Researchers discover what makes the best environmental citizens

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Researchers have found what they believe to be the traits that make the very best environmental citizens.

A confident person patiently remains persistent as he or she picks up trash. Photo: Kulturlabor Trial&Error (Flickr)

Patient, confident, and persistent people make some of the best environmental citizens, according to Kyle Whyte and Matt Ferkany, researchers at Michigan State University. Friendliness, wit, self-confidence, humility, fairness, patience and dependability are other traits they discovered associated with environmental interest.

Ferkany is an assistant professor of teacher education; Whyte is a visiting professor of philosophy.

“(When one) has a lot of confidence and not inclusive they think they are always right,” Ferkany noted. “When someone is humble they can consider others’ opinions.”

The researchers used case studies and existing research on how people solve complex, tough issues, such as that of environmental problems. Their findings could be used by environmental studies teachers to expose, or teach, their students these traits, the researchers said. That could help them become better problem solvers and environmental citizens.

The researchers are pursuing  a grant to do field research  to test the accuracy of their research.

In the meantime — let’s do a little informal research here. What traits do YOU think make the very best environmental citizens? Do you agree with Ferkany and Whyte?

10 thoughts on “Researchers discover what makes the best environmental citizens

  1. I wonder if it’s a sense of duty, and if struggle growing up makes people more willing to pitch in and just do what’s needed. This is a generalization based upon one person’s observation, but I think there may be something to it. It seems possible that just BEING in the woods isn’t enough to raise a for-sure environmentalist. Knowing that one can, with one’s own hands, improve things, and that maybe one has to, because no one else will, necessarily.

    I wonder about advertising. It teaches us that we are the be-all and end-all, that our personal satisfaction at any given moment is crucial, and that that includes constant convenience and constant pleasure. There’s a different level of gratification that comes from doing things in greener ways that’s better than doing tasks quickly and getting them over with (and the dust mop or hand-washing of dishes takes amounts of time that are meaninglessly longer, not any that change lives for better or worse.)

    I love the above comment that people are “kind, trusting, and lazy.” And asleep? How can we read articles about how dire the earth’s situation is, but read relatively few articles on what WE need to do? Do we think the climate-change problem will rectify with modern western lifestyles intact? Do we in the west even realize that most people live simply and humbly and barely any of can, for example, ever afford to fly?

  2. Come an do an article on me. I will be the test case. I think what any great effort needs is someone that really “CARES”. Most people don’t have a clue what care means. It is not thinking about something or sympathizing or oohs and aahhs. It is taking action. Actually doing something without fear of failure or embarrassment. Just doing what you can with what you have. I researched 4 seemingly separate problems in the Lower Great Lakes. It turns out they were all connected. I wrote “Ice Boom Theory” and started a web site to tell the world ( ) In a world where the people that benefit from misuse of our precious mother earth, it is to be expected there will be great resistance to change or do the right thing. People are generally kind, trusting and lazy. They hope everything will just turn out ok. Well I’ll tell you this, It does not. You have to care enough to fight for a cause. That is what makes a great environmentalist. Watch me tell the Power Authority off on Youtube. See world’s smartest fisherman for details. Thanks, JBB

  3. At xmas, I had a house full of kids, my Grandaughter took them for a walk down the trail, to the elevated deck in my woods, no snow. Little Elisibeth, 5, had a pretty white party dress on, a little later, she took off down the trail, screaming “I’m gonna find some more Deer tracks” She was gone before Gramma could move. All the kids looked for tracks and critters. The 3 year old, climbed over every log, even climbed up into one tree stand with the other kids. Priceless to watch. I once had a kid tell me he caught a 10 pound Walleye, I asked where? He said on the computer! See the difference?

  4. Education & exposure played a role in my learning the value of & getting into the habit of acting & thinking about living/promoting environmently friendly ways. We promote via ongoing recycling operation at the house (almost no garbage) & some people begin recycling. The president of nearby Highpoint University picks up butts & trash as he walks across campus, again, demonstrating, backed up by campus wide recycling effort. Teach by doing, in your face.
    Healthy, environmently sound, life long learning are notions to be promoted in the schools, homes & elsewhere, developing understanding & interest early.

  5. Nature deficit disorder, I enjoyed reading this study, it’s oh so true. The MDNR made a statement that kids exposed to nature are smarter, better problem solvers etc… Our bench mark is what nature was before we got here, and “fixed it” for our selfish motives. Nature might take it’s time, but the laws of nature are always right, if they wern’t then nothing would work. If you ask my grandaughter where invasive species come from, she’ll tell you “From Out Of Town” they don’t belong here. All invasive species are a disease, not a nuisance, we figure that out, we can turn this around. One study, found Perch in southern lake Michigan ignored thier normal prey (native spotail shiners) and ate mostly gobies and alewives. Do they know they’re protecting thier turf from invaders? Who knows, it’s enough to know they’re doing it. We should listen to what the fish are telling us.

  6. Anonymous, thanks for the note. The article has been updated with proper names and titles.

  7. Just to clarify Matt Ferkany is in the Department of Teacher Education and Kyle Powys Whyte is in the Department of Philosophy.

    Ferkany, M. & Whyte, K.P. 2011. Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
    The Importance of Participatory Virtues in the Future of Environmental Education

    Participatory approaches to environmental decision making and assessment continue to grow in academic and policy circles. Improving how we understand the structure of deliberative activities is especially important for addressing problems in natural resources, climate change, and food systems that have wicked dimensions, such as deep value disagreements, high degrees of uncertainty, catastrophic risks, and high costs associated with errors. Yet getting the structure right is not the only important task at hand. Indeed, participatory activities can break down and fail to achieve their specific goals when some of the deliberators lack what we will call participatory virtues. We will argue for the importance of future research on how environmental education can incorporate participatory virtues to equip future citizens with the virtues they will need to deliberate about wicked, environmental problems. What is the role of education for deliberative skills and virtues relative to other aspects of environmental education, such as facts and values education? How important is it relative to careful design of the deliberative process? What virtues really matter?

  8. Clearly, environmentalists make the best citizens. Those who don’t care about the environment…well…they don’t care about much that is positive at all.

  9. I do agree with the traits,and I also agree with Tom M. that nature passes on these traits as well as exposing kids to nature at a young age. Another question that comes to mind.. How much does one’s religious views impact their environmental views? Not really wanting to get into a discussion on religion, (but I think this would help with my question). For example look at the root word of Paganism. If you look up the definition of Pagan,it means ‘a country dweller’, nature lover. (No it isn’t about devil worship lol). Many of our environmentalists would claim to follow paganism to some degree. (Paganism is very broad just like Christianity, a belief in a god, is.)

  10. Nature passes these traits on to you. Get kids out into it early, let them watch. My 7 year old Grandaughter, caught her first fish at 2 years old. She likes video games etc.. but she loves fishin, can’t wait to go. Nature for sale (controlled) seems to be the biggest problem.

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