Climate Matters: No justice without literacy

20th in a series

This Climate Matters column is brought to you by the letter L, the letter R, and the number 5. Five L’s guide my work and are inspired by Judy Dow’s 5 R’s.

Judy’s 5 R’s are guideposts to help us through what Judy calls “The Narrows” — this pinch point of our systemic crisis where radical change is the only way forward to address climate and social justice. Judy was raised with the values of the 5 R’s, and shares them with her grandchildren, with me and with many others who are fortunate to be taught by this wise soul. The 5 R’s are: Respect, Responsibility, Reverence, Relationship and Reciprocity. Judy is the director of Gedakina, a non-profit, multigenerational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American youth and families from across New England. Judy is also a long-time educator, activist, artist and storykeeper of the land and all living beings.

My 5 L’s are: Listen, Look, Learn, Lean and Love. And, I’m adding a 6th L: Literacy. I’ve been considering the function of Literacy since my early 20s when I was applying to graduate programs. After Listening to and Looking at the impact of mass media on society through an interdisciplinary lens during my undergraduate years, I Learned to witness who held the power in the Informationsphere. I perpetually Lean in to the theory of agenda-setting — the invisible function of all media to direct our attention and extract our focus. I am always learning about Love. To me it is the endless supply of compassion and kindness for all beings that I can only practice, never knowing if it is enough, while it (love) keeps me forever in a state of wonder.

I wrote my graduate school application essay on my intention to discover and teach media literacy to uncover how we humans discern our “realities” and “truths.” How and why do the media shape our values and behaviors? The cultural waters we swim in can be made visible by adding media literacy skills to our basic reading, writing, arithmetic and related teachings. Just where does our knowledge come from? Who do we believe and why? No more brainwashing by the lies of Fox News and Tucker Carlson.

There are many places we as individuals acquire knowledge regarding how we work and how the world around us works. We develop what is often called “worldviews,” which are delivered and influenced by our families, schools, social media, regular media and so forth in Relationship. These influences are not new to modernity. They were exquisitely explored by Confucius around 500 BC in “The Great Learning.” Confucius’s ideas begin and end with the individual — it is up to the self to acquire virtue from many sources such as studying the way things work within a system of “nested interdependence” (a term used by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme in the “Journey of the Universe”). Confucius places the virtue of the individual and their acquired knowledge in context and relationship to: the household/family; communities (including religious institutions and schools); regional and local governments (and economies); the nation; and, I add, our planet and universe. In pure Eastern thinking this is neither a linear line of influence nor a one-way path — it is a set of circles and folds, twists and turns changing direction to unlearn and relearn at emergent scales of time and space.

I had intended to write about the Power of the Purse for this column, including a conversation about how we humans won’t survive these times unless we redesign our economies by measuring our success, our flourishing, if you will, on planetary and human health instead of a growth-based material and extractive economy. These ideas form the basis for Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics,” which I highly recommend, if you’ve not experienced her book, Ted Talk and ongoing work. But I couldn’t just focus on the wrongs of our economy. It felt too transactional after the latest and ongoing brutal and racist mass murders of innocent children and adults. Our souls are in a fragile state. We have lost Love (my “L”) and Reverence (Judy’s “R”) for the planet and each other, and I’m stricken by a grief that is inconsolable.

We humans are stuck. We are a messy and beautiful species desperately afraid of the increasing chaos around us, trapped by our own design. As Yuval Noah Harrari purports in his book “Sapiens,” we imagined/created this human civilization, thus we are fully capable of re-imagining and co-creating a new one. Today our survival depends on the extraction of fossil fuels and other natural resources to support our perception of what it means to be comfortable. We won’t control who has access to guns to take lives, but we will control women’s bodies forcing them to deliver alone, new lives into an unsafe and under-resourced world. This social control is being doled out by a tiny minority of cowardly politicians serving a tiny minority of people who control all of our resources. No rocket to Mars can save us. It’s time to save ourselves.

What can we do to shift our mindsets to include the L’s and Judy’s Rs? When were you taught about Interdependence, Mutuality, Thriveability and Symbiosis? Where can we share and collaborate on these ideas with our kids, colleagues and friends? I’d love to hear your thoughts; email me at [email protected].

I close with a poem from a blogger I follow:

Why is nature so important?

By Carrie Ann Moss


We are nature.

We are reflected in the trees the soil the ocean the lakes the grass

The wildlife

The everything.

We are nature.

We are not concrete and systems

And buildings,

We are what’s underneath,

And swirling all around.

We are the heartbeat of this world.

Collectively we are the breath, the heart and the soul of humanity.

Place your feet on the earth

Lie down on her

Become one with her

And listen


Nadine Canter has spent more than three decades studying and working on environmental issues as a community organizer, cultural translator and storyteller. To learn more: wooddragonadvising.org and newperennials.org.

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