Worldview is a person's belief about the purpose and function of the world. This belief is coalesced from a person's religion, shared experiences, political ideologies and their economic circumstances. Worldview affects a person's relationship with the environment and in turn their treatment of it.
Take for instance the debate between the Mirrar Clan, an indigenous people of Australia, and Energy Resources of Australia, part of a British-Australian mining company. The mining company wants to continue to mine uranium from the Kakadu region of Australia because there is a need for this ore and there are ample deposits in this area. Their decision is based on economics and politics. The Mirrar, on the other hand, have called this region their home for as long as they can remember and consider every part of the area an integral part of their spiritual development. Who's right and who's wrong (Withgott and Brennan 2007, 27)?
We know that nuclear power plants produce a great deal of power with no carbon dioxide emissions (although there are other problems associated with this energy source). The United States imports a great deal of its uranium from Australia. One of the mines from which it does is located in the Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage site. The United Nations considers this site just as universally important as the Great Barrier Reef. So, who's right and who's wrong? What should the outcome be?
At this point I could impose my worldview on the students and tell them what I think is the answer, but that isn't what I want. What I want is for the students to analyze the data, to ask "why?" until they can't ask "why?" anymore, and then formulate their own answers. After all, they will be faced with similar dilemmas throughout their adult lives.
This leads me to my second goal, which is to foster critical thinking in my students. Environmental science is the study of the natural world, how it functions, our place in it, how we impact it, and how to remediate human induced maladies. Coming up with viable solutions requires an understanding of the human dimension in the decision-making process, as well as incorporating knowledge from other disciplines into the decision-making process. For this reason history, economics, sociology, psychology, as well as other disciplines are included in the study of the environment.
The natural sciences can be used to identify problems. For example, using chemistry one can perform tests to determine water quality. If during testing high levels of nitrates and phosphates are found, one can assume that some type of excrement, in the form of fertilizer or sewage is flowing into the river. Knowledge of the businesses in the area may even lead the scientist to determine the point source for this pollution. Once the source is found, a variety of measures can be taken to stop the action, such as alternative methods of production, education, and laws. But the real question in solving the problem at its root is: "why is this 'person or business' allowing these substances to run off into the river in the first place?" Only when we understand the motivation behind the action can we hope to modify the behavior. I want the students to be able to view the problem from all angles.
Environmental science is a very broad subject. Topics include the water supply, energy issues, deforestation, soil and agriculture, and many others. Throughout all of the subcategories a few concepts are consistent (College Board 2010, 4-5):
1. Earth is a system, and an action in one part of the system will cause a reaction in another part of the system.
2. Humans have a large impact on the environment.
3. Humans rely on the environment for their survival.
4. Individual and collective interactions with the environment are determined by cultural, social, and economic influences.
The natural sciences address all of these issues. None of the solutions that science suggests can work successfully, though, until the social, economic, and political influences surrounding them are understood.
This unit seeks to engage students in using critical thinking skills to identify a problem, formulate a solution, and evaluate the solution's effectiveness.
It is designed for use with advanced environmental science students. The average class size is 18. The school requires prerequisites of biology and chemistry before taking this course. After completing it, students will sit for the national exam. I am creating this unit to be taught to the advanced Environmental Science classes at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. Cross is a comprehensive high school that serves approximately 1400 students from New Haven's richly diverse neighborhoods. Our mission is to promote academic excellence, social responsibility, and a love for learning that will continue for a lifetime, thereby enabling our students to become empowered citizens (Wilbur Cross High School 2011).
By the end of this unit, students will understand that solving environmental problems requires the ability to critically analyze a situation to determine its cause, that science alone cannot solve environmental problems, and that many peoples' decisions are less based on logic than on their own values. Students will therefore acquire the "habit of mind" that will assist them in solving problems they may face in the future (Llewellyn 2005).
To reach these goals my unit will focus on the following student objectives:
1. Research a country to determine its religion, culture, economy, and political structure.
2. Identify the factors that influence worldview and environmental decision-making.
3. Compare and contrast the various ideologies of environmental ethics.
4. Describe the general theories of classical and neoclassical economics and their impact on the environment.
5. Apply the various approaches to environmental policy.
6. Apply knowledge of worldviews, economic theory, and policy practices to solve an environmental problem.