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
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.
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