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David Orr, the preeminent American philosopher of environmental education, coined the term “ecological literacy” to mean the ability to understand and live within the natural systems that make life on earth possible.He critiques conventional education for perpetuating environmental problems by presenting knowledge apart from a moral framework.

He proposes restructuring pedagogies to incorporate knowledge of human dependence upon the earth’s ecosystems, and revising its goals to include explicit ethical reflection on our human choices. His educational vision is remarkably coherent with the contemporary Franciscan worldview, and we can learn from it, in our personal and ministerial lives.


The responsibility to foster ecological literacy flows from the witness of St. Francis’ sensory love of creation and his journey into the Incarnation. Faith, spirituality, theology, and ethics are necessary, but it will require incorporating forms of scientific literacy as well.

ecologia francescanaecologia francescana

Ecological literacy should be an important goal for Franciscans in the 21st century. Without accurate information about the really real, grounded in the material reality of our Earth, Franciscan care for creation can devolve quickly into sentimentalism. As a Franciscan family, we must face the fact that many of our members have fallen into the trap of sentimentalism.

Cristianità ed ecologiaCristianità ed ecologia

Much Francis-inspired concern for creation has been exclusively affective, uninformed by patterns of pervasive ecological breakdown driven by human behavior. It is as though Francis’ example inspires people to focus only on the subjective self, one’s pets, and garden statues.

I have been credited with coining the concept of “Birdbath Franciscanism.”

To remedy this idiosyncratic and disengaged approach, and to foster authentic ecological consciousness, I recommend we marshal our resources to foster Franciscan ecological literacy. This approach will require us to take seriously scientific literacy.

Fra Keith Warner, OFM

Question for Reflection:

How do you consider it to be your responsibility “to foster ecological literacy?