a body discovered is recently deposited or has been there for hundreds of years. Their record and examination is the difference between declaring a location a murder scene or a site of scientific/archaeological importance. There are laws on the treatment of historic human remains.

Landscape Archaeology

Despite being a relatively new discipline, archaeology always had a sense of historic landscapes and places. John Leland was commissioned by Henry VIII of England to list the monuments of the land and supply interpretations. William Camden wrote about the English countryside and its characteristics. But these individuals were looking at isolated elements in the landscape as separate, not as a topographic or geographic network. They were not considering its natural or anthropomorphic evolution and certainly not as the environmental science. Archaeology largely concerns monuments and relics but there is a gap - how humans viewed and used landscapes in the past. There is rarely a model for examining landscape as a relic. This is where landscape archaeology comes in - the treatment of landscape as a historical record in its own right (27). Many consider it both a technique and a theory. It relies on the new technologies (some of which are mentioned above in computational archaeology) but also historic maps, land deeds, and accumulated survey and excavation data from past investigations.

Maritime Archaeology

How do we study humanity's use of the sea - an area of land largely off-limits to humanity despite being vital for human life and possessing historic importance? This is just one of the questions that Maritime Archaeology tries to answer. Humans have always needed waterways such as lakes, rivers and oceans. We mine its resources, we travel on it to reach new destinations and we build technology to allow us to do that. This area of study concerns human relationships with the sea (28). That means the evolution of rafts and boats, examining seafaring cultures such as the Vikings and the spread through the islands of Micronesia. It also means the archaeology of fishing. There is some overlap in climate change. Some impressive prehistoric sites exist beneath the seabeds of the world, land that would once have been dry land. These records are an untapped resource.

Urban Archaeology

A form of landscape archaeology (see above), this is the examination and study of urban centers as a historical record (30). It focuses on such aspects as for why a site was chosen, its evolutionary development (expansion and contraction), the people who lived there, industry, its form and function and its wider importance to the landscape - for example, its strategic placement and importance to the culture. Humans produce a lot of waste and urban archaeologists examine trash, human waste, discarded pottery and food in examining an urban center's history. Towns and cities often produce a large stratigraphic record historic remains are preserved beneath layers of much later buildings and structures. It's also concerned with such aspects as regionality in an urban center.

All people are living histories &ndash which is why History matters

Historians are often asked: what is the use or relevance of studying History (the capital letter signalling the academic field of study)? Why on earth does it matter what happened long ago? The answer is that History is inescapable. It studies the past and the legacies of the past in the present. Far from being a 'dead' subject, it connects things through time and encourages its students to take a long view of such connections.

All people and peoples are living histories. To take a few obvious examples: communities speak languages that are inherited from the past. They live in societies with complex cultures, traditions and religions that have not been created on the spur of the moment. People use technologies that they have not themselves invented. And each individual is born with a personal variant of an inherited genetic template, known as the genome, which has evolved during the entire life-span of the human species.

So understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. That, in a nutshell, is why History matters. It is not just 'useful', it is essential.

The study of the past is essential for 'rooting' people in time. And why should that matter? The answer is that people who feel themselves to be rootless live rootless lives, often causing a lot of damage to themselves and others in the process. Indeed, at the most extreme end of the out-of-history spectrum, those individuals with the distressing experience of complete memory loss cannot manage on their own at all. In fact, all people have a full historical context. But some, generally for reasons that are no fault of their own, grow up with a weak or troubled sense of their own placing, whether within their families or within the wider world. They lack a sense of roots. For others, by contrast, the inherited legacy may even be too powerful and outright oppressive.

In all cases, understanding History is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human. That allows people to build, and, as may well be necessary, also to change, upon a secure foundation. Neither of these options can be undertaken well without understanding the context and starting points. All living people live in the here-and-now but it took a long unfolding history to get everything to NOW. And that history is located in time-space, which holds this cosmos together, and which frames both the past and the present.

The discussion is amplified under the following headings:

Answering two objections to History

One common objection that historians encounter is the instant put-down that is derived from Henry Ford I, the impresario of the mass automobile. In 1916 he stated sweepingly: 'History is bunk'. Actually, Ford's original comment was not so well phrased and it was a journalist who boiled it down to three unforgettable words. Nonetheless, this is the phrasing that is attributed to Ford and it is this dictum that is often quoted by people wishing to express their scepticism about the subject.

Well, then, what is the use of History, if it is only bunk? This rousingly old-fashioned term, for those who have not come across it before, is derived from the Dutch bunkum, meaning rubbish or nonsense.

Inwardly groaning, historians deploy various tactics in response. One obvious reaction is to challenge the terms of the question, in order to make questioners think again about the implications of their terminology. To demand an accountant-style audit of the instant usefulness of every subject smacks of a very crude model of education indeed. It implies that people learn only very specific things, for very specific purposes. For example, a would-be voyager to France, intending to work in that country, can readily identify the utility of learning the French language. However, since no-one can travel back in time to live in an earlier era, it might appear &ndash following the logic of 'immediate application' &ndash that studying anything other than the present-day would be 'useless'.

But not so. The 'immediate utility' formula is a deeply flawed proposition. Humans do not just learn gobbets of information for an immediate task at hand. And, much more fundamentally, the past and the present are not separated off into separate time-ghettos. Thus the would-be travellers who learn the French language are also learning French history, since the language was not invented today but has evolved for centuries into the present. And the same point applies all round. The would-be travellers who learn French have not appeared out of the void but are themselves historical beings. Their own capacity to understand language has been nurtured in the past, and, if they remember and repeat what they are learning, they are helping to transmit (and, if needs be, to adapt) a living language from the past into the future.

Education is not 'just' concerned with teaching specific tasks but it entails forming and informing the whole person, for and through the experience of living through time.

Learning the French language is a valuable human enterprise, and not just for people who live in France or who intend to travel to France. Similarly, people learn about astronomy without journeying in space, about marine biology without deep-sea diving, about genetics without cloning an animal, about economics without running a bank, about History without journeying physically into the past, and so forth. The human mind can and does explore much wider terrain than does the human body (though in fact human minds and bodies do undoubtedly have an impressive track record in physical exploration too). Huge amounts of what people learn is drawn from the past that has not been forgotten. Furthermore, humans display great ingenuity in trying to recover information about lost languages and departed civilisations, so that everything possible can be retained within humanity's collective memory banks.

Very well, the critics then sniff let's accept that History has a role. But the second criticism levelled at the subject is that it is basic and boring. In other words, if History is not meaningless bunk, it is nonetheless poor fare, consisting of soul-sapping lists of facts and dates.

Further weary sighs come from historians when they hear this criticism. It often comes from people who do not care much for the subject but who simultaneously complain that schoolchildren do not know key dates, usually drawn from their national history. Perhaps the critics who complain that History-is-so-boring had the misfortune to be taught by uninspired teachers who dictated 'teacher's notes' or who inculcated the subject as a compendium of data to be learned by heart. Such pedagogic styles are best outlawed, although the information that they intended to convey is far from irrelevant.

Facts and dates provide some of the basic building blocks of History as a field of study, but on their own they have limited meaning. Take a specific case. It would be impossible to comprehend 20th-century world history if given nothing but a list of key dates, supplemented by information about (say) population growth rates, economic resources and church attendance. And even if further evidence were provided, relating to (say) the size of armies, the cost of oil, and comparative literacy levels, this cornucopia of data would still not furnish nearly enough clues to reconstruct a century's worth of world experience.

On its own, information is not knowledge. That great truth cannot be repeated too often. Having access to abundant information, whether varnished or unvarnished, does not in itself mean that people can make sense of the data.

Charles Dickens long ago satirised the 'facts and nothing but the facts' school of thought. In his novel Hard Times,(1) he invented the hard-nosed businessman, Thomas Gradgrind, who believes that knowledge is sub-divided into nuggets of information. Children should then be given 'Facts' and taught to avoid 'Fancy' &ndash or any form of independent thought and imagination. In the Dickens novel, the Gradgrindian system comes to grief, and so it does in real life, if attempts are ever made to found education upon this theory.

People need mental frameworks that are primed to understand and to assess the available data and &ndash as often happens &ndash to challenge and update both the frameworks and the details too. So the task of educationalists is to help their students to develop adaptable and critical minds, as well as to gain specific expertise in specific subjects.

Returning to the case of someone first trying to understand 20th-century world history, the notional list of key dates and facts would need to be framed by reading (say) Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes: the Short Twentieth Century(2) or, better still, by contrasting this study with (say) Mark Mazower's Dark Continent(3) or Bernard Wasserstein's Barbarism and Civilization(4) on 20th-century Europe, and/or Alexander Woodside's Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea and the Hazards of World History(5) or Ramachandra Guha's India after Gandhi: the History of the World's Largest Democracy(6) &ndash to name but a few recent overview studies.

Or, better again, students can examine critically the views and sources that underpin these historians' big arguments, as well as debate all of this material (facts and ideas) with others. Above all, History students expect to study for themselves some of the original sources from the past and, for their own independent projects, they are asked to find new sources and new arguments or to think of new ways of re-evaluating known sources to generate new arguments.

Such educational processes are a long, long way from memorising lists of facts. It follows therefore that History students' understanding of the subject cannot be properly assessed by asking single questions that require yes/no responses or by offering multiple-choice questions that have to be answered by ticking boxes. Such exercises are memory tests but not ways of evaluating an understanding of History.

Noting two weak arguments in favour of studying History

Some arguments in favour of studying History also turn out, on close inspection, to be disappointingly weak. These do not need lengthy discussion but may be noted in passing.

For example, some people semi-concede the critics' case by saying things like: 'Well, History is not obviously useful but its study provides a means of learning useful skills'. But that says absolutely nothing about the content of the subject. Of course, the ability to analyse a diverse array of often discrepant data, to provide a reasoned interpretation of the said data, and to give a reasoned critique of one's own and other people's interpretations are invaluable life- and work-skills. These are abilities that History as a field of study is particularly good at inculcating. Nevertheless, the possession of analytical and interpretative skills is not a quality that is exclusive to historians. The chief point about studying History is to study the subject for the invaluable in-depth analysis and the long-term perspective it confers upon the entire human experience &ndash the component skills being an essential ingredient of the process but not the prime justification.

Meanwhile, another variant reply to 'What is the use of History?' is often given in the following form: 'History is not useful but it is still worthwhile as a humane subject of study'. That response says something but the first phrase is wrong and the conclusion is far too weak. It implies that understanding the past and the legacies of the past is an optional extra within the educational system, with cultural value for those who are interested but without any general relevance. Such reasoning was behind the recent and highly controversial decision in Britain to remove History from the required curriculum for schoolchildren aged 14&ndash16.

Yet, viewing the subject as an optional extra, to add cultural gloss, seriously underrates the foundational role for human awareness that is derived from understanding the past and its legacies. Dropping History as a universal subject will only increase rootlessness among young people. The decision points entirely in the wrong direction. Instead, educationalists should be planning for more interesting and powerful ways of teaching the subject. Otherwise it risks becoming too fragmented, including too many miscellaneous skills sessions, thereby obscuring the big 'human story' and depriving children of a vital collective resource.

Celebrating the strong case for History

Much more can be said &ndash not just in defence of History but in terms of its positive advocacy. The best response is the simplest, as noted right at the start of this conversation. When asked 'Why History?' the answer is that History is inescapable. Here it should be reiterated that the subject is being defined broadly. The word 'History' in English usage has many applications. It can refer to 'the past' or 'the study of the past' and/or sometimes 'the meaning(s) of the past'. In this discussion, History with a capital H means the academic field of study and the subject of such study, the past, is huge. In practice, of course, people specialise. The past/present of the globe is studied by geographers and geologists the biological past/present by biologists and zoologists the astronomical past/present by astrophysicists and so forth.

Among professional historians, the prime focus is upon the past/present of the human species, although there are some who are studying the history of climate and/or the environmental history of the globe. Indeed, the boundaries between the specialist academic subjects are never rigid. So from a historian's point of view, much of what is studied under the rubric of (for example) Anthropology or Politics or Sociology or Law can be regarded as specialist sub-sets of History, which takes as its remit the whole of the human experience, or any section of that experience.

Certainly, studying the past in depth while simultaneously reviewing the long-term past/present of the human species directs people's attention to the mixture of continuities and different forms of change in human history, including revolution as well as evolution. Legacies from the past are preserved but also adapted, as each generation transmits them to the following one. Sometimes, too, there are mighty upheavals, which also need to be navigated and comprehended. And there is loss. Not every tradition continues unbroken. But humans can and do learn also from information about vanished cultures &ndash and from pathways that were not followed.

Understanding all this helps people to establish a secure footing or 'location' within the unfolding saga of time, which by definition includes both duration and change. The metaphor is not one of fixation, like dropping an anchor or trying to halt the flow of time. Instead, it is the ability to keep a firm footing within history's rollercoaster that is so important. Another way of putting it is to have secure roots that will allow for continuity but also for growth and change.

Nothing, indeed, can be more relevant to successful functioning in the here-and-now. The immediate moment, known as the synchronic, is always located within the long-term unfolding of time: the diachronic. And the converse is also true. The long term of history always contributes to the immediate moment. Hence my twin maxims, the synchronic is always in the diachronic. The present moment is always part of an unfolding long term, which needs to be understood. And vice versa. The diachronic is always in the synchronic: the long term, the past, always contributes to the immediate moment.

As living creatures, humans have an instinctive synchro-mesh, that gears people into the present moment. But, in addition to that, having a perspective upon longitudinal time, and history within that, is one of the strengths of the alert human consciousness. It may be defined as a parallel process of diachro-mesh, to coin a new term. On the strength of that experience, societies and individuals assess the long-term passage of events from past to present &ndash and, in many cases, manage to measure time not just in terms of nanoseconds but also in terms of millennia. Humans are exceptional animals for their ability to think 'long' as well as 'immediate' and those abilities need to be cultivated.

If educational systems do not provide a systematic grounding in the study of History, then people will glean some picture of the past and the role of themselves, their families, and their significant associations (which include everything from nations and religions to local clubs and neighbourhood networks) from a medley of other resources &ndash from cultural traditions, from collective memories, from myths, rumours, songs, sagas, from political and religious teachings and customs, from their families, their friends, and from every form of human communication from gossip to the printing press and on to the web.

People do learn, in other words, from a miscellany of resources that are assimilated both consciously and unconsciously. But what is learned may be patchy or confused, leaving some feeling rootless or it may be simplified and partisan, leaving others feeling embattled or embittered. A good educational system should help people to study History more formally, more systematically, more accurately, more critically and more longitudinally. By that means, people will have access to a great human resource, compiled over many generations, which is the collective set of studies of the past, and the human story within that.

Humans do not learn from the past, people sometimes say. An extraordinary remark! People certainly do not learn from the future. And the present is so fleeting that everything that is learned in the present has already passed into the past by the time it is consolidated. Of course humans learn from the past &ndash and that is why it is studied. History is thus not just about things 'long ago and far away' &ndash though it includes that &ndash but it is about all that makes humanity human &ndash up close and personal.

The repentance of Henry Ford: History is not bunk

Interestingly, Henry Ford's dictum that 'History is bunk' now itself forms part of human history. It has remained in circulation for 90 years since it was first coined. And it exemplifies a certain no-nonsense approach of the stereotypical go-ahead businessman, unwilling to be hide-bound by old ways. But Ford himself repented. He faced much derision for his apparent endorsement of know-nothingism. 'I did not say it [History] was bunk', he elaborated: 'It was bunk to me'. Some business leaders may perhaps affect contempt for what has gone before, but the wisest among them look to the past, to understand the foundations, as well as to the future, in order to build. Indeed, all leaders should reflect that arbitrary changes, imposed willy-nilly without any understanding of the historical context, generally fail. There are plenty of recent examples as well as long-ago case-histories to substantiate this observation. Politicians and generals in Iraq today &ndash on all sides &ndash should certainly take heed.

After all, Ford's pioneering Model T motor-car did not arrive out of the blue in 1908. He had spent the previous 15 years testing a variety of horseless carriages. Furthermore, the Model T relied upon an advanced steel industry to supply the car's novel frame of light steel alloy, as well as the honed skills of the engineers who built the cars, and the savvy of the oil prospectors who refined petroleum for fuel, just as Ford's own novel design for electrical ignition drew upon the systematic study of electricity initiated in the 18th century, while the invention of the wheel was a human staple dating back some 5,000 years.

It took a lot of human history to create the automobile.

And the process by no means halted with Henry Ford I. So the next invention that followed upon his innovations provided synchro-mesh gearing for these new motorised vehicles &ndash and that change itself occurred within the diachro-mesh process of shared adaptations, major and minor, that were being developed, sustained, transmitted and revolutionised through time.

Later in life, Henry Ford himself became a keen collector of early American antique furniture, as well as of classic automobiles. In this way, he paid tribute both to his cultural ancestry and to the cumulative as well as revolutionary transformations in human transportation to which he had so notably contributed.

Moreover, for the Ford automobile company, there was a further twist in the tale. In his old age, the once-radical Henry Ford I turned into an out-of-touch despot. He failed to adapt with the changing industry and left his pioneering business almost bankrupt, to be saved only by new measures introduced by his grandson Henry Ford II. Time and history had the last laugh &ndash outlasting even fast cars and scoffers at History.


Because humans are rooted in time, people do by one means or another pick up ideas about the past and its linkages with the present, even if these ideas are sketchy or uninformed or outright mythological. But it is best to gain access to the ideas and evidence of History as an integral part of normal education.

The broad span of human experience, viewed both in depth and longitudinally over time, is the subject of History as a field of study.

Therefore the true question is not: 'What is the use or relevance of History?' but rather: 'Given that all people are living histories, how can we all best learn about the long-unfolding human story in which all participate?'

  1. C. Dickens, Hard Times (London, 1854).
  2. E. Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: the Short Twentieth Century (London, 1994).
  3. M. Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (London, 1998).
  4. B. Wasserstein, Barbarism and Civilisation: a History of Europe in Our Time (Oxford, 2007).
  5. A. Woodside, Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea and the Hazards of World History (Cambridge, Mass., 2006).
  6. R. Guha, Indiaafter Gandhi: the History of the World's Largest Democracy (London, 2007).

Suggested further reading

H. Carr, What is History? (rev. edn., Basingstoke, 1986).

Drolet, The Postmodern Reader: Foundational Texts (London, 2003).

J. Evans, In Defence of History (London, 1997).

Gunn, History and Cultural Theory (Harlow, 2006).

Jenkins, Re-thinking History (London, 1991)

Jordanova, History in Practice (London, 2000).

The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies, ed. A. Munslow (London, 1999).

P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory (London, 1978).

Tosh, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History (many edns., London, 1984&ndash).

Penelope J. Corfield is professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London. If quoting, please kindly acknowledge copyright: © Penelope J. Corfield 2008


  • Educational Achievements – By providing environmental education to students they will engage problem-solving techniques of the outer world to their subjects to understand a particular problem by implying outdoor environmental solutions.
  • Health Benefits – Environmental Education gives students a new meaning to exploring mother nature to see and resolve the issues which are harmful to the environment and this will also help them in maintaining their own health by doing physical work so that their bodies will be immune from some serious health issues such as short-sightedness, obesity and in some cases even lack concentration.
  • Future proof planning – This is one of the issues which we need to deal with because if we don’t educate our kids about the hazardous effects of environmental damage there will be no future of the world.
  • Education in this field will give students a new meaning to problem-solving techniques as they will solve real-world problems. They will also think beyond today for becoming future proof and investigate the situation carefully and take preventive measures in the future for environmental safeguarding.
  • Managing teams – Working in teams is another example of Environmental education as it gives kids a new meaning to solve a certain problem by doing teamwork.
  • This will also bring out the leadership qualities in them as they will lead the path for their team to stop people from throwing garbage anywhere and also spread awareness to other people that use only non-plastic goods for the betterment of the environment.
  • The use of plastic is one of the big environmental issues in the past few decades. We can reduce the plastic accumulation to some extent if we stop using at least single-use plastic. This small step can make a big difference to deal with this environmental issue.
  • Producing Environment Activist – When we educate students about the environment and motivate them to take initiative to protect it as a major part of their life they will become activist for the environment and stop others from harming the environment by creating platforms for the awareness of the need and importance of environmental education in every part of the society.
  • Improving concentration – Nowadays there are a lot of distractions in a society which diverts the attention of students from their education to some other side. By educating them about the environment they will be able to focus more on real-world problems as they are the ones who will be analyzing and solving the problems of the environment to promote more greenery everywhere.
  • Benefit for Schools – It is a very beneficial plan for schools because it will help them in promoting real-life learning and also help in understanding their surroundings. Schools can make environmental education as a mandatory subject for every student so that it will help everyone to focus more on different situations of real life.
  • The teacher and students can also run various projects that spread awareness in children about environmental issues. These projects should also include measures that can be followed to save the environment. These projects will also help to encourage children about how they can cooperate in environment conservation.
  • Participating in Outdoor activities – This is perhaps very useful for the health of children because it has been proven that kids who have a green playground in their school premises are more likely to get less sick and be more active and energetic in daily life.
  • Now a day’s children love to spend more time on indoor activities like playing video games. Unfortunately, indoor activities act as an obstacle in children’s mental and physical growth. Parents should take initiative and encourage their kids for outdoor activities by joining them. Children always follow the footprints of their parents, hence try to be their role models.
  • Promoting New Educational methods – Environmental Education is more of the responsibility which is to be done every day by students as well as teachers which will encourage them to go out and take practical activities as to how to conserve energy and environment. It will also help them to explore and learn new innovative techniques that will help them understand conservation more easily.
  • Cutting back on expenses – By learning how to protect the environment students need to participate in maintaining the school premises as well because it is better to start first where you actually belong i.e. school and home.
  • It will be very beneficial for schools as it will reduce the maintenance cost of the surrounding which will automatically cut back on the annual cost of overall expenses.
  • For example Motivate your kids to switch off the electric switches and other appliances when not using it, make your kids aware of the 3 R’s i.e. Reduce Reuse & Recycle, encourage them to close the taps after use to save water, etc.
  • Encouraging more institutions – If more organizations will adopt environmental education as their priority then there will be more kids as well as adults who will help in conserving the environment and also help in creating more awareness amongst others.
  • The global youth is playing an important role in spreading awareness about environmental issues worldwide. For example – In 2017, a student activist from the University of Sussex named Paris Palmano had set up “Climate Action Movement”. The main objective of this movement was to spread awareness of climate crisis and possible preventive measures to deal with climate change.
  • There is another example from India where the students of Great-men International School, Madhya Pradesh has taken initiative in 2010 to plant almost 1100 sapling to save the environment. There are many other examples where the students from different schools have taken the initiative to protect mother Earth.
  • It is very important for educational institutes to start teaching students how to safeguard our environment and save natural resources.
  • Adapting technology – There are various measures that are used by organizations by using the latest technology and advancement in conserving the environment and also help them in promoting the huge online campaign to create awareness on this matter, which will bring people together on the environment education promotion.
  • As per the present scenario, there are various major environmental issues that require advanced technologies to save nature. For example- technologies to develop renewable energy, to save endangered animals, energy-saving technologies, to deal with climate change & global warming, etc.
  • Promoting Sustainability -Environmental Education helps in building the natural world, gives knowledge and method to solve complex environmental issues which also gives advancement to productive economies and harmony among communities. Being constant in promoting awareness is the key.
  • Well, you cannot choose sustainability as an option but it is a necessity to protect the environment. Now people have started using sustainable products across the world for the benefit of nature. For example – a CFL light bulb may cost a little more than an ordinary light bulb but people understand the difference. Now people know it very well that which bulb is worth to choose in the long term that will help the environment by saving energy.There are many other sustainable ways to protect the environment like using recycle bins, growing more trees & plants, reducing the amount of waste, adapting energy-efficient lifestyle, etc.

These all are the benefits if we educate students about the importance of environmental education and we should also educate the whole world about it. Let us understand about NEPA and what famous environmentalists around the globe are doing to help the Earth:

NEPA and Famous Environmentalists

Students and schools must also know about NEPA to get inspiration from the world-

Let’s understand some of the important measures taken to promote environmental education – The National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) is one such law that is enacted by the United States of America which promotes environment enhancement, it was formed on 1 st January 1970. Since then 100 nations have joined to form the national environmental policies as done by the (NEPA).

These measures have led the Federal Agencies to set an example of making national highways routes as the shortest possible between two points.

NEPA had the most useful environmental outcome when all the executive federal agencies were asked to prepare environmental assessments and environmental impact statements report. These gave the accurate effects of proposed Federal Agencies’ actions.

Around the world there have been a lot of very famous environmentalists such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Journalist, Environmental Activist) Leonardo DiCaprio (Film Actor, Environmental Activist), Thom Yorke (Songwriter, Environmental Activist), Theodore Roosevelt (U.S President, Military Leader, Environmental Activist), etc. to give positive impact on Importance of environmental education in our world.

Many organizations work on various environmental issues to save our planet. These organizations also run various campaigns to educate people about the major environmental issues such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), WWF (World Wildlife Fund), National Wildlife Federation, Forest Stewardship Council Friends of Earth (FOE), etc.

In the end, its all up to us how much are we willing to save the environment around the world because if we don’t start to educate ourselves and our children according to the need of safeguarding our society then we will be too late to give our future generations “a future” of their own and world as we know it will change forever.

Do you want to suggest more about the topic – the importance of environmental education? Message us in the comment box. Follow us on Twitter Follow @earthreminder or like us on Facebook too.

Teaching Ecopoetry in a Time of Climate Change

I arranged ten desks in a circle in preparation for students the first day of my undergraduate poetry workshop. It was fall 2011—my first semester teaching in the English department at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa. The students filed in, out of breath and sweating. “The AC feels good,” one said. “It’s 90 degrees outside.” I took roll, reviewed the syllabus, and began our first creative-writing exercise: haiku. As I would later learn, that August was the hottest in the history of O‘ahu.

Despite the heat, the students kept up with the coursework as we explored sonnets, villanelles, and imagism. By October, the rains came and the island cooled. During one workshop, however, our cell phones beeped with flood warning alerts. Sure enough, by the time our class was over, the campus was drenched. A record number of storms (including “twin hurricanes”) made landfall that semester, canceling many classes. Student absences also increased because of illnesses transmitted by the swarms of mosquitoes on campus. Our workshop fell behind, and I had to scrap many of my lesson plans. I was frustrated. And the students seemed to be drowning in stress and a new kind of “eco-anxiety” unrelated to grades, work, tuition, or debt. I knew we were experiencing the impacts of climate change that were prevalent across the Pacific: record heat, extreme drought, increased storms, infectious diseases, ocean warming, rising sea levels. But I didn’t discuss it with them. I didn’t know how to.

After that difficult semester, I couldn’t teach creative writing again without addressing the climate crisis. So I proposed to my department’s curriculum committee a course on “ecopoetry” that would help students understand the environmental changes around us and give them the opportunity to express their emotions through poetry. Ecopoetry generally refers to poetry about ecology, ecosystems, environmental injustice, animals, agriculture, climate change, water, and even food. It emerged in the 1990s as poets questioned the naturalness of “nature poetry,” especially since nature itself was rapidly changing due to global warming and environmental destruction. Even though I had never taught such a course before, I was familiar with and interested in ecopoetry partly because of my own cultural background.

I was born and raised on the western Pacific island of Guam. As a kid, I always played with my cousins in the jungle or at the beach. We were taught, by our grandma mostly, to always act respectfully in nature, because that is where the spirits of our ancestors dwelled. But as I became a teenager, I witnessed how not everyone treats the environment as a sacred place. Guam is a U.S. territory and one-third of our island is occupied by American military bases, which have contaminated our land, air, and water for decades, from the spraying of DDT to the leaking of PFAS into the island’s largest reservoir. Indigenous environmental beliefs and ethics, as well as the legacy and ongoing impacts of environmental injustice in Guam, have been major themes and concerns in my poetry.

I have taught Ecopoetry every year since 2012, thanks to strong student registration. A diverse enrollment has reflected the demographics of the state most of my students have been Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Asian American, with a smaller number of White, African American, and Latinx class members. They have been barefoot surfers, skaters, dreadlocked hippies, mountain bikers, fraternity and sorority members, athletes, vegetarians and vegans, and self-proclaimed “nerds.” Their majors have ranged from English to Ethnic Studies, psychology to science, hospitality to Hawaiian. Despite these differences, the students have always bonded through their shared love for the islands.

Unfortunately, most students know very little about ecology, environmentalism, or climate change. This is even true of science majors, whose knowledge seems to be more specialized in chemistry or physics. This gap led me to teaching ecopoetry as a creative pathway toward environmental literacy. So instead of reading just poetry, we also read science journalism and ecopoetry essays, as well as watch documentaries and YouTube videos about concepts like nature, ecology, wilderness, environmental justice, the Anthropocene, extinction, and climate change. As they read these contextual sources, I ask them to annotate key words, images, symbols, facts, data, history, or descriptions that will form the foundation for their own poems. To help students organize all this information, I divide the course into weekly units focusing on different themes/concepts, such as “Pastoral,” “Solastalgia,” “Water,” “Trees,” “Animals,” “Outer Space,” “Plastic,” “Nuclearism,” “Oil,” “Wildfires,” “Disaster,” “Gardens,” “Geo-Engineering,” “The Anthropocene,” and more. I also include themes related to identity, such as “Ecofeminism,” “Indigenous Ecopoetics,” “Black Ecopoetics,” “Queer Ecopoetics,” and “Disability Ecopoetics.” Along with providing a framework for engaging secondary readings, this organizational structure helps students develop environmental literacy while also priming them to interpret and write their own ecopoetry.

For each unit, I assign ecopoetry related to the theme. We read and discuss the poems in the context of our supplemental materials, focusing on both literary interpretations and craft elements. I highlight how poetry can communicate environmental issues through creative language and expressive form. Moreover, I foreground how poetry can put a human face and emotional experience on abstract natural disaster and climate crises. For example, one poem I teach is a long poem, “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache,” by American poet Juliana Spahr. The poem is about how the environment has been degraded and how many species have gone extinct. The students read the poem aloud and can hear the heartache and mourning of the speaker. They can feel the overwhelming loss embodied in the long lists of extinct and endangered species. In terms of course readings, I introduce students to a wide range of poets, forms, and styles. Diversity is an important pedagogical ethic when teaching ecopoetry, because it reflects and honors ecological biodiversity. I have found that the most strategic way to present this is through ecopoetry anthologies, since the anthology form is itself an assemblage (see Appendix A for recommended texts). I supplement these anthologies with my own course reader that features Hawaiian and Pacific Islander ecopoetry. Through close reading an array of ecopoetry, the students develop critical reading and interpretation skills, an understanding of poetic craft and technique, and the recognition of the power of ecopoetry to humanize environmental themes.

Inspired by our reading and discussion, I then prompt the students to write their own original ecopoetry based on the current theme. Through their poems, they can demonstrate their understanding of the theme by incorporating their notes in creative ways, and they can articulate their own personal, emotional, cultural, or political relationships with the topic. We then conduct a conventional poetry workshop so the students can receive constructive feedback on their drafts, after which they revise and ultimately perform their finished poems aloud to the class.

The most memorable part of this course is not actually what happens in the classroom, but the experiences we have outside campus. Several times a semester, I organize class meetings that literally connect students to the environment. Imagine—students are sitting in a circle at Kaimana Beach, a small strip of sand at the end of Waikīkī. We read aloud “Ocean Birth,” a stirring poem by Māori writer Robert Sullivan. The sound of waves crashing against the shore punctuate the rhythm of the lines. The trade winds billow the pages of poems in the students’ hands. After we discuss the poem, the students find their own spots on the beach to freewrite. Several students stand in the ocean, the water rising to their knees, while they write in their journals. One student, lost in thought, does not notice a large swell approaching until it is too late, and his journal is soaked. We have had class at an arboretum in the valley behind our campus, inspired by the many native and introduced trees there. We have also met at a sustainable farm and community garden, as well as in Honolulu itself for our “urban nature” unit. The poems written from these fieldtrips tended to be the most powerful and vivid work the students produced.

When I first taught this course, several of the more conscientious students asked on the last day of class, “Is it enough to simply read and write ecopoetry?” We concluded it was not enough. As one student poignantly phrased it, “Ecopoetry inspires us to act.” The following semester, I began including community and public engagement components, requiring students to attend two community-engaged environmental events throughout the semester (extra credit if they attended more). On the syllabus, I list local environmental organizations they can volunteer with, such as the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club Hawai‘i. Over the years, students have attended beach clean-ups, volunteered for farm work days, participated in Earth Day, and attended the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance Conference and the Honolulu Climate Change March. Beyond participating in environmental movements, we also brainstorm ways to engage the public. Students have shared their ecopoetry on social media platforms to educate their friends/followers, submitted their ecopoems to the school newspaper, distributed their poems as broadsides around campus and local coffee shops, and organized ecopoetry readings on and off campus. The most substantial public ecopoetry project we completed was a collaboration with an online magazine, the Hawaii Independent, in 2015. Each week of the semester, the magazine published a selection of student poems, accompanied by my introduction that explained our theme and readings for that week (see Appendix B for a selection of my introductions and a URL for the student poems). Community and public engagement has been a powerful way for students to actualize their desire to “do something” about environmental injustice and climate crisis, as well as to think creatively about how poetry can make an impact in the world as a form of literary eco-activism.

As I write this, I am preparing for my eighth year teaching Ecopoetry. This summer of 2019 was the hottest in history, breaking the record set when I first taught the course. I am rereading the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, published by the state in 2017. How will my students confront the data from this report: rising temperatures, increased respiratory and mosquito-borne diseases, extreme drought, collapsing fish populations, more frequent hurricanes and tsunamis, and the extinction of endemic species? How will they cope with the fact that sea-level rise will cause periodic flooding, permanent inundation, and coastal erosion, which will damage more than 6,500 structures, 25,000 acres of nearshore land, 500 Hawaiian cultural sites, and forty miles of major roads and highways—causing over $20 billion in damages? How will they reckon with the projected displacement of over 20,000 residents?

Despite my anxiety, I know our classroom will be a space where we can learn about, confront, and cope with the climate crisis together. We will be inspired by the ecopoetry we will read and the places in Hawai‘i we will visit. We will empower ourselves by creatively transforming our thoughts and emotions into ecopoetry. We will participate in the environmental movement, engage the public, cultivate hope, and imagine sustainable futures through our poetry.

The anthology I have most regularly assigned is The Ecopoetry Anthology (2013), edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street. This anthology opens with excellent introductions by the editors and the former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, and it includes both historical and contemporary ecopoetry. Other anthologies I have assigned as required or recommended reading are Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009), edited by Camille Dungy The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (2012), edited by Joshua Corey and G. C. Waldrep Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry Thinks Climate Change (2017), edited by Amy King and Heidi Lynn Staples Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Anthology (2018), edited by Melissa Tuckey Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (2018), edited by Lucille Lang Day and Ruth Nolan and Here: Poems for the Planet (2019), edited by Elizabeth Coleman.

In terms of scholarly anthologies, I have assigned Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction (2002), edited by Scott Bryson Eco Language Reader (2010), edited by Brenda Iijima The Poem’s Country: Place and Poetic Practice (2018), edited by Shara Lessley and Bruce Snider and Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field (2018), edited by Angela Hume and Gillian Osborne. For individual scholarly monographs, I have introduced students to Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoetics (1999) by Leonard Scigaj This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry (2002) by Jed Rasula Greening the Lyre: Environmental Poetics and Ethics (2002) by David Gilcrest Can Poetry Save the Earth: A Field Guide to Nature Poems (2009) by John Felstiner Ecology of Modernism: American Environments and Avant-Garde Poetics (2015) by Joshua Schuster Remainders: American Poetry at Nature’s End (2018) by Margaret Ronda and Recomposing Ecopoetics: North American Poetry of the Self-Conscious Anthropocene (2018) by Lynn Keller.

Below are a few selections and excerpts of my introductions to the collaboration with the Hawaii Independent. For links to the full publications, which include the student poems, please visit

Discussions about ecopoetics often involve nostalgia. The word itself has a fascinating etymology: from the Greek algos (pain, grief, distress) and nostos (homecoming). The word further descends from Proto-Indo-European nes- (to return safely home), which is cognate with Old Norse nest (food for a journey) and Gothic ganisan (to heal).

From the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, nostalgia was considered a wound and a serious disease afflicting people who had been taken from their homes and families by colonization, war, enslavement, industrialization, and globalization. These massive displacements not only separated peoples from their native countries, but also separated them from the natural environment, since many migrations arced toward urban centers. Climate change has increased this kind of migration.

Another term, solastalgia (combining solace, desolation, and nostalgia), speaks to the pain and distress caused when your homeland is destroyed but you are not necessarily displaced. In other words, you yearn for what your home was before it was desecrated by mining, logging, fracking, military testing, or oil spills it is feeling homesick even when you are still at home. Sadly, solastalgia is becoming more and more common, especially for peoples of color and those in developing countries.

Ecopoetry is one expressive form through which people have addressed the pain, grief, and trauma associated with nostalgia and solastalgia. Two poems that we read and discussed in class were American poet Robert Hass’s “The State of the Planet” and Hawaiian poet Brandy Nālani McDougall’s “Water Remembers.” In these poems, the natural world is longed for because of its association with home, innocence, family, peace, sustenance, and nurturance.

Thus the first poetry prompt for our ecopoetics course was related to nostalgia: students were asked to write about a childhood memory in which they felt connected to nature.

Waikīkī, Raw Sewage, and the Necro-Pastoral

The “pastoral” is another important topic in ecopoetics, referring to a long tradition of poetry about idealized rural life. The pastoral goes back to ancient Greece, with poets like Hesiod and Theocritus, and to Rome, with Virgil, and through the literary renaissances of Italy, Britain, and America. Throughout, the romantic pastoral acted as a criticism of the squalor and poverty of urban and industrial life. The pastoral encouraged a return to nature and rural life as a space of virtue, honest work, reflection, transcendence, and—even—romance.

Of course, anyone who has actually worked on a rural farm knows that it’s not all peaceful sheep and idyllic shepherding. Thus, a tradition of the anti-pastoral also emerged, criticizing pastoral poets for romanticizing rural life, as well as for ignoring the race, class, and gender problems one might find on the farm—or plantation. These problems extend to how the rural landscape is often gendered in the pastoral as well.

Since modernization has removed so many from nature, many poets have imagined and fantasized what it might be like to live back on the farm, the ranch, the homestead, off the grid, et cetera. In class, we discussed one of the more interesting (and problematic) twentieth-century pastoral poems: Allen Ginsberg’s “Wales Visitation.”

Admittedly, my favorite kind of pastoral is the “necro-pastoral” (see the haunting work of Joyelle McSweeney, who writes both poetry and scholarship about degradation, decay, and contamination). “Necro” comes from the Greek nekros, meaning death or corpse. Imagine a landscape filled with dead bodies, enslaved bodies, diseased bodies, mutilated bodies, worms, rats, cockroaches, rabid animals, decaying trees, polluted rivers, smog, rotting food, ruins, and blazing wildfires. This, too, has a long, changing tradition. Think certain scary fairy tales, the Book of Revelation, Dante’s circles of hell, the Gothic, vampires, zombies, apocalypse stories, Halloween, Banksy’s Dismaland, for example. The necro-pastoral aims to make us look at death, sin, evil, fear, and destruction so that we might consider our mortality, morality, and ethics. Sometimes fear wakes us up better than romance. Like the pastoral, the necro-pastoral has its own problematic relation to race, class, and gender.

In terms of ecopoetics, the death and destruction caused by climate change has brought the necro-pastoral to the forefront of our imaginations. We are now surrounded by images and stories of the necro-pastoral—from the Tar Sands to industrial slaughterhouses, from raging wildfires in California to massive chemical explosions in China, from the mass die-offs of fish washing ashore on Pacific coasts to the mass migrations of refugees to the shores of Europe. Collapse and catastrophe flood the stream of all our media.

Speaking of floods, Hawai‘i has experienced quite a few with the onslaught of a series of hurricanes. With all the rainfall, the streets of Waikīkī were recently flooded with more than 500,000 gallons of raw sewage. Waikīkī, often cast as a literary site of the Pacific necro-pastoral, was shut down. So we decided to write poems about Waikīkī, sewage, and shit.

The Ocean in Us

The essay “The Ocean in Us” (1998), by Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa, insists that the “sea is as real as you and I, that it shapes the character of this planet, that it is a major source of our sustenance, that it is something that we all share in common wherever we are in Oceania.”

Alongside Hau‘ofa’s essay, we read the poem “Ocean Birth” (2005) by Māori poet Robert Sullivan. This poem is a chant-like ocean pastoral, lyrically calling forth the currents, the sea creatures, the names of Polynesian islands, and the bodies of Pacific Islanders to all sing their songs of birth. The poem ends: “Every wave carries us here— // every song to remind us— / we are skin of the ocean.” Hau‘ofa and Sullivan represent a Native Pacific perspective on the ocean, in which the ocean is our source, our origin, our common inheritance.

We also read and discussed two texts that speak to a Trans-Pacific perspective. First: “Oceania as Peril and Promise: Towards Theorizing a Worlded Vision of Trans-Pacific Ecopoetics” (2012) by American poet Rob Wilson. This essay foregrounds the ocean as a theoretical network of global flow, “liquid modernity,” and “postmodern fluidity,” as well as a material network of capitalist shipping lanes and airfreights, military bases and testing sites, and marine territorializations and exclusive economic zones—all routing across the west coast of the American continent, the Pacific Islands, and Asia. Thus, the ocean represents both peril and promise. It is in peril from us through plastic pollution, overfishing, nuclear testing, and warming, but it can also be perilous through rising tides, tsunamis, and hurricanes. The ocean also represents promise in the sense that it offers a vision of “transnational belonging, ecological confederation, and trans-racial solidarity.”

Lastly, we read and performed the poem “Pacific Ocean” (2009) by American poet Brenda Hillman. This poem views the Pacific from California, where the poet touches the coastal waters and launches into a meditation on the vastness and complexity of the ocean. As such, the poem flows in fragmented waves and currents of perception, swirling with flotsam and jetsam, memory and information, plastic and prayers, of spice and maritime routes, dreams and drownings. Or, as Hillman puts it: “a fertile dread . . . mixed with ecstasy.”

Every culture—and even every person—has a different relationship to, and understanding of, the vastness and complexity of the ocean. And even though poets represent the ocean in different ways, it has always been a space and place of deep symbolism and meaning. As Hau‘ofa wrote: “The sea is our pathway to each other and to everyone else, the sea is our endless saga, the sea is our most powerful metaphor, the ocean is in us.”

The Poetry of Disaster

To me, storms invoke nostalgia. Guam, where I grew up, lies in “Typhoon Alley.” I remember a super typhoon so forceful that it broke through shutters and flooded our bedrooms. Our family closed all the doors and slept in the hallway as the storm shook the house.

Guam is also located in the “Ring of Fire,” an area of frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. One of the scariest moments of my life occurred in 1993, when an 8.1 earthquake struck for nearly sixty seconds. My family ran and held each other under a doorway until the earth stopped trembling.

Natural disasters are one of the most prevalent themes in ecopoetics, especially since disasters are occurring with much more frequency and intensity due to climate change. In Nicole Cooley’s essay “Poetry of Disaster,” she suggests that the poetry of disaster opens up a space for us to gather and grieve, to seek solace and solidarity, to express sympathy and empathy, to educate and raise awareness, and to share our trauma and resilience. Cooley also highlights how the poetry of disaster inspires action, pointing to the Poets for Living Waters project, an example of literary activism responding to the BP Gulf oil disaster.

Indeed, disasters not only inspire poems, but they inspire post-poem literary activism, including publication in mainstream and social media, benefit readings, fundraising anthologies, educational websites, ethnographic/interview-based poetry projects, and writing workshops for survivors.

We read or heard and discussed several examples of disaster poetry and literary activism: in response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the 2009 tsunami in Samoa, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

Creation Stories and Indigenous Ecopoetics

Creation stories are central to indigenous ecopoetics, since they are often encoded with ecological ethics. While native peoples have always looked to our creation stories for guidance and inspiration, many non-native peoples have turned to indigenous stories to address the crisis of climate change.

Indigenous creation stories, and native ecopoetics in general, foreground how the primary themes in native texts express the idea of interconnection and interrelatedness of humans and the non-human world the centrality of land and water in the conception of indigenous genealogy, identity, and community and the importance of knowing the indigenous histories of a place. Moreover, native writers often employ creation stories and ecological images, metaphors, and symbols to critique colonial views of nature as an empty, separate object that exists to be exploited for profit. What scholars refer to as “ecological imperialism” includes the displacement of indigenous peoples from ancestral lands the establishment of plantation, industrial, and chemical agriculture the development of tourism and urbanism the contamination from militarism and nuclearism rapid deforestation and desertification the extraction of natural resources and indigenous remains and species extinction and endangerment.

Lastly, indigenous ecopoetics reconnects people to the sacredness of the earth, honors the earth as an ancestor, protests against further environmental degradation, and insists that the earth (and literary representations of the earth) are sites of healing, co-belonging, resistance, and mutual care.

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is the co-editor of five anthologies and the author of five books of poetry, most recently Habitat Threshold (Omnidawn, 2020). He is a professor in the English department at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Inspiration to decrease our environmental impact

Many of the world’s environmental problems stem from a lack of knowledge. Consumers are able to purchase certain products or engage in activities without realising the damage they are causing to the earth.

When shown in a positive light, wild animals can inspire people to lead a sustainable lifestyle. They can invoke feelings of sympathy and compassion, causing people to be conscious of the damaging effects of their lifestyles.

Wild animals provide a range of services to the human existence. They can be valuable subjects for modern scientific research and play a huge role in cultures across the world. People can turn to nature for a release when the drags of the modern world become too great.

With respect to the conservation and future of our planet, animals can inspire people to change their lifestyle and rally for a brighter future. If a larger portion of the human population were to realise the importance of wild animals to their existence, they would be able to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

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