Seminar: Ecological Sustainability: Living the Spirit of the New Cosmology - # 60060

Instructors: Gayle Edmisten Watkin, M.S., M.A. and Larry Edwards, Ph.D.

Faculty Bios: 

Gayle Edmisten Watkin will serve as the Lead Faculty for the course.  Ms. Watkin has an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.A. in Creation Spirituality.  She has 25 years of experience in environmental research, consulting, teaching, and publishing, and has managed environmental projects nationwide. She has developed numerous classes and workshops in ecology, spirituality, and sustainability, and has taught at UCS, John F. Kennedy University, New College of California, and Naropa University-Oakland.

Dr. Larry Edwards will serve as the Reader for the course.  Dr. Edwards has a Ph.D. in Chemical-Physics, and is presently teaching the New Cosmology and Chaos Theory at UCS, California Institute of Integral Studies, University of San Francisco, and Genesis Farm.

Course Description:  This course will provide a brief overview of current ecological and sustainability issues, and will highlight connections between ecological, ethical, social justice, and economic issues, and our current ways of living.  Both the challenging and promising aspects of our work to sustain the Earth will be discussed.  In addition, participants will individually explore their personal bioregion, participate in a mapping exercise, and provide a short, informal presentation of their bioregion to the class. 

Class format will include lecture, discussion, sharing, experiential exercise, and tour.  The tour will offer demonstration projects that exemplify opportunities for individuals to create a more sustainable future for our planet, and live the spirit of the New Cosmology. 


Transportation for the tour will be provided, and will be scheduled upon registration. There will be a Transportation Fee for the course.

The tour will be held at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California, and will be led by Dr. Brock Dolman.  The drive will be approximately 2 hours round-trip from the class location, and will necessitate up to 1.5 hours of out-of-class time, primarily prior to class.

Learning Objectives:

Monday – To develop greater knowledge about the complex interconnectedness among ecological sustainability and poverty, globalization, population growth, consumption, biodiversity, our economic system, developed and developing countries, and other issues.

Tuesday – To continue Monday’s discussions, and also focus on the many positive activities in sustainability.

Wednesday – Through the Pre-Paper research and mapping exercise, to develop greater knowledge about bioregionalism, and share personal explorations and mapping with others.

Thursday – To tour a community that can serve as a model of alternative ideas in agriculture, architecture, building materials, composting, energy use, gray water reuse, and other ideas for personal lifestyle.

Friday – To explore issues of both the challenges and opportunities in sustainability.  To discuss our own personal barriers to living in a sustainable manner. To explore issues of sustainability in relation to spirituality, justice, and own personal willingness to participate in effecting positive change in the future.

Required Reading: 

The following books are required:

Brown, Lester R. Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, by Earth Policy Institute.

Elgin, Duane.  Voluntary Simplicity:  Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich.  New York:  Quill, 1993.

Wackernagel, Mathis, and Rees, William.  Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impacts on the Earth.  Gabriola Island:  New Society Publishers, 1996. 

Suggested Readings: 

1.  Brower, Michael, and Leon, Warren.  The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. Union of Concerned Scientists, New York:  Three Rivers Press, 1999.

2.  Miller, G. Tyler.  Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions. Belmont:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998.

3.  Worldwatch Institute.  State of the World 2003. New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

4.  Worldwatch Institute.  Vital Signs 2003.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

Pre-Class Writing Assignment: 

  1. Research your bioregion (see handouts “A Bioregional Quiz”, “Developing a Sense of Place”,  and detailed instructions (below) prior to conducting your research.  All of these materials will be provided upon Registration).  Focus your research on those questions outlined in the Bioregional Quiz. Work to ground with your Sense of Place through walks, quiet sitting sessions, observing the wildlife, topography, ecology, plant and animal species, waterways, geology, and patterns that you see around you. Work to do your sitting/walking/observing very early in the morning, and/or at dinner time, if possible, to experience the most species. Quietly observe your bioregion as many days as possible, to get a sense of the patterns and cycles of wildlife, wind patterns, solar/lunar patterns, other. 

    Write a 5-to-8 page, double-spaced paper describing your bioregion, and what you found in your observations.  How has your Sense of Place changed as a result of your experience and research? 

Please note that all questions on the Bioregional Quiz do not need to be specifically answered. Rather, the point is more that all questions need to be asked.  Please do your best to obtain the most information you can about your bioregion, especially those about sources of energy and water. The Web is an excellent place to start, as are local and municipal agencies, and personal observations from explorations of your bioregion.  If assistance or clarification is needed, please feel free to contact Ms. Watkin at or (707) 645-7189 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  1. Please bring your research materials/findings to class on Wednesday, October 29th, and be prepared to:  a) map your bioregion, and b) give an informal presentation to others about your bioregion and the results of your research, specifically related to the Bioregional Quiz assigned for the pre-class written project, and your experience with the mapping exercise.  Feel free to bring topographic maps, materials you discovered in your bioregion, and/or other information to use in the mapping exercise. 

Homework, Monday October 27, 2003:

Please do a personal Ecological Footprint analysis (See or or prior to class on Tuesday, October 28, 2003, and consider your current level of consumption. Bring your analysis to class for discussion purposes.  No one will see your score, and the analyses will not be collected in class.

Post-Class Writing Assignment:

Write a 5-to-15-page, double-spaced paper on the following:

  1. Consider your life in relation to your Ecological Footprint, and your personal level of consumption. 
  1. Discuss: What did you discover from your personal footprint analysis? If there is a need for change, what areas of your life need to shift the most?  Describe what actions you choose to take at this time about your consumption habits.  What other actions might you choose in the future? Why (or why not?) Relate your insights to course teachings and readings, as well as your own life experience.
  1. Your paper should evidence reference to the readings for the class and/or class discussion.  A general personal journey paper without specific reflection on the readings or class discussion will be returned for rewriting.
A Bioregional Quiz*

1)       Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2)       What phase is the moon in today? When is the next full moon?  When was the Fall Equinox, and when is the Winter Solstice?

3)       What soil series (soil type) occurs in your area?

4)       What was the total rainfall in your area last year?

5)       Name five edible plants in your region, and their seasons of availability.

6)       What direction do winter storms generally come into your region?

7)       Where does your garbage go? Have you ever been to the municipal landfill?

8)       How long is the growing season where you live?

9)       On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?

10)    Name five grasses in your area.  Are any of them native?

11)    Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.

12)    What species have become extinct in your area?

13)    What primary geological events/processes influenced the land form where you live? (Bonus:  What is the evidence?)

14)    Name five mammals that share your space.

15)    What is the nearest mountain peak to your home?  What direction is it? Can you see it from your home?

16)    Name the three lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, or other water bodies nearest to your home.

17)    From where you are reading this, point north.

18)    Trace the drainage path of the nearest creek or stream near your home, from source to outlet.

19)    List five trees in your region. Which ones are native?

20)    What flowers are blooming in your area now?  What spring wildflowers are consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

21)    When was the last time a fire burned in your area?

22)    What is the name of the culture that existed in the area prior to modern-day humans?  What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?

23)    Name five edible plants in your region, and their season of availability.

24)    When do the deer/elk/owls/other rut (nest) in your region, and when are the young born?

25)    Where does your electricity come from?

26)    Where does your water come from?

27)    What major habitats are in your area? (e.g., wetlands, grasslands, mountains, etc.)

* Adapted from “Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz” compiled by Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, Victoria Stockley.


Developing a Sense of Place

Consider the following suggestions for connecting with your Bioregion:


Distinctive physical, social, political setting of the site

§         Review maps of the physical location (local, state, country, world)

§         Note nearby physical characteristics (bays, buttes, valleys, deltas, etc.) as well as parks, Be familiar with surrounding communities: rural, urban, small towns and their social and economic aspects

§         Be familiar with major cities within 50, 100, 200 miles

§         Know and define the boundaries of your watershed

§         List state and local capitals, county seats and other governmental districts

§         Assemble maps and surveys:  topographic maps showing mountains, rivers, lakes, caves and canyons; vegetation maps; soil and geological maps

§         Know all the creeks, streams and tributaries of your bioregion

§         Determine which waterways are free-flowing and which are dammed or channeled

§         Review reports from a variety of surveys concerning the natural resources of your bioregion

§         Keep track of weather data and climatic information such as rainfall, flood and storm patterns.



Interrelationships of physical and biological aspects

§         Review notes from walks, lectures, talks with experts in the fields of botany, geology, zoology, forestry

§         Keep a journal of field notes from personal exploration of the site

§         Note visiting flora and fauna, noting which are rare, endangered or threatened

§         Establish which birds are migratory, which are resident

§         Know where wildlife and birds rear their young in your bioregion

§         Review books and specific field guides for your area.


Cultural History

The human influence on and response to your bioregion, past and present

§         Conduct interviews with long-time residents and others involved with the site

§         Review archeological and anthropological reports and studies

§         Research historic routes (e.g., trails, waterways) and settlement patterns

§         Explore the economic development of the area and land use history

§         Review historic photos, newspapers, local library and county records

§         Assess environmental issues in your bioregion, and the options available for mitigation

§         Check out books from the library by local authors (past or present)

§         Are there any poems, songs, movies or plays about the area?  What about art that depicts your bioregion? Any folkways and/or crafts of the region (e.g., basketry, boat building)

Adapted from “A Sense of Place for Environmental Education and Interpretation” by Jeanie and Richard Hilten


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