A call for ethics literacy in environmental education

Alexandria K. Poole, Eugene C. Hargrove, Philip Day, William Forbes, Alan R. Berkowitz, Peter Feinsinger, Ricardo Rozzi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


A number of factors inhibit ethics literacy, the integration of ethics and values into environmental education. The first is belief that science can be value- free. On the contrary, science contains both epistemic values or values of knowledge and non-epistemic values (including social values). Practitioners of science, students, and citizen-participants should be able to recognize these values, articulate them, and evaluate them critically. A second factor is the so-called Culture War, during which, since the early 1800s, ethics and value education has been systematically eliminated from schools in the United States. Efforts to introduce ethics and values into schools are typically met with charges of indoctrination and relativism. This problem can be overcome, in part, by teaching the social values that are explicitly stated in our environmental laws. A third factor is the influence of modern economics, which considers that it has become a science by focusing on what is and ignoring what ought to be. Economics undermines ethics and values by translating our non-economic or social values into economic values in terms of willingness to pay and sell (for example, translating aesthetic value of a landscape into what visitors are willing to pay to experience it). Because ethics and values are learned tacitly, not formally taught, most people lack the vocabulary to articulate their ethical views except in terms of how they feel. The absence of ethical learning is particularly problematic regarding environmental issues as management decisions must integrate ecological, social, and cultural dimensions, and a comprehension of the values underlying those decisions. This paper concludes with a short overview of six programs that illustrate a variety of ways to include ethics literacy in environmental education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLinking Ecology and Ethics for a Changing World
Subtitle of host publicationValues, Philosophy, and Action
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789400774704
ISBN (Print)9789400774698
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Culture war
  • Environmental education
  • Ethical literacy
  • Objectivity
  • Value-free

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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