Inspired by the essay of Barry Lopez * reflecting on the impact of the voyage of Christopher Columbus, "The Rediscovery of North America" University Press of Kentucky, (1990).

"There were more than a thousand distinct cultures, a thousand mutually unintelligible languages, a thousand ways of knowing. How can one compare intimacy with the facets of this knowledge to the possession of gold? How could we have squandered such wisdom in that search.

It would take a lifetime to list the trees and flowers, the butterflies and fish, the small mammals, the kinds of deer and cats, the migratory and resident birds; and to say the most rudimentary things about their relationships, how they know and reflect each other. This, along with the people, we ignored. it was a wealth that didn't register until much of it was gone, or until, like the people, it was a tattered, diluted remnant, sequestered on a reservation."

Importance of Knowledge about 'Place'

The first humans had to know their land as a survival kit. As they grew slowly into cultures by developing its natural economy, they looked upon the land not as its possessor but as a companion. To achieve this, they cultivated intimacy with their immediate environment as with a fellow human. They remembered their daily progression through a limited small world; they walked it, ate from its soils and from the animals that ate its plants. They knew its winds, they smelled its biology, observed the sequence of its flowers through the seasons, and the places where particular animals could be found. Making little impact, they were inscribed gently into their surroundings. Their lives were sustainable in that quality of life was improved while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

These early inscribed cultures have now become constructive cultures, changing their environment by digging and building, time and time again, out of all recognition. Constructive cultures have a way of life that ostracises the land. The consuming visions that drove them were of merchandisable timber, ploughable forest, grazable prairies, recoverable ores, damable water, nettable fish. We now require education for 'sustainability' so that we may make the necessary provision for the present, without jeopardising the future for succeeding generations.

We can now only read descriptions of the worlds of the inscribed groups they displaced. The lands of inscribed communities have been totally destroyed in the name of constructive natural economy, often to increase the wealth of people who don't live there.

The first historians of pre industrial societies saw landscapes of 'native peoples' with a detached frame of mind. Their extensive first-hand knowledge was ultimately regarded as a kind of decorative information for academic study or entertainment only. It was taken as a series of puzzles for specialists to elucidate and isolate in university subjects. The information was never taken to be what it in fact is - a holistic, practical description of a 'home', where we may be at ease with the planetary forces which sustain us.

To be inscribed into the land is to enclose it in the same moral universe we occupy, and so include it in the meaning of the word 'community'. For constructive groups to have a sense of community they must have, at the very least, knowledge of what is inviolate about the relationship between themselves and the place they occupy. They must understand why the destruction of this relationship, or the failure to attend to it, wounds people who live and grow up there.

A Knowledge System for Sustainable Development

It is to help the next generation in this task that 'natural economy' is proposed as the most appropriate knowledge system to accommodate SCAN surveys. Being community-based, natural economy is a flexible and holistic knowledge system, oriented towards studying local environments, and the relationships between communities and their natural resources.

World leaders left the Rio Environment Summit in 1992 with the task of resolving the conflicts between economic competitiveness, social welfare, and care for the environment. Their premise was that the only true wealth that can turn exploitation into residency, and greed into harmony, comes from the cultivation and achievement of local knowledge about nations as consumers partaking of a limited global cake.

Governments have set guidelines for embracing sustainable development, which are expressed at community level in the 'Local Agenda 21' But the environmental crisis to which they are a response, is not a crisis of policy, or of law, or of administration, but one of self-education. Education for sustainable development means getting to know the local balance between living, and sustaining a relationship with the natural resources used by the community. We cannot turn to institutions, to environmental groups, or to government. We must turn to each other to discover what is locally possible, and participate in the formation of plans for a new economic order.

Environmental education is based on economic metaphors of stocks, flows and balance sheets. Human economies are nested the local 'nature bank'. From this point of view, 'human economics' is a sub-division of the 'biophysical economics' of nature. The term 'biophysical economics' is an balance sheet, accountancy, metaphor to encompass the flows of energy from Sun to Earth, and its expressions in seasons, climate, weather, and living things.

People are part of nature, and the economies of communities are the dominant factor in determining a society's interaction with the rest of nature; plants, animals, microbes, soil, rocks and weather. Increasingly, through 'industrial development', human economies typically reward ecologically destructive practices. To sustain human economic development a knowledge system is needed that deals with all the ideas we use to understand ourselves and our relations with the rest of nature. It should cross subject boundaries, and trace all linkages between economies of human production and their resources. It should draw together:

(a) physical laws (the inanimate economy)

- governing interactions between the Sun and the rotating Earth;

- governing interactions between the Earth's molten core and its surface;

(metaphorically, these two kinds of interactions may be expressed, respectively, as the 'planetary economy' and the 'solar economy');

(b) biological laws (the animate economy)

- governing the evolution of food chains and webs, which includes humans within its scope.

Flows of resources from the 'planetary', 'solar' and 'animate' economies into the technological processes of the monetary economy of a community defines its 'natural economy'. As a subject, natural economy traces the materials and energy flows in societies from resources existing in, or produced by nature, which are transformed into commodities; the surplus being brought to market, purchased, consumed and discarded. This is a single educational matrix for humanity and its uses of the rest of nature. It maps nature as a tightly integrated system bank of natural resources, and provides reasons why economic expansion cannot go on indefinitely.

In summary, natural economy deals with the technological control of natural resources, and its environmental impact. It is complementary to 'political economy', which deals with the social effects of governmental control on markets, rewards for labour, extremes of mistreatment of people, and quality of life. Although there is an international syllabus for natural economy at GCSE level (Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate), the subject can be assimilated into the non-mandatory guidelines of the National curriculum for environmental education.

Nature conservation is the link between natural economy and political economy. It is the biodiversity accounting and management system of communities and governments; a counterbalancing response to economic development; an effort to make markets more harmonious with the dynamics of biophysical economies. To this end, as living organisms we have to audit, protect, and manage the rest of nature upon which we depend. We have to do this in order to match markets with ecosystems which provide the natural resources for economic development, and are sources of the non-marketable environmental goods emanating from scenic beauty, and nature study. In this context, there is a need to integrate environmental care and development under the guiding principle of 'sustainability'. Furthermore, we need to promote the idea that biodiversity is still a vital stock in the human survival kit, and make people in all walks of life aware of its vital importance for the future of this earth.

Education about biodiversity is part of a curriculum for sustainability, and a process which is relevant to all people. Like sustainable development itself, it is a process rather than a fixed goal. It may precede- and it will always accompany- the building of relationships between individuals, groups, and their community's shared environmental resources.

All people are capable of being educators and learners in the pursuit of sustainability. Education about biodiversity should be a practical approach to sustainable development through direct local action that is also 'good earthkeeping'.