Environmental Policy

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Students will be able to describe how governments can guide the environmental practices of corporations and citizens through subsidies and green taxes.

Big Idea

As a member of a democracy, your political, social, and consumer choices can affect the environment and help determine environmental policy.


This lesson seeks to introduce environmental policy by building upon students understanding of the role of economics and personal ethics in relationship to the environment.   

The lesson essentially consists of two parts:

1. A pre-class textbook reading and homework assignment focused on close reading techniques, critical-thinking questions, and content vocabulary development.

2. An in class presentation that provides supplementary examples to review the concepts and vocabulary from the chapter along with a class discussion seeking to draw students into more critical examination of the topic at hand and assist in their ability to connect the concepts to their personal experiences. 

The textbook reading comes from Environmental Science: Your World, Your Turn by Jay Withgott.

If you do not have that particular textbook, I would recommend finding a similar chapter or chapters (in this case, a consideration of the history and evolving nature of environmental policy) and modifying the lesson accordingly.  

Alternately, the powerpoint attached to the Direct Instruction section covers most of the same concepts and vocabulary as the chapter.  If you have a shorter class period, you may want to skip the reading assignment and assign the discussion questions as homework.  You could then hold the class discussion on the following day.       

In my case, I assign the textbook reading on the meeting previous to this lesson.  In that way, students will have already covered the concepts on their own and the powerpoint presentation will be less of a lecture and more of an opportunity for students to ask questions and clarify their understanding. 

Connection to Standard:

In this lesson, students will prepare for class by reading and determining the central idea of a text, establish familiarity with relevant scientific vocabulary, and then draw evidence from the text to support arguments and opinions presented as part of their participation in a group discussion.  


Direct Instruction

30 minutes

Like I mentioned above, I assign the textbook reading as a homework assignment to be completed upon arrival to this class period.  The powerpoint presentation is then more of a review and an opportunity for students to ask questions.  

Wondering WHY I use lectures as a pedagogical strategy?  Watch this video.

Wondering HOW I use the Powerpoint to differentiate instruction? Watch this video.

Wondering why I choose to have a reading assignment AND a lecture on the same content?  Read this rationale.

Wondering how you might use this lesson's resources if you don't plan on presenting a lecture? Read this reflection.


When class begins, I ask students to get their homework out and first give them about 10 minutes to discuss the critical thinking questions with their group members.  During this time, I walk around and put a stamp on completed homework and answer any questions that students bring up.  If students bring up a good question or insightful comment, I ask them to please remember to bring that up in the larger class discussion to follow the presentation.  

Affording this time before the presentation allows students to "field test" their answers with a smaller group, increasing their confidence to participate in the larger discussion.  Also, because the discussion is graded by groups, it allows the ideas of individual members to influence the thinking of their peers which may lead to greater insights or even new questions.  Finally, while I walk around, I listen to the nature of student discussions and get a better sense of what kinds of questions may be floating around the room, allowing me to emphasize certain aspects of the lesson or offer more detailed examples to scaffold the instruction.

After I have stamped all the homework assignments, I distribute the note sheet that accompanies the presentation.  As I've mentioned in previous lessons, offering students a note sheet provides a readymade study guide for later and allows students to focus on their thoughts and the concepts being discussed as opposed to focusing all of their attention on copying down copies amounts of notes.   


Please Note: I find it important to really do thorough checks for understanding on a few points in this lecture:

  1. Students often fail to appreciate how tricky trans-boundary environmental problems can be, and how they most often require international treaties or other formal cooperation between nations to address.  One big piece to understanding why treaties can be so difficult to enact let alone enforce is the differing perceptions of the environment between peoples of different countries.  This is one case where my students can really draw on their personal experience to talk about environmental laws and conditions in other countries.  For example, one of my students spoke about conditions in Guatemala where trash lines many streets and people don't seem to care about litter.  He mentioned that it would be pretty hard to pass a law against it as it is "just what people do".  Another student from South Korea talked about how he was shocked when he came to America and saw that "everyone puts their trash in the same bin".  He said that in South Korea, people are expected to separate trash and recyclables into many different subcategories (paper, plastic, aluminum, food waste, packaging, compost, etc.) and how they would be fined if they didn't do this.  Many other students in my class responded that there was "no way" they could do that, mostly agreeing that separating general recyclables from non-recyclable trash was difficult as is.  I would therefore encourage you to engage you students in a short discussion of either their own experiences in foreign countries, or bring in some examples of environmental laws in different nations to see if students feel like they could easily abide by them or not.
  2.  The difference between an environmental subsidy and a green tax is important.  Simply, an environmental subsidy encourages a certain behavior by rewarding it with money, tax breaks, or other benefits.  A green tax discourages certain behavior by levying a tax or fine for engaging in the behavior. 


30 minutes

Following the presentation, I let students know that we will wrap up by having a class discussion to review the concepts of the lesson.  Again, depending on your class length, it may be preferable to have this follow-up discussion on the following day.  

The discussion protocol for this lesson:

  1. all groups are required to participate in the discussion and will receive a “participation” grade for the day

  2. groups with more than one member that participate will receive a higher participation grade

  3. groups that participate more frequently will receive a higher grade


These criteria make the group collectively responsible for their grade and accountable to each other. If no one in the group participates, the group as a whole will receive a failing grade.  If only one member of the group participates, regardless of how often, the group can’t receive any grade higher than a C.  


To keep track of participation, I begin by making a map of the class with the group tables labeled by group name.  Since there are four students at each table, as a student from a particular group participates, I make a tally mark in the position of that student in their group.  In this way, I can tally how often the group participates, which members are participating, and how often.  To determine "average" participation, I add up all tally marks and divide by the number of groups, rounding down.  I then use this rubric to determine their participation grades.


See this discussion guide for specific strategies for this discussion, but I would bring your attention to two key points from the guide that may affect how you lead the discussion:

1. On the question regarding whether someone's vote for congressional representative or for president has more of an effect on environmental policy, I hope that students understand that their votes do matter at all levels.  However, what I hope they really explore are the ways that these different authorities can direct environmental policy.  For example, the President can appoint an EPA director that shares many of their viewpoints on the environment, making that office especially important in regards to the environment.  However, a local representative or senator can propose legislation based on the environmental concerns affecting their constituents, thereby allowing a local approach to developing national policy.

2. The question about a specific subsidy or green tax that a student would propose if they were a politician is quite open-ended and could really be extended as much as you’d like.  What I hope students cover in such a question is identifying a problem and then visualizing a way in which the solution could lie in environmental policy. 

Students can get really creative with their responses to a question like this, so it may even be advisable to make this a mini-project and have them develop a specific proposal (whether that be introduced as mock-legislation, a ballot measure, a local campaign, etc.) that explains both the problem and the way their green-tax or subsidy would solve it.  It may be interesting, too, to have student groups come up with policy solutions to the same problem, and then have the class vote on which policy is the best solution.