human behavior and environmental education

Well, my 2nd semester of grad school has now passed, meaning that I am halfway through! This is a happy thought. The light at the end of the tunnel is drawing closer. Despite being excited to finish, I learned a lot and am excited to apply the knowledge to my work.

This semester, there was a trend that spanned across all of the courses I took (Environmental Education, Wildlife Education, and Environmental Issues), and that was that human behaviors have made such an impact on our ecosystems, and therefore, how we teach needs to address these human behaviors. 

I led a foraging walk (also addressed the importance of using wildcrafting to increase inclusivity) at the 2023 PAEE Conference. This photo was taken by Fern Hill Nature Center. I was so happy to have several fellow Slippery Rock University undergrad & graduate students attend my session!

Perspectives & Ideologies

In both Wildlife and Environmental Education, I learned about human perspectives and ideologies towards the natural world. These perspectives (such as a moralistic, aesthetic, naturalistic, utilitarian, dominionistic, avoidance, etc…) help to drive WHY people engage with the natural world in the way that they do. For example, someone with a moralistic perspective on nature might be more inclined to participate in animal rights activism while someone with a more utilitarian perspective may prefer to engage with nature out of a primary concern for practical values. Being able to incorporate as many of these perspectives into my programs can help draw in a wider audience and be as inclusive in perspectives as possible.

Environmental Ideologies (such as human-based, ethics-based, or transformative) drive where people’s attention is focused on. For example, the human-based ideology of Conservationism states that natural resources are for human use, but we need to use them wisely. There are many people in the United States who would fall into this category of protecting natural resources for future generations to use. Addressing the root of why and what they care about specifically can also help to engage a wider audience. 

Human Behavior & Impact on Nature

The Environmental Issues course focused on current trends and hot topics such as the “4 Mindless Horsemen of the Eco-Apocalypse”: Invasive Species, Habitat Destruction, Disease Spread, and Overexploitation. All four of these topics are spurred onwards rapidly by human action, whether it is intended or not. Throughout the course, we discussed how we, as educators, can use evidence-based conservation practices to inform decisions, and how interconnected these hot topics in conservation are with other disciplines, such as politics, sociology, and economics. By finding out how they are all connected, we can better understand motivations, which also helps to inform practices. Without understanding the social implications of the drivers of these hot topics, they cannot be fully addressed and solved. 

Throughout this course, we worked on a Community Engaged Learning project, which had each student working with a community partner to create a systematic review to provide that community partner with evidence-based answers to their questions. I partnered with Tyler Arboretum to create a systematic review that helped to answer their question of, “How are similar organizations talking about plant conservation during public programs in ways that increase family attendance?” I analyzed already published articles to create the review so that the community partner could make data-driven decisions, rather than just hoping on chance and relying on what “maybe” worked in the past (anecdotal evidence). 

Sample pages from my Visual Executive Summary (read the full document above)

Systematic Reviews & Evidence-Based Conservation

In the Environmental and green industry, there is a huge trend of making decisions because that’s what “we’ve always done”, or “so-and-so said it worked”, without actually analyzing data, traditional ecological knowledge, or considering scientific publication results. One example of this is often seen in mulching practices. Many (not all!) landscapers or homeowners will mulch directly around trees, piling the mulch high, which creates “mulch volcanoes”. This is just what is done because that’s how it’s always been done, yet scientific evidence states that this actually has the ability to suffocate trees, causing girdling roots, and trap in too much moisture around the bark which can lead to parasitic fungi and bacteria introduction. Mulching can be great, and healthy for young trees. Adding scientific data to our decision making process and education, we can take more positive actions for the environment.

There are two primary issues why more systematic reviews, or evidence-based conservation, isn’t routinely engaged with… First, this takes a LOT of time. This takes hours and hours! You search through scientific databases for related articles, analyze for relevancy, and then analyze the data to answer the question. Many organizations just don’t have this amount of time! And what does time equal? Money. Without proper funding, organizations don’t really want to spend precious resources on this type of project. Volunteers, graduate students, or interns could absolutely help out in this regard, however then we need to address the problem of compensating these folks for their time and effort, as well as finding enough of these people to tackle all of the questions out there!

Human Behaviors Can Lead to Positive Changes

Overall, biodiversity loss due to habitat loss, invasive species and disease introduction, and overexploitation occured primarily due to human actions. This may seem sad at first, however this means that human actions, when informed, can make a positive impact too! Increased evidence-based education about the role of biodiversity across disciplines can lead to a healthy, thriving planet – that’s my goal! 

A portion of the proceeds from all of my work benefits wildlife conservation and habitat preservation efforts. Below are some products I made using some of the illustrations I created for this semester of grad school! Support the conservation efforts and show off your love of nature through stickers.

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