Children watching an astronomical experiment in the 18th century

Darwin's friend and advocate Thomas Henry Huxley, in his 1863 book 'Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature', summarized the many anatomical traits shared by humans and apes and asserted that such evidence supported the hypothesis that humans and apes had evolved from a recent common ancestor. It was the first book devoted expressly to the science which defines our place in nature.

Nature, is 'all that is out there'! It is defined in two senses, as the variety of life and the diversity of the physical world within which biodiversity is generated. When defined as 'environment', nature ranges in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic and includes all the features, forces and processes that happen or exist independently of people, such as gravity, solar energy, the weather, the sea, mountains, reproduction and growth. From a human standpoint, "nature" denotes "essence", as when we speak of "human nature" and we are compelled to ask questions about our 'nature as being human', and what our place is in 'nature as environment' and 'nature as biodiversity'. To help us answer these questions we invent technology, religion and art.

The environment in which we live and work affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. The relationship of people and environment is, however, bi-directional. We are affected by the environment and we also affect the environment. The aim this wiki 'Our Place in Nature' is to develop an educational resource for lifelong cross-global learning about who is changing what, or what is changing whom? It began in Wales as a response of teachers to the UN International Environment Education Programme, which was an outcome of the 1992 Rio Environment Summit. It has continued to stimulate teachers to think globally about how to educate people at all levels of society in environmental concerns and the making of action plans for local improvements.

The Third Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that over the past century average surface temperatures across the globe have increased by 0.6Celsius and evidence is growing that human activities are responsible for most of this warming (IPCC 2001b). Human activities are also altering ecosystems and ecosystem services in myriad ways. While both positive and negative effects on human societies are involved, it is unrealistic to expect that they will balance out.

Many of the regions and peoples who will be affected are highly vulnerable and poorly equipped to cope with the major changes in ecosystems that may occur. Further, many people and places are already under severe stress arising from a panoply of environmental and socioeconomic forces, including those emanating from globalization processes. Involved are such diverse drivers of change as population growth, increasing concentrations of populations in megacities, poverty and poor nutrition, accumulating contamination of the atmosphere as well as of land and water, a growing dependence on distant global markets, growing gender and class inequalities, the ravages of wars, the AIDS epidemic, and politically corrupt governments. Environmental change will produce varied effects that will interact with these other stresses and multiple vulnerabilities, and they will take their toll particularly among the most exposed and poorest people of the world The most vulnerable human and ecological systems are not difficult to find. One third to one half of the world’s population already lacks adequate clean water, and climate change— involving increased temperature and droughts in many areas—will add to the severity of these issues. Environmental degradation affects all ecosystems and ecosystem services to varying degrees. Many developing countries (especially in Africa) are already suffering declines in agricultural production and food security, particularly among small farmers and isolated rural populations. Mountain locations are often fragile or marginal environments for human uses such as agriculture. Increased flooding from sea level rise threatens low-lying coastal areas in many parts of the globe, in both rich and poor countries, with a loss of life and infrastructure damages from more severe storms as well as a loss of wetlands and mangroves.

The poor, elderly, and sick in the burgeoning megacities of the world face increased risk of death and illness from growing contamination from toxic materials. Dense populations in developing countries face increased threats from riverine flooding and its associated impacts on nutrition and disease. These threats are only suggestive, of course, of the panoply of pressures that confront the most vulnerable regions of the world. It is the rates and patterns of environmental change and their interaction with place-specific vulnerabilities that are driving local realities in terms of the eventual severities of effects and the potential effectiveness of generating resilience through mitigation and adaptation.

Teaching and learning about resilience are still in their early stages.

In this respect, there is a world-wide call for alternative methodologies that can strengthen people's SD-related capacities such as:

* understanding complexity;
* seeing connections and interdependencies;
* participating in democratic decision-making processes;
* bringing environmental management to the centre of the curriculum;
* and questioning dominant and long-accepted systems and routines that appear fundamentally unsustainable.

'A Commonwealth of Butterflies' promotes the idea that schools, curriculum development institutes and educational research organizations should be at the forefront of the research and development of these new forms of teaching and learning and the kinds of curricula, learning environments and school-community actions for living sustainably. At the same time, educational policies and support mechanisms that allow for more integrated, cross-curricular forms of teaching should be strengthened to allow such learning to flourish. The main contribution of this wiki is to demonstrate how personal bodies of knowledge about living sustainably can be assembled and communicated using user-friendly, free web-based hypermedia tools for teachers and students to link together wikis, picture galleries, concept maps, time lines, geographical information systems and websites into flexible and communicable learning pathways.