Cultural anthropologists have done research to characterize the conceptual and information challenges posed by complex environmental problems. Drawing on this characterization, the EcoEd Research Group has characterized the environmental literacies we need to cultivate in students of all ages. It involves scientific literacy, combined with media, political and health literacies. We design, deliver, share and advocate curricula that cultivates students’

  • understanding of their own health and well being as shaped by an array of both proximate and far-off causes. Diet and cigarette smoke need to be considered, for example, as well as the health effects of transboundary air pollution and climate change.

  • understanding of how their own actions have an array of proximate and far off effects. In choosing when and what to drive, one has an effect on air quality for example. In choosing consumer products (made of vinyl, for instance), one becomes involved in an occupational health hazard.

  • understanding of different scientific disciplines and medical specializations, aware that they rely on diverse methods, produce many types of knowledge, and are ever evolving. Science needs to be understood as a crucial but far from straightforward social resource.

  • understanding of government at various scales, from the local to transnational, made up of diverse agencies and types of experts, which rely on diverse decision-making processes.

  • understanding of the history of disaster and decision-making failures, the vulnerability of some populations and regions, and varied approaches to risk management, reduction and communication.

  • understanding of potential for change, and of alternative ways of doing things and organizing society (though familiarity with historical and cross-cultural examples, for instance).

  • capacity to conceptualize complex causation, without being paralyzed.

  • capacity to use empirical understanding of complex causation to identify specific points of intervention.

  • capacity to recognize the multitude of factors influencing what they are told about environmental problems (such as asthma), including vested interests, disciplinary bias and blindness, and the sheer limits of knowledge.

  • capacity to recognize and productively deal with diverse perspectives, avoiding the paralysis often produced by insistence on “balance” and “consensus,” leveraging heterogeneous collectivity and epistemological pluralism.

  • having creative info-seeking practices, animated analytic capabilities, and a capacity to narrate complex chains of events.

  • understanding of the challenges and value of deliberation and cooperative action.