ERIC Identifier: ED359051
Publication Date: 1993-06-00
Author: Trisler, Carmen E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Global Issues and Environmental Education. ERIC/CSMEE Digest.
The action of an individual or society that has an impact on other societies
constitutes a global issue. As citizens, we hear about global issues on a daily
basis, but how are we to deal with these problems in our lifetime?
Global climate change, airborne toxins, ozone depletion, and solid waste
management are but a few of the global issues that are of current concern for
our environment. How do learners and educators know which global issues are
important to their lives, and where do they acquire their knowledge and skills
to deal with these environmental issues?
ACQUIRING ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE
In a longitudinal study
of fifth and ninth graders in Ohio, school classes were found to be increasingly
influential in the acquisition of knowledge about the environment. Although
students ranked movies and television as the most influential sources of
knowledge about specific environmental issues in 1979, by 1983 and 1987 those
sources had been replaced by classes in school as being most influential
(Fortner & Mayer, 1991).
High school environmental education courses are often the last formal
exposure to environmental issues for non-college-bound students. These courses
can be used as valuable opportunities for extending environmental knowledge on
global issues and disseminating materials. Such courses can culminate
environmental experiences and can clarify and structure knowledge and skills
gained from earlier experiences (Singletary, 1992). But learning occurs only
when there is meaning in outcomes. Environmental issues, especially global
issues, can often appear nebulous and disconnected from a learner's life.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND GLOBAL ISSUES
Because of the
multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of environmental education, it is
often difficult to define. Environmental education can mean concepts in ecology,
outdoor education, environmental science or instruction about issues (Ramsey,
Hungerford & Volk, 1992). A primary goal of environmental education, though,
is the development of responsible environmental behavior in citizens, both as
individuals and societal groups (Ramsey & Hungerford, 1989). The global
ramifications of individual or collective action on the rest of the world have
only recently become concerns for society. Historic views of air and water were
that the abundance and vastness of these resources allowed for unlimited use and
abuse. Today, additional chemical burdens on the environment and alterations of
the natural systems have increased. This has been coupled with an increased
understanding of the effects of human action on the environment, including long
Every human action has an impact on the environment, both immediately and
globally. In a formal education setting, it would seem that incorporating
environmental issues into the curriculum would be relatively easy; but
experience would suggest otherwise.
STRUCTURING ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION FOR GLOBAL
Environmental education programs have been designed for either
INFUSION into existing curricula or the INSERTION of new courses into study.
FRAMING, a third alternative, an be especially effective in learning about
global issues (Heimlich, 1992).
In the infusion approach, content and skills are integrated into existing
courses so as to focus on that content without losing the integrity of the
courses themselves (Ramsey, Hungerford & Volk, 1992). For example, an
elementary mathematics class might calculate the amount of solid waste that 30
students produce in a year, or the issue of airborne toxins can be used when
studying about prevailing winds in an earth science class. Infusion is most
often seen in elementary and middle school levels, but less in high school where
classes are departmentalized and topically related (Singletary, 1992).
Case studies have been used effectively in infusion efforts (Ramsey,
Hungerford & Volk, 1992; Singletary, 1992). Case studies provide the
educator with flexibility and control as the teacher becomes the curriculum
designer. The class, directed by the teacher, analyzes a particular issue,
developing focused information and skills. A class might choose the global issue
of loss of biodiversity focusing their study on the changes in their own
neighborhood which have caused a loss of species.
Insertion, the addition of specific courses in environmental education, tends
to be used more at the high school level. A course in global issues or
environmental issues which is developed on the issues investigation skills
format is an example of insertion. While the case study is issue specific, the
issue investigation skills format is broader and more generalized. This
approach, with the teacher acting as a facilitator and advisor, is probably more
effective at fostering responsible citizenship behavior than the issue case
study (Ramsey, Hungerford & Volk, 1992).
Framing moves beyond the arbitrary boundaries of traditional disciplines by
creating a framework which allows learning to be related and integrated within a
student's life (Heimlich, 1992). Using this approach, educators and students can
investigate, interpret, explore, manage, discover, and make decisions about
Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987) analyze responsible environmental
behavior by identifying four elements in environmental education: (a) knowledge
of environmental issues; (b) knowledge of specific action strategies to apply to
these issues; (c) the ability to take action on environmental issues; and (d)
the ownership of certain affective qualities and personality attributes. These
elements can be used as a framework for constructing learning about global
issues that is related and integrated to a student's life.
Whichever approach is used, the relationship of the individual action in
regard to global issues must be central to the instruction if the desired
outcome is that of responsible environmental behavior. When studying about
global issues, the goal needs to be more than merely acquiring scientific
knowledge. A relationship must be made between the individual action and
responsibility to the global issue.
DECISION-MAKING AND GLOBAL ISSUES
One approach toward
creating an opportunity for meaningful learning is through decision-making and
problem-solving approaches with global issues. Infusion provides teachers with
opportunities for drawing upon other disciplines in seeking solutions for
problems. There are many situations in which creative problem solving dealing
with environmental issues can be used in learning settings (Disinger, 1990).
Before students can address global environmental issues, they must be
knowledgeable about problem identification, interrelationships and alternatives.
Monroe and Kaplan (1988) suggest these elements are important in problem
Knowledge of the environment and of issues
Familiarity with solutions to problems
Knowledge of action strategies that help resolve issues
Skill in action taking
Locus of control and empowerment
Attitudes and values
Sense of responsibility and commitment
Group process skills
Different issues require varying levels of decision-making; however, most
decision-making can be viewed as a process involving needs identification,
option scanning, and selection of a course of action (Ewert, 1988). Several
steps have been identified in the classic decision-making process:
Canvassing of alternative course of action and objectives
Weighing each option as to the potential benefits and costs
Searching for new sources of information
Assimilating new information
Re-examining the consequences of various actions with respect to any new
Providing for implementation
Examining the results of the action (Janis & Mann, 1977).
Environmental education can provide opportunities for using these steps in
decision making, especially to relate the meaning of individual action to global
CURRICULUM NEEDS AND GLOBAL ISSUES
During the 1980s,
environmental educators used surveys to determine the needs for environmental
education programs. Educators recommended that environmental endeavors focus not
only on awareness, but also on attitudes, skill development and citizenship
participation in environmental problem solving. A need was indicated by teachers
for a new curriculum on all academic levels to address the goals on
environmental education. Knowledge and awareness of ecological issues were met
to a greater extent as higher levels of learning included investigation of
issues, evaluation of solutions, and citizenship action (Volk, Hungerford & Tomera, 1984).
Environmental issues of global concern are known to students and to
educators. If asked to identify issues, most would be able to identify several:
global climate change, ozone depletion, acid rain, deforestation, ocean dumping,
and so on. The challenge of environmental education is to make these global
issues meaningful to learners by focusing on individual contributions to the
problems, and then, using problem-solving, decision-making strategies to
develop, refine and redirect the thinking and the learning.
Disinger, J. F. (1990). Teaching creative
thinking through environmental education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
Number ED 331 699)
Ewert, A. (1988). Decision making in the outdoor pursuits setting. Journal of
Environmental Education, 20(1), 3-7.
Fortner, R. W., & Mayer, V. J. (1991). Repeated measures of students'
marine awareness. Journal of Environmental Education, 23(1), 30-35.
Heimlich, J. E. (1992). Promoting a concern for the environment. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service Number ED 351 206)
Hines, J., Hungerford, H. R., & Tomera, A. N. (1986-87, Winter). Analysis
and synthesis of research on responsible environmental behavior: A
meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Education, 18(2), 1-8.
Janis, I., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis
of conflict, choice, and commitment. Macmillan.
Monroe, M. C., & Kaplan, S. (1988). When words speak louder than actions:
Environmental problem solving in the classroom. Journal of Environmental
Education, 19(3), 38-41.
Ramsey, J. M., & Hungerford, H. R. (1989). The effects of issue
investigation and action training on environmental behavior in seventh grade
students. Journal of Environmental Education, 23(2), 35-45.
Singletary, T. J. (1992). Case studies of selected high school environmental
education classes. Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 35-50.
Volk, T. L., Hungerford, H. R., & Tomera, A. N. (1984). A national study
of curriculum needs as perceived by professional environmental educators.
Journal of Environmental Education, 16(1), 10-19.