1.1 What do you think? What do they think?

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. This activitty is 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.

This activity is designed to support cognitive load theory. Students are provided with a small amount of theory and then they get to practice and engage with the concepts.

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.

Student Task 1: 

What do you think?

Take three post-it notes and write down three different environmental issues on the post-it notes.

Decide what approach you think would be best to solve each of these problems - would you take an ecocentric, anthropocentric or a technocentric approach. If you think that a mixture of approaches would be best (a great strategy for an exam answer), just choose the main one approach for now.

When your teacher tells you, go and place your post-it notes in the appropriate place in the classroom. Your teacher will have allocated 3 different areas for this.

Be prepared to explain your decisions to the class.

Here is a handout if needed  What do you think

Approaches to Teaching

This is a great introduction to environmental value systems. It will help you get to know your students and see how the balance lies in your classroom. Some students may be very dogmatic and so you may need to manage the conversations carefully. We are looking for students to develop their ability to justify their claims. In my experience, however, students are usually quite quiet at the beginning of the course and you just need to encourage them to give their opinions.

To introduce the activity you could give your own three examples although this can narrow their thinking (this year I didn't and I got more variety of answers).

Decide in advance where you would like the students to place their post-it notes - I used to have posters ready or labels on the walls but this year I just explained where to go and this worked well with a small class. Labels on walls definitely work well for larger classes.

When all the post-its are distributed, count how many are in each EVS - this will give you a sense of your class. This year we were mostly anthropocentric but ecocentric followed close behind. There were only a few technocentric choices.

Ask a student to read the issues from each EVS. Ask them what they notice - usually the same issues will occur in all three EVSs.

If you would like to extend the discussion (this may mean you don't complete the next activity within a one hour slot) you can ask each student, or a sample of students, to explain their choices.

This activity can take 20-30 minutes.

Student Task 2:

What do they think?

Here is a handout  What do they think

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. You might now have a similar case study experience in Paper 1 which contains a resource booklet.


There is a proposal to build another large dam on the Mekong River in Laos. There would be a hydroelectric power plant associated with the dam. The project would provide 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.

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.

Your task is to assess the information provided here combined with what you might already know about building dams (we cover this isn detail in Topic 4).

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.

Mekong Basin

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

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​[1] ​.

Several further dam projects have provided more export income and encouraged international investment[1] ​

Nam Ngum

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 species[2]

Siamese Crocodiles

People supporting the dam projects give an economic growth argument, providing foreign currency[3]

People against the dam projects are concerned about the environmental impact and the effect on local people and cultures[3].  There are about 150 ethnic groups in Laos[4]​. Many groups have strong attachments to rivers and water.

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 party[5] ​.

Approaches to Teaching: Activity 2

I put this case study together to have students start to think about decision making and solutions. You may need to encourage them to ask questions, for example, my students didn't understand why the dam would threaten wildlife.

Once students have completed the table, ask each group to feedback on their thinking. Check that they have understood the concepts of these three main EVSs. Your best students will already be able to offer a more nuanced discussion.

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.

Student Task 3: Review

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.

Approaches to Teaching: Activity 3

This activity could be set as a home activity or an extension.


  1. a, b 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
  2. ^ Lao PDR. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/asia/lao-pdr.aspx
  3. a, b Laos. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2015, from http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/laos
  4. ^ List 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
  5. ^ Lonely 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
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