Free Online Course Modules - Environmental Citizenship

GED100 - Environmental Citizenship

Module 1 - Environmental Citizenship


Environmental citizenship is a fascinating topic that allows us to explore multiple layers of issues, concepts and ideas. We will begin with some foundational concepts that we will use to guide ourselves on this learning journey.

In this Lesson, we will explore the concepts of environmental citizenship and sustainable development including how they are interpreted and implemented. We will also explore what makes a good environmental citizen. We will continue to explore these concepts throughout the course. 

Module Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

1.0 Explain the concept of environmental citizenship and provide examples demonstrating the roles and responsibilities of people within the global ecosystem.

1.1 Define environmental citizenship.

1.2 Define sustainable development  

1.3 Outline some of the roles and responsibilities of people as good stewards of the environment.

Lesson Notes: 

Environmental Citizenship (Dobson & Bell 2006) is a concept that arose in Canada and that has been adopted around the world. Initially created by Environment Canada, it comprises three main attributes:

  1. The idea that we are an integral part of our environment,
  2. The recognition that our future is dependent upon the way in which we care for our own environment, and
  3. The sense of responsibility that engenders positive action on behalf of the environment.

In order to achieve these, the success of environmental citizenship requires everyone's participation. This includes:

  • An informed citizenry, in tune with the needs of the environment and its impact on human life,
  • A supportive government, interested in fostering useful and working relationships, and
  • An interest in protecting and conserving the environment - even if this comes in the form of a desire for human self-preservation.

Unfortunately, Environment Canada has removed all references and links to the materials it developed concerning Environmental Citizenship. Many assume that its removal was politically motivated as it placed a tremendous amount of attention on government regulations and the importance of active citizenry.

"Environmental citizenship is not a new form of political belief or discipline of study. It is a simple reiteration of a known fact - that the preservation of the environment is an obligation entrusted upon everyone and all governments by virtue of the inherent relationship between people and nature and between citizens and their governments. When citizens and governments come together to build a partnership for the environment, whether it is for a lake or another ecosystem, they are making a big step toward ensuring sustainability. There is no doubt that the environmental degradation and destruction that are due mainly to human actions are not irreversible, but it is also true that corrective actions can happen with human interventions from and through the governed and their governors"

[Source: United Nations Environment Program. (2000). Environmental Citizenship: An Introductory Guidebook on Building Partnerships between Citizens and Local Governments for Environmental Sustainability.]

Video - I am Global Citizen

Here's a short video spanshot on what it means to be a "global citizen"/"environmental citizen"


Learning Activity - Website

For now, just to plant the seeds of understanding, take a few minutes to read National Geographic’s news article by Andrea Stone that reveals their findings from the 2014 version of a global survey on sustainable behaviours by country.

8 Surprising, Depressing, and Hopeful Findings From Global Survey of Environmental Attitudes

Canada is ranked 17 out of 18 countries or 2nd worst for environmental impact. India and China ranked 1st and second respectively. What is it about these results that surprise you? How is consumer behaviour in India and China more sustainable than Canada?

Lesson Notes


Sustainability (Dobson 2007) means different things to different people but, in conjunction with the environment, it primarily means that we must live within the Earth's limits. Resources are not unlimited in supply and the Earth's ability to absorb and recycle our waste is not infinite either. Sustainable development is the process of meeting the needs of human societies today without compromising the needs of future generations (Environment & Climate Change Canada, 2014). 

With regards to sustainability, a "sustainable earth" would showcase the following qualities:

  • We would have air and water so clean that we wouldn't even think twice about going outside or drinking tap water,
  • We would have food that is all natural and free from pesticides and growth hormones,
  • The air, soil and water around us would be uncontaminated and free of toxic substances,
  • We would be able to swim in any lake or river without fear of pollution,
  • We would be able to eat fish, no matter where they are caught,
  • We would supply ourselves with power generated by renewable sources such as the sun, the wind, water and heat generated by the land itself,
  • Our world and its climate would not be disturbed by human activity,
  • We would have no concerns about sunburn and cancers caused by a thinning ozone layer,
  • Our world's biodiversity would remain in tact, preserved for the benefit of the environment itself,
  • Endangered species and ecosystems would recover and thrive,
  • The habitants and cultures of the world would live in harmony and cooperation, enjoying access to a life that is free from social hardship, and
  • Future generations, our grandchildren and their grandchildren, would enjoy a quality of life similar to that we experience in Canada today.
The Pillars of Sustainability

Review this 4 minute video to gain a better picture of the three different pillars of sustainability. When reviewing this video, think of your own discipline. How would decision making change if all three pillars of sustainability were considered?

The Challenges of Sustainable Development

As you might have realized, the list above might be hard to imagine given the environment's current state. There are various challenges that come from achieving sustainable development.

First, nature cannot continue to withstand the level of resource use that we inflict on the planet. Through activities such as forestry, mining and agriculture and because of the processes of urbanization and globalization, our demand for resources outstrips nature's ability to replenish the supply. In addition, the waste we generate far exceeds nature's ability to absorb, break down and recycle. It seems that we have reached (and exceeded) the carrying capacity of the Earth to support our lifestyle. 

Addressing this challenge will require us to increase our efficiency by reducing the waste we generate. A primary requirement will be the need to replace the use of non-renewable resources with renewable resources - key amongst these, perhaps, is to shift away from fossil fuel based power generation.

Second, we are creating a vast array of unnatural substances and the Earth is limited in its capacity to absorb these chemicals and byproducts of human life. Estimates suggest that we create about 1,000 new unnatural chemicals each year, many of which the Earth has not yet been able to absorb. Of particular concern are toxic substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). Addressing this challenge will require us to substitute as much as possible biodegradable substances in place of those currently being produced.

Third, our over-active extraction of resources from the Earth's biodiversity - through hunting, fishing, logging and water extraction - as well as our manipulation of the Earth's ecosystems - through urbanization, agricultural development, dams and river diversion, and genetic engineering - is exceeding the Earth's ability to manage. Such consistent and systematic deterioration of our world is problematic. While our society depends greatly on nature for all of our raw materials, the uncontrolled manner in which we are extracting resources will lead to future problems in which resources will be unavailable. 

Addressing this challenge requires human society to live within the means of the Earth's productive capabilities. Our rate of consumption must not exceed the Earth's ability for production. In addition, we must minimize the rate at which we modify ecosystems.

Finally, we must provide for basic human needs on a global scale. All citizens of the world should have access to clean water and sanitation. None of us should suffer because of poverty or preventable illness. The fact remains that about one-fifth of the world does not have access to drinking water and almost one-half lack basic sanitation. This leads to more than half of the global population trying to survive on less than $2/day and more than 30,000 children under the age of 5 dying because of preventable disease each day

Lesson Notes

Millennium Development Goals

In order to address these and other pressing global issues, the United Nations (UN), with unanimous agreement from all UN member nations in 2000, embarked on a process to improve the lives of all citizens of the world by the year 2015. This led to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals, they include:

  • Eradicating poverty and hunger,
  • Providing universal access to primary education,
  • Eliminating gender inequality and empowering women,
  • Reducing child mortality,
  • Improving maternal health,
  • Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases,
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  • Developing a global partnership for future development.

The target date to complete the Millennium Development Goals is 2015. We will look at the progress made on each of these goals in more detail in Module 4.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development

Building upon the success of the eight Millennium Development Goals, the UN has recently proposed a new set of goals entitled the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The target date for reaching these goals is 2030. As you watch the 3 min video below, think of the pillar (environmental, social and economic) of sustainability each goal supports.

You will notice that many of the goals support more than one pillar of sustainability. For example, goal 2 supports the social pillar by ensuring all people have access to food and proper nutrition. It also supports the environmental pillar by ensuring agricultural activities maintain ecosystem health. It also supports the economic pillar by improving incomes of small-scale farmers.

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere 
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all 
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries 
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development (United Nations, 2016)

Lesson Notes

So how does being an environmental citizen affect sustainable development? Well, as we read earlier sustainable development is the art of living within our means and one avenue to accomplish that is through active citizenship. It is thought that there are two forms of environmental citizenship – that which is conferred upon us as our “rights” (I have a “right” to be informed of nuclear radiation leaks) and our “responsibilities” which stem from our morals and values. It demands that we acknowledge the significance of an individual's decision-making process and that we, as citizens of the world, must take actions to better the environment.

One could summarize these ideals by using a simple example. For instance, I have a “responsibility” to turn out the lights when I am not in a room.

It could be argued that without personal responsibility then nothing would ever change in the environment because there is a tendency to ignore the environment in both everyday life and government politics. Sustainability is achievable when we each consider our own rights and responsibilities and how we are going to live them out in our day to day lves. 


Concepts to Consider

Exploring The Sustainable Development Goals

After reviewing the Sustainable Development Goals, ask yourself: how does environmental citizenship support the 17 Goals? You may be surprised at the connections you discover.