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Unpacking the HL Lenses

The new Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) IB Diploma Programme syllabus is an exciting new way of looking at environmental issues. The Higher Level (HL) aspect of the course has HL content for each major chapter and three lenses dedicated to Environmental Law, Environmental Economics and Environmental Ethics that are interwoven throughout the whole Standard and Higher level topics.

As teachers this will stretch most of us into syllabus areas that we have previously not taught. As ESS teachers, elements of all of these lenses are relevant to all issues that are impacting our environment. New ways of focusing on the environment in business decisions and the use of Donut Economics to focus on societal and environmental impacts of environmental issues. This allows an assessment to be made in relation to our impact on different aspects of the planet. 

Environmental Law looks into the legal support there is to protect habitats, species and communities. Some laws are developed on a local or regional level with others, such as issues relating to IUCN are developed on an international level. 

Environmental Economics focuses on aspects of market failure, greenwashing and the tragedy of the commons due to the impact of the over population. Assigning value to natural resources in order to be able to quantify the impact of development in a way that puts the environment at the forefront of decision-making. There is a focus on using either the donut economics or curricular economy to develop ways of monitoring and managing environmental issues and the impacts of aspects of development on the environment as well as addressing relevant aspects of inequality and injustice.

The Environmental Ethics lens focuses on the different ethical theories and how they can be applied to the myriad of issues that come up within the syllabus. It explores aspects of the instrumental and intrinsic value of all aspects of the environment and the relevant issues. Traditional ethical frameworks of virtue, consequentialist and rights-based ethics are also used to explore decision making and the relevant aspects of what is ‘right’ in the environmental field.

Individually these aspects have a significant impact of management of issues and decision making, together they provide a comprehensive overview of the potential conflicts, difficulties and interactions that are key to most topics.

However, the Hodder Education text material will help you to identify where HL lenses need to be applied along with possible activities to engage your students in these aspects. Keep your eyes open for the HL Lens feature boxes in both the SL and HL chapters. These should provide you with clear guidance on how to start unpacking the HL lenses in the context of the topic content.

This blog was written by Dr Emma M Shaw, the co-author of Environmental Systems and Societies for the IB Diploma. Emma Shaw has a PhD in ecological arachnology and has taught environmental courses for over 20 years. She is a highly published researcher and educator with a lifelong passion for ecology and arachnology.

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