Environmental education investigation and skills

What can I do about environmental issues? Here are the first steps to take toward becoming an environmental steward.

May 30, 2014 - Author: Nick Baumgart,

How do environmental issues get resolved? What should you know before you act on an environmental issue? Michigan State University Extension believes that questions such as these get to the heart of environmental literacy and greatly affect the actions people take toward solving an environmental issue. Previous goals of environmental education (awareness, knowledge and values) contribute in making a decision. 

First of all, what is an environmental issue? An issue can simply be defined as a conflict with two or more opposing views. Some may not even realize their view on a subject is an issue until they see another’s perspective. An example is about certain foods and how their growth, harvest and manufacturing have an impact on the environment. Many people, young and old, may not be aware of the negative impacts but focus on cost, taste and nutritional benefits. Others only see the negative impacts on land, resources and energy. Attention should be given to both understanding the socio-economic development and improvement of the environment.

Environmental education does not teach to do away with modern conveniences, but rather to maintain equilibrium between the quality of life and the quality of the environment. There are  numerous environmental issues in existence. Realizing our place in society and accepting a level of harmony with the environment is paramount to determining individual environmentalism. Automobiles, energy use, housing and many more products of our modern society have an effect on the environment but would dramatically change our lives without.  Youth are an excellent target audience as they are the future caretakers of our earth! 

The fourth goal of Environmental Education (EE) as determined by the Tbilisi Declaration of 1977 is skills. The goal states: to help social groups and individuals acquire the skills for identifying and solving environmental problems. A variety of skills are necessary when investigating an environmental issue including effective communication, collecting and interpreting data, working cooperatively, justifying personal decisions and utilizing relevant resources. Additional skills include methods of analysis, evaluation, application and making independent judgments. Many of these skills are incorporated within the 4-H Targeting Life Skills Model.

Environmental issues can be investigated from a cause and effect perspective. Collectively, environmental awareness, knowledge and values help formulate a strategy during this process. What are the pros and cons to people and natural resources? What level of influence do personal and society values have? What are the short term gains and long term effects? Who is affected? Above all, know the facts! Nothing hurts a cause more than ambiguous thoughts and false statements. Personal, family and societal values will influence an individual’s stance on an environmental issue. Be sure to put aside biases and look at an issue objectively to help identify environmental issues and potential solutions. Youth are especially vulnerable to believing what they are taught, so be sure to be accurate and model what you teach!  

Environmental investigation and skill development are valuable tools toward resolution of environmental issues and the creation of environmentally literate citizens. Many competencies are learned during this process and in the end it is good for individuals, communities, society and our world.

Tags: environmental & outdoor education, msu extension

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