Although most New York high school juniors believe there is an environmental crisis, they couldn't pass a Regents exam on that subject -- if one were required.
That's one finding of a study released last week by State University at Buffalo researchers Lester W. Milbrath, Kathryn M. Hausbeck and Sean M. Enright.
The three turned over their findings to State Sen. John M. Sheffer, R-Amherst, at a press conference at UB's Center for Tomorrow. Sheffer applauded their "enthusiastic effort" and said he expects some action on environmental education from the legislature next year.
"Now, when we need it more than ever, environmental education is not part of the agenda of our educational system" said Milbrath, a professor of political science and sociology, who heads UB's Research Program on Environment and Society.
The study found that 74 percent of the 3,200 11th-grade students questioned believed there is an environmental crisis, and 70 percent believe they, as individuals, could do something to help the situation.
But only 12 percent of the students said they learned anything about the issues in school.
"Those who knew, got it on their own," Milbrath said, "and most of those -- 43 percent -- learned about environmental issues from television. That's good for awareness, but not for knowledge."
The test, administered at 32 public and private schools across the state, found that those in rural private schools did best, scoring 60 percent.
Public school students knew less about environmental issues than private school students, and city schools scored lower than suburban or rural ones.
The researchers are recommending that environmental education be made a basic K-12 education component, and:
Requiring completion of a special environmental course to earn a high school diploma.
Encouraging an advanced environmental education course as a high school elective.
Launching in-service training for teachers and offering the speciality at teachers' colleges.
Developing a Regents exam in the subject, as well as making environmental concerns part of other Regents course work.