Action to awareness: Sustaining biodiversity

Biodiversity loss and climate change are severe consequences of misunderstanding our place in the natural system. The Gulf of Maine Institute believes education is the critical cornerstone to the solution: thoughtfully and scientifically teaching ways to live in informed harmony with the natural world.

Photo by Alam Kusuma on Unsplash
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John Terry

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are severe consequences of misunderstanding our place in the natural system.

The principal source of climate change is burning fossil fuels. Biodiversity is declining because of a devastating triple blow to its life-sustaining support systems through chemical pesticides, habitat destruction and climate change. The source of both is human behavior based on a Euro-American worldview that positions humans in dominance over an inexhaustible “glory hole” of natural resources. Other peoples, notably Indigenous peoples of North America, had and have differing worldviews.

This Euro-American worldview rationalized and powered the Industrial Revolution and prevailed unchallenged until now. Climate change is this worldview’s most consequential result, but that view is losing credibility. The belief in the Earth’s eternal resilience is impossible to subscribe to if you accept science, so a new worldview is evolving.

This is good news because it allows us to rethink our place on the planet and do something about it. Ironically, as the only species responsible for the devastation of the natural world, we are also the only ones able to renew the planet’s life-sustaining systems.

Science, under remarkable resistance, has been doing its job to inform us about the state of the environment, provide data-based predictions and suggestions, and develop technologies and techniques for remediation and repair.

Time for us to assume our role and make the political and behavioral shifts needed. No easy fixes here! No technological knights in shining armor to be sallied forth to the rescue. We face a biological/worldview problem that requires us to make lifestyle changes.

The Gulf of Maine Institute GOMI, believes education is the critical cornerstone to the solution: thoughtfully and scientifically teaching ways to live in informed harmony with the natural world.

Such education aligns schools and communities with the common mission to provide youth the tools to become scientifically informed and civically engaged stewards. A safe, healthy, co-evolving world requires this now and forever. Education is the greatest gift we can pass on and is our best path to a good outcome.

As a result of their participation in GOMI, Newburyport High School (Note 1) and the Pentucket Regional School District now offer related courses, internships and habitat sanctuary garden https://homegrownnationalpark. org/ opportunities. At Newburyport High School, for example, students are studying the importance of the Great Marsh, why there is a rapid local population decline in the Eastern long-eared bat and the role of native plants in supporting pollinator biodiversity.

Pentucket Regional High School students are restoring the campus brook as a habitat sanctuary. They have built a “classroom in the woods” where students can take in all the sensory experiences of the outdoors while attending class.

In West Newbury, we are working with Wild and Native (WN2) and GAR Memorial Library to create learning habitat gardens throughout the town.

Under the mentorship of committed teachers and field experts, students engaged in these hands-on educational opportunities learn to define problems and create solutions.

Newburyport High School and Pentucket Regional High School are joined in their work via GOMI to similar courses and projects at North Shore Montessori in Rowley, Lowell/ Middlesex Academy, Bethlehem Elementary School in New Hampshire, Kennebunk High School, University of New England in Maine, and several schools in Nova Scotia.

Some things you can do: Encourage young people to consider careers in environmental work.

Get engaged locally. Be better informed on the issues: why native plants, insects, and bats are essential.

Support your school’s community- based stewardship learning programs and advocate for more.

Connect with local organizations like ACES and the Allies on climate change and biodiversity loss.

A problem is only solved once it is understood and acted upon. Shifting the way we engage with the natural world will require many acts and many hands, but no step is too small and none too big. You may be surprised to find that doing something has the added benefit of making you feel better.

John Terry, Ph.D., is with the Gulf of Maine Institute.

Our Youth Corps asks you to consider these and other ways to help with the future of our planet and environment. Please reach out to us about a project or important information that you might like to see shared. Send us a note at . To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit

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John Terry

John Terry, PhD. Advisor, West Newbury

John founded the Gulf ofMaine Institute in 1999. He was the Editor-in-Chief, CYD (Community Youth Development)Journal from Aug. 1994 to Nov. 2002. He has broad teaching and administrativeexperience at the university level including the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and Union College,Schenectady, NY. John was selected as Civic Ventures, ’Lead with Experience’Program 2006 Purpose Prize Fellows. He is also a 2008 recipient of the Gulf ofMaine Council on the Marine Environment Visionary Award andthe Environmental Protection Agency Award for Outstanding Efforts inPreserving New England’s Environment in 2013.

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