To create environmental voters, we must create environmental citizens first.
Does exposing kids to nature instill the values of protecting the environment? Do kids who take nature walks on a field trip grow up to be environmentalists who vote? In actuality, no. (Sorry).
We’re not saying exposure to nature is pointless. There are many psychological benefits, plus most of us simply enjoy it! But we are saying that if we expect to change the future of our environment in a positive way, we need to be more intentional about including civic action in education about the environment.
The research backs this up. The nonpartisan nonprofit Environmental Voter Project tracks environmental voters: over 8 million environmentalists did not vote in the 2020 presidential election and over 12 million skipped the 2018 midterms.
Is traditional EE the answer? Not likely.
Researchers Hungerford and Volk (1990) argued that environmental education too often assumes a direct relationship between the acquisition of knowledge and taking action. In contrast to that assumption, they asserted that while issue inquiry, field experience, and drawing conclusions are antecedents to stewardship, it is when students are asked to apply these experiences to develop and implement action projects that public engagement takes root.
We think it’s imperative to bring those opportunities to more young people across the country.
By focusing student projects on collective action, Environmental Action Civics students come to understand how government systems work and what citizens can do to influence those systems. When young people learn to use tools of civic engagement, it becomes their method of choice for advocacy and engagement as adults (Levinson, 2014).