Definition of Environmental Literacy

In recent years, the term “environmental literacy” has become increasingly prevalent, but how exactly is environmental literacy defined?  The current most broadly accepted definition encompasses experiences, understanding and action. It states that knowledge and understanding are important components of being an environmental literate citizen, yet the key is the connection between what people know and what people do.  According to the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) Developing a Framework for the Assessment of Environmental Literacy:

 An environmentally literate person, both individually and together with others, makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions to improve the well-being of other individuals, societies, and the global environment; and participates in civic life. Those who are environmentally literate possess, to varying degrees:

  • Knowledge and understanding of a wide range of environmental concepts, problems, and issues;
  • A set of cognitive and affective dispositions;
  • A set of cognitive skills and abilities;
  • The appropriate behavioral strategies to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound and effective decisions in a range of environmental contexts.

 Environmental literacy is more than knowing facts; it is a demonstration of capabilities. Ultimately, having students simply understand the process of photosynthesis or what water quality is does not demonstrate the end goal of environmental literacy.  It is critical that today’s students understand the ecological, economic, and cultural connections between humans and the environment and realize how decisions made by individuals (including themselves) and governments influence these areas and the connections among them.  Environmental literacy is integral to fostering this understanding, emphasizing that humans are part of a global community and that actions and decisions made locally by individuals or communities have effects that go well beyond local environments.

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