Ecologically Inclusive Scientific Literacy

A Transformative Tool in Sustainability Education

"Scientific literacy may likely determine whether or not democratic society will survive into the 21st century."
— L. M. Lederman

Scientific literacy rates in industrialized countries are shockingly low (Miller, 2007). In many jurisdictions, definitions of scientific literacy exclude reference to the natural environment (Aikenhead, 2002).

The policy of Canada's education ministers serves as an example to follow, as it includes environmental literacy. 'Students will develop an understanding of the nature [Nature?] of science and technology, of the relationships between science and technology, and of the social and environmental contexts of science and technology (CMEC, 1995).

Carl Sagan (1997) warned that the consequences of scientific illiteracy have become extremely dangerous. 'It's perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth' (pp. 6-7).

And yet, these consequences continue every day, around the world. 'Most of us no longer have any idea of what is scientifically plausible and what is scientific nonsense. In this hyper-technological age, where so many things, perhaps even our survival, depend upon subtle decisions by a scientifically informed citizenry, that ignorance is deeply alarming (Homer-Dixon, 2001).

Educators need to include ecological literacy in teaching for scientific literacy (Margadant-van Arcken, 2002). Students cannot be expected to judge what they do not fully understand. They need to be taught:

  • causality
  • weight of evidence
  • peer review
  • feedback loops
  • shifting baselines
  • different timescales
  • exponential growth
  • the precautionary principle
  • ecological limits to science
  • some knowledge of the world around them, locally (natural history) and globally (state of the planet)
  • principles of sustainable development
  • and especially the science of global warming
because sustainability depends on their eco-inclusive scientific literacy.


Aikenhead, G. (2002, May). Renegotiating the Culture of School Science: Scientific Literacy for an Informed Public. Paper presented to Lisbon's School of Science conference, Lisboa, Portugal

Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) (1995). Pan-Canadian Protocol for Collaboration on School Curriculum. Accessed 3/1/2013 at

Homer-Dixon, T (2001, July 26). We ignore scientific literacy at our peril. The Christian Science Monitor.

Margadant-van Arcken, M (2002). Nature experience of 8-to-12-year-old children. Phenomenology + Pedagogy.8: 86-94

Miller, J (2007). Scientific literacy: How do Americans stack up? Accessed 30/3/2007 at

Sagan, C and Druyan, A (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books, New York, 480 pp.

Return from Scientific Literacy to Transformative Tools for Sustainability Education

Go to Next Transformative Tool (Nature-Friendly Language)

Return to GreenHeart Education Homepage