The study of ecology is something of utmost importance to our society, because it has implications in how we chose to live sustainably and because understanding the environment can empower a generation to demand and instigate change from policymakers.
As a society we should hope that everyone takes the time to learn a little bit of ecology, as it is only with fundamental knowledge of how the earth’s systems function that individuals can hope to make responsible choices regarding our environment. Ecology has the power to influence even trivial day-to-day decisions. Understanding how food webs and trophic levels work may change the way we think about nutrition and sustainable eating. Knowing the limits and repercussions of using fossil fuels as an energy source could mean that more people will carpool or ride their bikes. Ecology relies heavily on looking at cause and effect relationships within an ecosystem; by understanding the effects we have on our surroundings we can make more informed choices. Limiting our impact on the environment truly starts from the ground up, and it is these small personal decisions that sum to make a big difference.
But beyond a personal level, studying ecology can have big effects on environmental policy. As one popular quote describes: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum) By ensuring that every student is educated in ecology, we can expect that they will care enough about preserving the environment that they exert their influence on the policy makers of our time. Whether by voting to sway political institutions or financially pressuring the powerful industries in this country, young people should play an important role in shaping the way we address environmental issues. After all, problems like pollution and degradation of resources will have severe impacts on the younger generations unless they are addressed in a timely manner. Studying ecology is the key to keeping students invested in the protection of the world around us.
Finally, every student should study ecology for more selfish reasons. Sure, studying ecology can give us the understanding we need to sustain human populations in the world, but it can also let us truly thrive in it. The pursuit of understanding the natural world around us can be gratifying on a deeply personal level; seeing and studying true wilderness can be awe-inspiring, terrifying, and soothing all at the same time. John Muir pointed out that “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” In this way, ecology can very positively affect the lives of many individuals. As they gain a true appreciation for the world around them and their place in it, they also reap the mental and physical benefits that come from exploring and playing in the great outdoors. Studying ecology is vital not only for practical, environmental reasons, but also for the well-being and sanity of students growing up in an increasingly urban world.