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What is Environmental Literacy?

The overarching goal of environmental education is an environmentally literate citizenry. What does it mean to be environmentally literate? The test of environmental literacy is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably. This requires sufficient awareness, knowledge, skills, and attitudes in order to incorporate appropriate environmental considerations into daily decisions about consumption, lifestyle, career, and civics, and to engage in individual and collective action.

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Components of Environmental Literacy

The ladder below outlines five essential components of environmental literacy. It is designed to be a loose hierarchy from the simple to the more complex, each building on the step below. However, as with many models, the steps overlap in real life. Different aspects of environmental education (and related fields such as social marketing) focus on different steps in this ladder, and this seems to be the cause of some of the confusion about what exactly is environmental education. Most important to appreciate is that environmental literacy cannot be achieved without all steps of the ladder; achieving any one step alone is inadequate and will not result in literacy.

Climbing The Environmental Literacy Ladder

Capacity for personal and collective action and civic participation

Problem solving and critical thinking skills

Attitudes of appreciation and concern for the environment

Knowledge and understanding of human and natural systems and processes

General awareness of the relationship between the environment and human life