Environmental literacy is the capacity to understand and participate in evidence-based discussions of socio-ecological systems and to make informed decisions about actions and policies (Michigan State University, 2010). It is the capacity of people, in their different citizenship roles, to understand and participate in evidence-based discussions of the effects of human actions on environmental systems, and the feedback from those systems on human societies (Zesaguli, Tsurusaki, Wilke, Tan, Hartley, & Anderson, 2008). One of the challenges in science and environmental education is preparing citizens to make informed and knowledge based choices throughout their lives. It is important to recognize the impact of our conscious decisions about food purchases, energy use, and entertainment choices. An environmentally literate individual is able to successfully navigate the complex interactions between individuals and the natural resources that surround them. This translates into an increase in knowledge of the interaction of these systems with the social, cultural, and political systems all over the globe. The effects of this knowledge have implications to the individual’s ability to act successfully in their daily life on a broad understanding of how people relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably (Campaign for Environmental Literacy, 2007). This awareness influences the person’s decisions regarding life style, consumption of natural resources, and even career choices. On November 16, 1990, the 101st Congress of the United States passed Public Law 101-619, the National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) (United States Congress, 1990). The purpose of the act was written as follows: It is the policy of the United States to establish and support a program of education on the environment, for students and personnel working with students, through activities in schools, institutions of higher education, and related educational activities, and to encourage postsecondary students to pursue careers related to the environment. The law recognizes the need for environmental education at all educational levels so that individuals should have an understanding of their surroundings, are able to comprehend the relationships between living organisms on this planet, and to identify their role in ecological associations. Since we recognize the many roles citizens play (consumers, voters, advocates, workers, volunteers, and learners), this sort of integrated understanding can no longer be exclusive to conservation biologists. A science curriculum that truly provides science for all, and that meets the goal of public education of preparing citizens to participate in a democratic society, must change to reflect and respond to pressing and growing number of environmental issues that require citizens to integrate scientific understanding into societal decision-making (Wilson, Tsurusaki, Wilke, Zesaguli, & Anderson, 2010, p. 29). Stapp (2000, p. 184) concludes that if students are to be well versed in the environmental needs of their community, they need to be: **Grounded in all areas of the curriculum; **Linked to real life experiences; **Provided with school and community interaction; **Experienced in individual and group investigations; **Problem solvers, not problem doers; *Persistent in seeking explanations; **Allowed the time to think and seek solutions; **Mentored to work toward responses; **Informed at the local and global level. The four major threads for environmental education and literacy are Knowledge, Skill, Attitude, & Behavior. Knowledge – what do you know about this topic and how it relates to your daily life. Skill-can you identify ways to affect change for the better. Attitude- how do you react to the environment both physiologically, and psychologically. Behavior-how do you react to changes in the environment and what kind of action will you take. These threads are addressed within this website. Use the ENVIRONMENTAL TOPICS link above to find out more about the topic of BIRDS. Navigate to the Community page to join a discussion of global events. Navigate to the Citizenship page to discover more ways to become involved in taking care of the global environment. Fill out the comment card on the Topics page. To begin…try the Environmental Literacy Quiz and find out how well you score on this test from ROPER and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. There is no better time to begin.
What are the skills of an environmentally literate individual?
Look down the following list and see if you find yourself described here. Can you:
• Demonstrate knowledge of the environment and the circumstances and conditions affecting it; particularly as it relates to air, climate, energy, food, water, and ecosystems
• Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of society’s impact on the natural world
• Investigate and analyze environmental issues and make accurate conclusions about effective solutions, take individual & collective action towards addressing environmental challenges (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011).
Campaign for Environmental Literacy. (2007) What is environmental literacy? Retrieved on December 16, 2011 from http://www.fundee.org/facts/envlit/whatisenvlit.htm.
Michigan State University. (2010). Environmental literacy: Citizenship. Retrieved on September 1, 2012 from http://edr1.educ.msu.edu/EnvironmentalLit/publicsite/html/citizenship.html.
Partnership for 21st century skills. (2011). Environmental literacy. Retrieved on August 28, 2012 from www.p21org/overview/skills-framework/830.
Stapp, William B. (2000). Watershed education for sustainable development. Journal of science education and technology, 9, 183-197.
United States Congress. (1990). National Environmental Education Act of 1990. Retrieved on December 16, 2011 from http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/pdf/neea.pdf.
Wilson, Christopher S., Blakely Tsurusaki, Brooke Wilke, Josie Zesaguli, & Charles Anderson. (2010). The Development of an Environmental Literacy Learning Progression: Biological Diversity and Change over Time in Environmental Systems. Retrieved on June 1, 2012 from http://edr1.educ.msu.edu/EnvironmentalLit/publicsite/files/Biodiversity%20&%20NC/NC%20ResearchPaper/KSI_Diversity.pdf
Zesaguli, J., Tsurusaki, B. K., Wilke, B., Tan, E., Hartley, L., & Anderson, C. W. (2008). The Development of an Environmental Literacy Learning Progression: Biological Diversity in Environmental Systems. Retrieved on September 1, 2012 from http://edr1.educ.msu.edu/EnvironmentalLit/publicsite/html/be_paper.html.