The Science of Sustainability

What Makes Us Care About Nature?

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Learning at the tidepools. Credit: Amy Gotliffe

This question comes up endlessly in the world of environmental education. How do you inspire a person to learn, care and then take action for the environment? As someone whose professional goal is to inspire earth stewardship, I often ask anyone who will answer this big question.

Many are active stewards because they formed a connection with nature during childhood. This bond is deep, instinctive and primal, and was merely coaxed out by a particular, yet often simple experience outdoors: playing in the woods, on the rocks, in the creek, in the garden, in the dirt, up the tree, with the roly polys, in the ditch, in the pond, in the vacant armory (ok that was me), etc. Somewhere deep inside, a door was opened to the potential to really care. This is why Nature Deficit Disorder is so disturbing, as we wonder if children growing up void of trees and ditches and ponds have forged the same bonds.

When a child's natural curiosity is nurtured by an adult, they will likely develop an even stronger connection. Some will have this head start, yet it is never too late.

So, how does a person then become an active steward?

One model is practiced by Roots & Shoots, the activism branch of the Jane Goodall Institute, and that is: Knowledge, Compassion and Action. All three experiences, in no particular order, can lead to a sustainable behavior change. Take caring for frogs as an example and consider three different people and paths to change:

With this model in mind, I suppose my job is to ensure that all three options are easily available to our visiting students and guests. So I encourage all you attend an adult lecture or ZooCamp program, take action with the Arroyo Viejo Creek Keepers, or feel compassion by staring through long eyelashes into the deep brown eyes of a camel… or frog.

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Category: Biodiversity, Biology, Environment, Partners

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Amy Gotliffe

About the Author ()

Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at the Oakland Zoo. She is a Detroit transplant, enjoying the good Bay Area life for 17 years. She has a degree in communications, holds several teaching credentials and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. She has worked at various Bay Area educational and environmental institutions, teaching second grade, working on campaigns, planting pollinator gardens, producing earth day events and generally spreading the word about wildlife and green living. She currently works at The Oakland Zoo where she serves as the Conservation Manager. There, she coordinates support for international, national and local conservation efforts, produces a Conservation Speaker Series, produces the zoo's Earth Day event, leads eco-trips, teaches the various educational programs and heads up an on-site Green Team. On her list of other passions are travel, photography, music and the lindy hop. :-)