Biophilia: Environmental Education from the Ground Up



I have been seeking a way to offer solutions to the grand environmental problem. I have been moving more and more toward local solutions. In my argument of definition essay, I argued for the concept of humans understanding their own place in the global community, rather than feeling like outsiders. I am convinced that this change in understanding will improve environmental outcomes worldwide. In my research, I encountered the term biophilia, which refers to human beings’ psychological attraction to all things alive and vital. This seems to speak to my intentions, and I intend to present a letter to the Portland Public School Board to introduce biophilia curriculum.

Author’s Note

Discovering Biophilia was like a lightning bolt; I had been flirting with this concept without naming it, and to find that it not only has a name, but that people are doing university level research on it was amazing. It is profoundly heartening to find that other people have been thinking along the same lines and making headway in the scientific community.


  1. Simaika, John P., and Michael J. Samways. “Biophilia As A Universal Ethic For Conserving Biodiversity.” Conservation Biology 24.3 (2010): 903-906. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

This article is a dry dissection of the concept of biophilia. The authors discuss the origin of the term, compare it to its opposite, biophobia, posit that biophilia is learned, not inherent, discuss some of the demonstrated mental and physical health benefits of biophilia, and discuss how cultivation of biophilia leads to greater care for the environment in general. This article is published in the journal Conservation Biology, and the authors are affiliated with a reputable university.

This article supports my thesis by presenting a potentially fluffy concept in exceedingly dry scientific language. It lends the credence of a research university. As I will be presenting my case to educators, it is valuable to have the stamp of approval from such an organization. I also appreciate how this article questions some of the assumptions of biophilia and pushes proponents of the concept to look more closely and speak more intelligently about it.

  1. Babaian, Caryn, and Paul Twigg. “The Power Of Plants: Introducing Ethnobotany & Biophilia Into Your Biology Class.” American Biology Teacher (National Association Of Biology Teachers) 73.4 (2011): 217-221. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

This article, published in American Biology Teacher, gives both an overview of the concept of biophilia and some concrete lesson plans that teachers can use to help excite their students about the environment around them.

This article is perfect as support for a presentation to educators, as it comes from educators directly and presents the material in a way that is approachable and practicable. I further appreciate how the article does not present an environmentalist agenda per se, and therefore maintains its purely scientific/educational credibility.

  1. Randall, Tom, and Eric Roston. “World’s Top Environmental Success Stories: Don’t Despair.” Bloomberg, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

This article is a rundown of thirteen instances of major environmental victories. It is pretty straightforward in a mass consumption magazine, but I mostly found it useful for the cheerleading effect. Environmentalism can be so depressing sometimes; it is good to be able to have some good news. It is high time that environmentalists speak from a place of success and strength.

  1. McCann, Jaymi. “Bringing the Driest Place in the World to Life: ‘Fog Catchers’ Attempt to Harvest Moisture with Huge Nets in Chilean Desert.” Mail Online. Daily Mail, 30 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.

This is primarily a photo essay in the UK Daily Mail about projects in the high Chilean Desert to harvest water from the copious mountain fog. This is another mass market publication. I found it primarily useful as a story of an exceedingly clever solution to an environmental problem which is producing a resource for some people in the short run and has real potential to reverse the much larger problem of increased desertification.



Education, Environmentalism, Conservation, Biophilia, Curriculum, Future, Saving the World

Biophilia: Environmental Education from the Ground Up

Dear Portland Public Schools Board Members,

As parents and educators, we are responsible for shaping the future. We have been handed a legacy of environmental degradation, and we cannot wait for anyone to help us fix it. It is incumbent upon us to begin the daunting process of change if we are to leave a future to our children. We must give our children the tools and understanding to preserve the biological systems that allow for human life on this planet.

As part of this process, it is high time that we leave behind the attitude of environmental defeatism and embrace the fact that we have succeeded on many fronts. Ozone depletion is being reversed, lead is out of gasoline, the Clean Air Act dramatically reduced acid rain, and recycling has become a normal part of life in countless communities across the country. Yes, the problems and challenges are huge, but not insurmountable. Creative solutions from creative thinkers abound, worldwide, such as “Fog Catchers” in Chile, who are using innovative methods to collect water from abundant mountain fog to replenish the desertified landscape.

To ensure that progress of this nature continues, we must build from the ground up, starting with the children. We must go beyond current ideas of environmental education. It is not enough to talk about carbon emissions and changing weather patterns, we must move away from the theoretical and cultivate a sense of belonging to this earth. It is the separation from our earthly heritage that allows our species to perpetrate the environmental atrocities that are pushing our species to the brink.

This is, no doubt, a tall order. Our current mindset of separation from and dominance over the planetary ecosystem goes back at least several thousand years and pervades every aspect of our society and our thinking. How then, to begin changing that attitude? I propose the introduction of Biophilia curriculum in every school, at every grade level. While any avid gardener can speak at length about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of gardening, and any hiker can expound on the healing powers of the outdoors, the concept of Biophilia (the psychological tendency in humans to be attracted to all that is alive and vital) is gaining traction in the scientific world. Furthermore, there is indication that cultivation of Biophilia leads to greater environmental awareness and care, perhaps because the Biophile has a greater sense of connection and belonging to the environment, and therefore a reflexive instinct to preserve and protect it.

At first blush, Biophilia sounds like some kind of airy-fairy notion which will have our children dancing in the forest and eating dirt. While I am not personally opposed to dancing in the forest, Biophilia is an idea which has been researched and discussed in prestigious universities, and ideas for concrete curriculum are being created and used by mainstream biology teachers here in the U.S.

It would not be an unreasonable cognitive leap for PPS teachers to incorporate Biophilia curriculum, and they may well find that they have a more engaged and happier student body. That the introduction of Biophilia could make PPS students into astute conservationists is almost a side effect, but a side effect well worth the effort.

I humbly ask the Board to consider the possibility of incorporating Biophilia material throughout the PPS system. Thank you.


David Stevens

Portland Resident

Registered Nurse



About allydavidstevens

Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Uncle. Nurse. Aspiring Kung Fu Fighter.


  1. allydavidstevens

    I had a technical problem with the list of sources, couldn’t seem to format the number 2 on my second source without totally wrecking the rest of the format. Grrrrr.

  2. David:
    Formatting in WordPress is not easy! Your submission looks great, and your letter is both serious and personable in tone. I think that this balance is key in capturing the School Board’s attention. I hope you’ll let me know when/if they respond. I have to agree with you that this kind of education with/in nature is so important to a well-rounded education AND brings children joy and connection with their learning that certainly contributes to the longevity of their love for learning. Great project…and I hope you keep advocating for this in our community!

  3. Pingback: Biophilia | The Balsamean

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