We’re not just members of a local community; we’re citizens of the global one and our decisions can have an impact on the wider world, not just on our local environment. Being ecoliterate means making environmentally solid, informed decisions and taking the right action. It entails understanding our connection to nature, ecologically and economically, and acknowledging both the local and more global impact of our decisions.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to become ecoliterate. It’s not an attribute you’re either born with or without. You can develop it. Here’s how to do this, following approaches taken from principles for teaching ecoliteracy, developed by the Berkeley Center for Ecoliteracy; a superb resource on ecoliteracy.

Build empathy for all forms of life

Humans, animals, plants and other organisms share common needs: water, food, space and conditions that facilitate balance. Appreciation of this shifts the human perspective from one of being (or feeling) superior to other life forms to that of accepting ourselves as (equal) members of the natural world. Embracing this allows us to show consideration for other life forms, for their quality of life and their wellbeing. This creates scope to act accordingly in their interests.

View sustainability as a community practice

Life forms exist as part of something bigger, not in isolation, and are interdependent of each other. When we’re able to see that, we can think about how they’re all interconnected in their own communities. This concept takes on characteristics that fall outside of the common perception of ‘community’, but in doing so, it serves as a starting point to think in terms of whether practices serve the common good.

Appreciate that nature sustains life

Nature has taught us to survive century after century. We’ve learned from it. And we must continue to do so. Interconnectedness equals survival. Not only that, but organisms form part of systems that fit into other systems, from the micro to the macro. Each level sustains others. Our actions can disrupt this delicate balance, so we must learn to identify ways to avoid upsetting it.

Perhaps most important of all is the requirement of fulfilling our needs today while still supporting nature to sustain future life. We can’t just abuse resources and, instead, should learn to take what we need, learning to adjust when the going is good or bad.

Anticipate consequences

Actions have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are predictable. Other times, not. When an action threatens to have consequences for the environment, and regardless of whether scientists have confirmed any sort of cause-effect relationships, you need to take precautions. Another approach is to solve problems by thinking about them in their individual components. This encourages you to examine the connections between these and the other components, making it possible to predict consequences.

See what you can’t see

We’ve created a big problem in the form of climate change, but we don’t really witness the impact from where we are. Elsewhere in the world, however, others are beginning to notice the damage while life goes on as normal for us. This must change. We must make ourselves aware of the impact. Tech, although it has its issues, can help us to realise the impact of products on our health, the environment and on social justice. The power of the internet allows us to transport ourselves virtually to other places on the planet and view remote landscapes. It’s a capability we must make the most of to enhance our environmental literacy.

You don’t have to be ecoliterate to make good decisions, however. By thinking about the companies we buy from and their values, we can make choices as consumers that also help us do what’s right for the planet. One company that has built a reputation for implementing sustainable practices and initiatives is the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA. As well as selling good-quality low-cost furniture, the brand has displayed a more ethical and sustainable side that has helped it to become popular.

Protecting the environment and reversing damage to it is a big challenge, but every person who improves their own ecoliteracy helps us take a welcome step forward towards that. To learn more about ecoliteracy and about educating others in ecoliteracy, the website of the Center for Ecoliteracy, in Berkeley, California, is an excellent resource.