Undergraduate Teaching Modules
Lesson Plan #1
Best for undergraduate students in Environmental Science or Political Science courses. Also potentially suitable for students in grades eleven through twelve; particularly relevant for A.P. Seminar/ Research, A.P. Government, and A.P. Human Geography courses.
Students will study the political tactics of two environmental activists/ activist organizations as a means to contemplate the role that civil-society-based activism plays in impacting public opinion and legislation surrounding climate change and environmental degradation.
Students will be better able to:
- Understand the place of activists in the realm of the public sphere/ public service
- Understand the role that activists play in a healthy democracy
- Recognize and use reputable secondary sources to form novel arguments
- Engage in comparative analysis
A major characteristic of the latter half of the twentieth century, was the emergence of a largely spontaneous environmental movement through the creation of civil society groups across the planet. In the twenty-first century, the proliferation and activity of this movement helps to define our time. The public response to growing information on the degradation of our collective forests, oceans, atmosphere, and so on, has demonstrated civil society’s willingness to engage in politics outside of the polls. The individuals and organizations that have devoted themselves to protecting nature on a full-time basis, have demonstrated ways in which exercising democratic rights can be done on a daily basis, in a wide variety of ways.
Since the 1980s, these activists have played the role of mediators between local people and their governments – by lobbying the government, these individuals and groups inform our leaders that climate change has become a personal issue and cause of anxiety for a large portion of the general public. These groups have also played as mediators between the general public and professional scientists – Green Peace, Friends of the Earth, and others have been crucial in translating complicated and jargon-filled scientific reports into clear and accessible information for a public audience.
The agendas of environmental protectionists and activists are often more expansive than they might immediately seem; many connect the issue of environment with those of race, class, gender, and so on. Many environmental activists have aptly pointed out that the negative impacts of climate change, for instance, will be unevenly distributed. Indigenous communities and the activists that emerge from them, in particular, see abuses of nature as a direct and oppressive threat to their historic traditions or ways of life. These activists then, seek to redefine the notion of public or common good in a way that protects all living beings, human and non-human from varied injustices.
In engaging in this work, activists find themselves up against a myriad of obstacles; governments’ long-term and deeply entrenched reliance on fossil fuels and corporate disinterest in altering profitable practices are two particularly large ones. In response, activists have developed a wide variety of protesting styles and tactics, ranging from the proliferation of media campaigns to the occupation of corporate buildings.
This activity then, will give students the chance to consider how exactly these environmental activists fit into the larger processes and networks of public service. They will research questions such as: how do activists interact with and inform the public? And, how have environmental activists historically involved themselves in formal governmental politics, or affected change at the legislative level?
Students, having completed their research, should be able to define the following terms:
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Segmentary, polycentric, and networked organizing
- Anthropocentrism/ Anti-anthropocentrism
- Green Party
- Direct-Action Politics
- Civil Disobedience
- Students should choose two individual activists or activist organizations from the following list:
- Once students have made their choices, they should read the museum’s descriptions of these items as an introduction to their topics. Then, students should explore both the sources included on this page, along with the further reading suggestions.
- As they read these primary and secondary sources, students should create a Venn diagram where they will fill in the differences and similarities used by their chosen individuals/ groups. Students are also encouraged to seek out other reputable and relevant sources, videos, speeches, and interviews as needed.
- Once having completed this Venn diagram, students should provide answers to the following questions (whether in writing or in class discussion):
- What were the prominent tactics used by these activists/ activist organizations, and how did they differ from one another?
- Do you or do you not believe that these tactics were effective, and what evidence do you have for this?
- What kind of relationship did these activists/ activist organizations have with their state or national government, and how did this affect the efficacy of their tactics? Did these activists take up a role in formal politics, or did they remain in civil service organizations?
- What are two or three major successes that these activists had? Were they able to sway public opinion, or to influence legislation?
- After completing this activity, have your opinions on the role that activists have to play in the public sphere changed? Why or why not?
After completing this activity, students may explore the following further reading sources:
Kukreja Rinkesh.“Importance, Types, and Excellent Examples of Environmental Activism.” Conserve Energy Future, accessed Feb. 18, 2021, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/importance-types-examples-environmental-activism.php.
O'Brien, K., E. Selboe, and B. M. Hayward. 2018. Exploring youth activism on climate change: dutiful, disruptive, and dangerous dissent. Ecology and Society 23(3):42. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10287-230342
Tindall, David. "Environmental Activism." In Encyclopedia of Social Networks, edited by Barnett, George A., 264-68. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011. http://dx.doi.org.oca.ucsc.edu/10.4135/9781412994170.n107.
Emma S. Norman (2017) Standing Up for Inherent Rights: The Role of Indigenous-Led Activism in Protecting Sacred Waters and Ways of Life, Society & Natural Resources, 30:4, 537-553, DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2016.1274459