Environmental Literacy

Environmental issues affect, and are affected by, all of our activities to varying degrees. The need to have a working knowledge of environmental issues is not confined to environmental scientists, engineers, and policy makers. The interconnected nature of environmental problems, the interactions between social and individual decision making, and their effect on the development of solutions for environmental problems require that a comprehensive environmental literacy course include scientific, social, economic, organizational, and ethical dimensions.

This web-based text is intended for use by professors of various backgrounds to provide students a "working" knowledge of environmental issues and decision making, science, and technology in that context. It is the result of a decade-long course on environmental literacy taught at Carnegie Mellon University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with the overall objective of enabling students to be capable participants in environmental decision making at the individual and social level.

The overall objective of this site is to promote a style of teaching for the environment that results in what is known as environmental literacy. Although "environmental literacy" is a difficult concept to define, we use the term to mean the capability for a contextual and detailed understanding of an environmental problem in order to enable analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and ultimately sound and informed decision making at a citizen's level. We do this in hopes that the environmentally literate student will have the knowledge, tools, and sensitivity required to properly address environmental problems in his or her future professional capacity, and routinely include the environment as one of the considerations in their work and daily living. We feel that environmental literacy is requisite for students in all majors, although they may eventually use the learning in different contexts.

Environmental literacy is about practices, activities, and feelings grounded in familiarity and sound knowledge. Just as reading becomes second nature to those who are literate, interpreting and acting for the environment ideally would become second nature to the environmentally literate citizen. We take the idea of literacy a step farther, intending not only an understanding of the language of the environment, but also its grammar, literature, and rhetoric. It involves understanding the underlying scientific and technological principles, societal and institutional value systems, and the spiritual, aesthetic, ethical and emotional responses that the environment invokes in all of us.

  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.