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is designed to extend and enhance the other four content modules in
the AMBIENT curriculum. The activities can also be used alone in Science,
Social Studies, Law, or English classes to develop critical thinking,
discourse, and presentation skills and strategies.
are provided in three areas:
1. Basic background in ethics
2. Key concept development
3. Case studies in ethical decision-making on the four key areas of
AMBIENT: soil, air, water, and food.
background activities can be used to introduce your students to ethical
· Issues, Players
and their Positions
· Issue Analysis
2. The Key Concept activities may be used at any point to develop student
understanding of the thinking tools used in ethical decision-making.
We suggest these key concepts be developed inductively.
· Acceptable compromise
· Sustainable development
· Environmental justice
· Risk communication
· Cost/benefit analysis
3. We recommend
you use the content modules to develop students’ background knowledge
and then use the case studies to extend and deepen their understanding
of the importance of these environmental health issues. The case studies
· Lead in
Soil: With truth and justice for all
· Water: Well, well,
· Air: Dirty air and bright
· Farm to Fork: How is
your food grown?
Two activities are provided to develop an understanding of the fundamental
ideas of how reasonable people can reasonably disagree about important
issues, and make decisions about them.
Issues, Players and Their Positions, students learn to identify
Environmental Health Problems caused by both living and nonliving things.
Students will also learn to summarize Issue Components (event, problem,
issue, players, and positions) involving Environmental Health Issues.
will be introduced to environmental health problems and issues. They
will learn the importance of human values in these issues. Examples
of environmental contamination (in air, soil, water, and food) will
be used to help students understand the various players involved and
their positions as they relate to environmental health issues.
activity, Issue Analysis,
students develop issue analysis skills and apply them to issues associated
with environmental health.
previous activity, students were introduced to the concepts of events,
problems, and issues. With this knowledge, students are now able to
begin analyzing environmental health issues with respect to the players,
their positions, and associated values. Students will apply the skills
of issue analysis to environmental health issues using a number of secondary
To develop key concepts in environmental health ethics, multiple cases
are provided to use with your students. We suggest an inductive approach
to developing them in which students study the different examples to
develop an understanding of the key concept. You may wish to have students
keep a journal specifically for developing their understanding of these
key concepts over time.
concept development process begins with students studying examples of
the concept, then identifying commonalities and developing a definition.
Students then reflect on the concept and how they see it in their lives.
concept development process to use with students is:
students with scenarios and the key issues and questions to consider.
them to read through the scenarios, underlining important points, and
then listing what they have in common.
pairs, have them discuss what they think the concept means.
pairs meet together and compare definitions, developing one that incorporates
all their ideas.
group of four posts their definition, walk around to review each other’s,
then meet again to refine their definition.
each group posts a final definition for the whole group, and you lead
a discussion about any key differences you note, and come up with a
definition that incorporates the best thinking from each group.
students to reflect on their own lives and when they have, or could,
use the concept of acceptable compromise.
students to write down a definition with their application of it to
their own lives.
The situations that give rise to environmental health issues are often
complex and involve competing interests. An acceptable solution for
one group of stakeholders does not meet the needs of another group or
the best solution is not scientifically, economically, or physically
viable. Between these “endpoints” is a compromise that meets
some of the needs of some of the groups. It is almost an oxymoron to
talk about a compromise as acceptable since in backs off from what has
been determined to be ethically acceptable in the situation.
Sustainable development is a compromise between the demands of economic
development for the present and near future and the demands of sustaining
the resources necessary to ensure future viability.
EPA defines Environmental Justice (EJ) as the "fair treatment for
people of all races, cultures, and incomes, regarding the development
of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."
Environmental health concerns must be communicated to the public. Health
risk communications reach the public through the mass media in advertisements,
news programs, newspapers, and magazines. The medical community, the
CDC, and the EPA are also responsible for communicating health risks
as they become known. The ethical concerns of risk communication involve
the complexity of severity assessments, public response, balancing informing
the public and public panic.
Cost/benefit analysis is a decision making tool for evaluating the effects
of a decision over time. The value in the present is weighed against
the environmental health cost to the future.
Developing Skills and Strategies for Ethical Decision-Making
Four scenarios are presented in the areas of Soil, Air, Water, and Food
with 2-5 day lesson plans. Students work collaboratively to use the
tools of ethical decision-making around environmental health issues.
A connection to the content modules is provided for each case since
teachers may choose to do the ethics case after students have developed
some background knowledge. Teachers may also use the ethics case to
build interest in the topic and create the need to know more before
doing the related content module.
ethical reasoning and discourse process is presented in the background
for the teacher. Then for each case, individual and group activities
are provided to scaffold student thinking through these steps.
1. Present students a case with a role for them to play in a specific
context with a task to complete.
them to read the scenario, identify what they know, need to know and
think about the context.
them to develop a problem definition
– What are the facts? What can be done? How do we understand
the problem through reasoning? How do we uncover them? What is relevant?
Who are the stakeholders?
– What should be done? What do we value in a conclusion/solution?
Appeal to values to choose the best option. Identifying what makes
an option the best options.
– policy, personal, advocacy, environmental justice. Who is
responsible going forward? For what? Why? To what end?
Air: Dirty Air and Bright Lights
Students are asked to think about their use of electricity, particularly
around the holidays, and how it affects their quality of life and the
lives of all of us. Students explore the issue by tracing the connections
and discussing how and why we consider the consequences (near and far
in time or space) in the decisions we make in our daily lives.
Students are presented with the relationship of bright lights, holiday
lights and other intense uses of electricity in terms of the effects
on air quality, and the subsequent effect on human health. If dirty
air makes people sick, what can be done to reduce air pollution from
electricity production? Students are asked to consider this question
and develop recommendations for personal, policy, and advocacy actions.
With Liberty and Justice for All
Environmental health issues are embedded in the values of a culture
and addressed by policies and laws. In this module, students are property
owners with lead contamination through no fault of their own. They are
asked to consider the issues involved in addressing this problem so
that further harm is avoided and a fair solution is developed and implemented.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines “environmental
justice’ as the “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement
of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income
with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of
environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/index.html).
lessons, students are confronted with the complexity of bringing environmental
justice to life given different stakeholders’ interests. A past
injustice, such as building highways through poor neighborhoods results
in lead contamination (from the leaded gasoline in automobiles) and
lowered property values. Students are asked to play the roles of contaminated
neighborhood residents who have just completed an education and intervention
program and are being asked to advise policy makers on a fair course
Well, Well, Well
Students will consider a case of potential water contamination by using
a process of reasoned discourse about the definition of the problem,
the relevant information, and the values behind different solutions.
Students are presented with a case of an individual who is faced with
making a decision about repairing a broken well pipe that is too close
to a septic tank drain field to meet current restrictions under the
law. The case is less than obvious because the well driller offers to
fix it anyway for a bribe. Students are challenged to consider the role
of regulations in preventing harm, the ethics of sidestepping the law,
and the potential health issue.
to Fork: Food, Health and Social Responsibility
Students are asked to consider the impact of the use of chemicals in
agriculture on the workers, the residents of agricultural areas, and
consumers in terms of what morality requires of them and society.
Students are presented with data about farm workers who are exposed
to chemicals that make them sick in the normal course of their work.
They are asked to consider their individual and our collective responsibility
to reduce or eliminate exposure, identify alternatives to the dangerous
chemicals or even change our diets to eliminate foods that can only
be grown with harmful chemicals.