1.1 What do you think? What do they think?

What do you think? What do they think? Understanding the EVSs

It's useful to start with the student at the centre of things and to have them engage with their own EVS. Next students need to start developing an understanding of why different groups will have different perspectives and solutions to a problem. Try the What do they think activity based on a fictional case study inspired by the Mekong River and not so far from reality. Here is a recent news report in the New York Times about the failure of a dam in Laos.

Background Information

An EVS is a worldview or paradigm that shapes the way an individual, or group of people, perceives and evaluates environmental issues, influenced by cultural, religious, economic and socio-political contexts.

Moving away from the idea of a continuum, the IB now describes EVSs as a spectrum from ecocentric through anthropocentric to technocentric. This is a simplification. It is unlikely that one's individual position on an issue is composed of elements from just one point on this linear continuum. For each environmental issue you may have greater connection to a different aspect of these value systems. Each culture may have a viewpoint which is derived from different historical, spiritual and cultural roots and be difficult to categorise with this western-centric taxonomy. Differences in value systems may lead to misunderstanding and conflict over the exploitation of resources, for example ocean fishing and whaling.


An ecocentric viewpoint integrates social, spiritual and environmental dimensions into a holistic ideal. It puts ecology and nature as central to humanity and emphasizes a less materialistic approach to life with greater selfsufficiency of societies. An ecocentric viewpoint prioritizes biorights, emphasizes the importance of education and encourages self-restraint in human behaviour.


An anthropocentric viewpoint argues that humans must sustainably manage the global system. This might be through the use of taxes, environmental regulation and legislation. Debate would be encouraged to reach a consensual, pragmatic approach to solving environmental problems.


A technocentric viewpoint argues that technological developments can provide solutions to environmental problems. This is a consequence of a largely optimistic view of the role humans can play in improving the lot of humanity. Scientific research is encouraged in order to form policies and to understand how systems can be controlled, manipulated or changed to solve resource depletion. A pro-growth agenda is deemed necessary for society’s improvement.

What do you think?

An activity to help students think about how they view different environmental issues. 

Place pieces of paper on your classroom wall with the titles Ecocentric, Anthropocentric, Technocentric

Ask students to write on three post-it notes, three environmental issues. They should think about where they believe the solutions to these problems lie, then place their post-its in the appropriate place in your classroom.

Discuss the students responses and start to have them explain their opinions.

This also allows you to get an idea of the general views in your classroom. In different classes, I see trends to different viewpoints.

Here is a handout if needed  What do you think

What do they think?

Here is a handout  What do they think

I put this case study together to have students start to think about decision making and solutions. The river provides an opportunity to produce electricity which can be sold to surrounding countries but the dam building could potentially harm the culture and wildlife in the area.

This case study is a fictional compilation of ideas based around image and text associated with Laos and the surrounding areas. It is not a true case study although it is based on real situations and culture that are found along the Mekong River. There is a conflict between the need to develop sustainably, provide electricity and opportunities for the people in the area, but with limited opportunities. It was inspired by the May 2015 P2 Exam. 

A hydo-electric power plant associated with a large dam across the Mekong River in Laos is proposed. The dam will flood a large area upstream and control the flow of water downstream. The dam will supply clean safe drinking water and cheap electricity for local communities while providing large amounts of electricity for development in other areas of the country. There are many other benefits and drawbacks to this project.

In groups discuss how an Ecocentric, Anthropocentric and Technocentric EVS would think about this project. Complete a table comparing the the three EVSs using key words from the descriptions of these EVSs.


As an alternative strategy, divide the class into three groups representing the three main EVSs. They should act as consultants who would be advising policy makers. The proposal is to build another dam in the region and they need to propose and justify advice they would give to the policy makers but from the point of view of one EVS.

Mekong Basin
1 Mekong basin By Shannon1,
[GFDL or CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

Laos is a landlocked country in South East Asia. It has borders with China, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).The great Mekong river’s watershed includes China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. These six countries are participants of the Mekong River Commission and all transboundary issues are discussed through this forum.

Khone Phapheng Falls
2 Khone_Phapheng_Falls_-_1
By Hiroo Yamagata [CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

Nam Ngum 1 was Laos’ first big dam and provided most of the electricity for Laos and an important source of income via exported energy to Thailand​Dams and reservoirs in Laos. (2015, July 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:06, August 26, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dams_and_reservoirs_in_Laos&oldid=673345101

Several further dam projects have provided more export income and encouraged international investmentOp sit.

Nam Ngum
3 Nam_Ngum_1_Dam By Chaoborus (Own work)
[CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

Laos is an important centre of biodiversity for tropical rainforests including important populations of Asian elephant and Indochinese Tigers. The western black crested gibbon is one of the world’s rarest gibbon speciesLao PDR. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/asia/lao-pdr.aspx

4 512px-Panthera_tigris_corbetti_090901, By Accipiter (R. Altenkamp, Berlin) (Own work)
[GFDL or CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

5 DKoehl_Irrawaddi_Dolphin_jumping By Dan Koehl (Own work)
[CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Siamese Crocodiles
Attribution: 6 Siamese_Crocodiles By SuperJew (Own work)
[CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

People supporting the dam projects give an economic growth argument, providing foreign currencyLaos. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2015, from http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/laos

Attribution: 7 ວັງວຽງ2007 By Jean-Marie Hullot
[CC BY], via Wikimedia Commons

People against the dam projects are concerned about the environmental impact and the effect on local people and culturesOp sit.

There are about 150 ethnic groups in LaosList of ethnic groups in Laos. (2015, August 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:49, August 27, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_ethnic_groups_in_Laos&oldid=676730519 ​. Many groups have strong attachments to rivers and water.

Attribution: 8 Rakhine_Thingyan_2011.jpeg By Htoo Tay Zar (Own work)
[CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

During the rainy season monks meditate and fast. At the end of this period as the rains ease, the monks leave leave the monasteries where they have spent Vassa, and are presented with robes, alms bowls and other requisites of the renunciate life.

This becomes a big cultural water festival partyLonely Planet (2012, July 27). River festivals: A guide to Southeast Asia. Retrieved August 26, 2015, from http://www.lonelyplanet.com/southeast-asia/travel-tips-and-articles/77418 ​.


Choose one environmental issue for which you think there are solutions which fit into more than one EVS. Identify these solutions and place them on the venn diagram for the EVSs.

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