What do you learn in Environmental Science?

May 31, 2022
Liberal Arts

Clearly there’s a difference of opinion on the matter—but what are the facts? We may read or hear news reports about climatologists’ predictions, and then hear of contrary statements from other climatologists; but who are we to evaluate these competing claims? If only there were some way we could learn what we need to know! If only we had teachers who taught environmental science!

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And we do—but not enough. A highly interdisciplinary field, environmental science involves a great breadth of scientific background, and faces the additional difficulty of studying large-scale systems and interactions that cannot be confined to a laboratory experiment. Yet ever since the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 began requiring environmental analyses of various development projects, businesses have needed environmental scientists; and thus schools will need to equip students for such work. In the meantime, political questions and contests demand better voter knowledge of environmental science, or at least better ability to understand and evaluate competing knowledge claims. All this makes the teaching of this subject extraordinarily important if we’re to make good decisions regarding environmental policy.

What does teaching Environmental Science require?

Environmental Science examines the effects of humans on nature, by applying biology, ecology, chemistry, and the traditional earth sciences toward studying the environment and addressing environmental problems. Building on the earth science curriculum (which includes geology, oceanography, and meteorology), environmental science looks at how the systems in each of these fields operate, how they relate to each other, and how they respond to various inputs and stresses (including human activity).

Scientific Method

Because of the vast number of variables in any environmental process, environmental scientists rarely get to do controlled experiments. Instead, they must learn to analyze and interpret vast amounts of natural data, finding correlations and patterns.

Teachers of environment science introduce their students to principles of natural resources management, methods of reducing pollution, means of producing energy, and the influences and impacts of global climate change. Also discussed are historical examples of environmental disaster (such as major oil spills), major events in the history of environmental discourse (such as the 1962 publication of Silent Spring), and changes in historic environmental concerns (such as Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb and the global cooling scare of the 1970s).

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