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Environmentally hot or not?

The environment has become such a buzzword, it is often difficult to evaluate the commitment of any organization or individual. After all, no one would claim to be against the environment. But at what cost are we truly willing to put into action the environmental principles we so quickly profess? What environmental ethics are we instilling in campers, and how are we using our programs to teach responsible use of our financial and natural resources?

In order for each camp to evaluate their own environmental practices, camp staff must consider 1) the special responsibilities to the environment inherent in the mission of organized camping 2) various pro-environment practices currently implemented 3) environmental ethics being taught covertly and overtly in their own programs and 4) actions needed to develop a personalized outdoor ethic in campers.

The Environment and the

Mission of Organized Camping

The priority placed on the environment by camp directors will undoubtedly vary. It may be dictated by the type of camp operated, the setting of the camp program, the clientele of the camp, and the personal background of the director. For example, an outdoor education center may feel a strong compulsion to protect natural resources and educate campers, whereas a camp in an urban setting, or one that serves inner-city clients, may feel the applicability and opportunity for environmental education in their program is minimal.

Regardless of these factors, the interface between organized camping and the natural world is undeniable. Most programs use and rely heavily on the existence of trees, bodies of water, and varied terrain as an enticement for campers. Even urban programs generally try to find a city park or greenbelt system as a setting for their programs. The reliance on the environment goes further than mere access to nature. In fact, the uniqueness and remoteness of the camp setting helps insulate campers from anti-environment influences such as materialism, egocentrism and ethnocentrism.

A further reason for camp administrators to become more involved in teaching environmental ethics is that through the camp experience, they have the power to shape participants' attitudes and behavior. For many campers and staff, camp remains among their most life-changing experiences.

In "Magical Outcomes of Organized Camping: The Total Camp Environment," Dan Dustin describes this phenomena: "Camp worked because of its size, because of its human scale. It was a little world unto itself "floating a few feet above a field somewhere...' I could see the relationships between my actions and the consequences of those actions. It was a place where I could see the connections that linked my behaviors to the behaviors of others. It was an environment where I could see how I made a difference" (1989).

Administration policies and procedures, as well as a program design and activities, should promote an appreciation of nature and commitment to the environment. Many camps have already begun this type of self examination, and a number of efforts to protect the environment have been developed.

Pro-environment Practices

in Camp

Earth-friendly practices within camps have increased greatly in the last 10 years. A greater awareness of the fragile state of our earth, a realization that natural resources are indeed a limited commodity and the emergence of an "environmental literacy" among many Americans have served as catalysts to greater environmental responsibility.

Environmental efforts at camp usually begin with very tangible, concrete endeavors that are easy to implement. They may cost little in terms of time and money and generally fall into the categories of "reduce, reuse, and recycle" To measure the environmental temperature of your camp's current practices, see the table on page 27. How are your doing? Additional suggestions for earth-friendly practices can be found in such books as 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. These books should be included in all camp libraries.

The environmental practices outlined in on page 27 are not particularly controversial. Every camp should work to include these practices in their ongoing operation. But other choices remain, not only to protect the world we live in, but to make a strong statement to our campers regarding environmental ethics and values.

Environmental Ethics - Covert

and Overt Instruction

Teaching values and ethics is an area public and private institutions tend to avoid, especially when there may be some dissension, not only among campers, but among ourselves, as to what is right and wrong. Yet teaching values is inevitable; we teach values not only through our actions and policies, but through our inactions. Campers will learn by what is excluded from a program as well as what is included.

Often the most effective teaching comprises not what is said or taught in formalized sessions, but what is done and taught through example. Consequently, the litter which is left on the ground during a hike, the waste containers that do not separate recyclables from compost and garbage, the fuel-inefficient vehicles driven with one passenger, these are all powerful lessons in how we should care for our natural world. If we ignore this mode of teaching, we are acting with ignorance.

It is time we make some conscious and thoughtful decisions about teaching our campers how we value the world in which we live. As Tim Ellis states: "While some schools and homes do a responsible job of educating in the broadest sense, the camp setting may be one of the best for young people to develop those values which will serve them well in the future... Camps have the freedom to create programs based on the best of human values and on the needs of the future world" (1989).

The issue of values and programming are comprehensive, complex, and controversial. They require stronger commitment and more sacrifice to implement than the actions listed in on page 27. They also tend to precipitate change in the very core of our camp programs and our lifestyles.

It is only if we start asking some very tough questions that we will start to yield answers for ourselves and those we serve. What activities do we currently offer that somehow compromise the integrity of our pro-environment position? Be sure to consider even those that are integral parts of our camp program or perhaps even long-standing traditions. In what ways do activities unnecessarily consume natural resources and/or contribute to the contamination and pollution of the world in which we live?

At what point does considering what is desirable for our campers become less important than considering what we believe is inherently right and wrong? What intangible messages that we convey to our campers through our program offerings and mode of operation do they take back into the "real world" in which they live?

In "Recreational Limits in a World of Ethics," Dan Dustin challenges individuals to evaluate their recreation choices in relation to the environment. We would like to extend this practice to camping professionals through the following three examples:

* One of the most popular and important components of a camp program is the waterfront. Do you consume precious natural resources and contribute to water pollution during your waterfront activities by operating motor boats? If so, are they used for pleasure rides and water skiing, or limited to emergency rescues? Instead, do you offer row boating, canoeing or rafting, which rely on human power? If these are not exciting enough alternatives to appeal to campers, would sail boating, which uses a renewable (albeit unpredictable) resource, provide enough excitement and challenge? Are we teaching campers to live with simplicity?

* What about the traditional campfire, a nightly occurrence at many camps? Where does the wood used for campfires come from? If it is "downed wood" from the camp property, what are we teaching campers about the natural cycle of decomposition and the nutrients this process provides to other organisms in the ecosystem? If purchased from another source, are these "downed trees" from some other wooded area posing the same ethical problem? If wood is harvested from living trees, are they from natural forests, a practice which may contribute to deforestation problems, or are they grown on tree farms? What are the effects of campfire smoke on the quality of air we breathe? What alternatives to campfires can be found? Are we promoting intensive experiences, those which foster discovery within a person? Or are we promoting intensive use, which requires consumption of resources outside of the individual?

* For day camps in particular, field trips may be a weekly highlight for both campers and staff. But what about the environmental cost of transporting campers to sites away from the camp? How do we justify trips to distant outdoor education centers or wilderness areas, when the cost of getting there is more fossil fuel emissions? Do we foster wonder at the "wilderness" in our own backyard? How do our campers arrive at camp? Is there a central meeting place where a bus is provided or public transportation can be utilized? How are vehicles used in the daily operation of camp?

Solving the problems posed above will go a long way toward creating an earth-friendly camp community. Each program's environmental cost must be weighed against its benefits to determine the programs that should be promoted. Yet these questions are the tip of the iceberg when examining the environmental implications of a camp's program.

Without specific programs designed to help campers make the transition from camp to home, the relevance of environmental practices learned may be lost. We as camp professionals need to do our best at creating an outdoor ethic in campers that they will carry back to their lives outside the camp community.

Creating an Individual

Outdoor Ethic in Campers

One way to engender lasting behavioral changes in campers is to help them internalize reasons why they need to relate in morally responsible ways to the environment. Thus, camps directors need to understand the moral development of campers. Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of development stages provides a framework to help staff. By identifying the stages of moral development of their campers, they can design appropriate programs.

Kohlberg (1976) outlines three levels of moral development, each consisting of two stages. In stage one, "punishment and obedience orientation," individuals select behavior based solely on avoiding punishment. In stage two, "instrumental relativist orientation," individuals make decisions based on what is beneficial to himself or herself, making sure that his/her own needs are satisfied. In stage three, "interpersonal concordance," individuals seek approval from others and conform to what they consider "nice behavior."

In stage four, "law and order orientation," individuals believe in the inherent value of rules, authority and order. In stage five, "social-contract legalistic orientation," individuals examine and agree to rules for the entire society while also maintaining individual rights and maintaining personal opinions. In stage six, "universal ethical-principle orientation," individuals develop abstract principles, which guide their moral decisions and are based on the principles of equality, justice and human dignity.

Camp administrations must address the level of moral development represented by all campers participating in their program. Furthermore, they must seize opportunities to aid campers in progressing to higher levels of moral development whenever possible.

In his research, Kohlberg discovered that people grow and develop from one stage to another when they experience a moral conflict that cannot be resolved satisfactorily at their present level of moral reasoning. The ensuing anxiety or cognitive dissonance provides the necessary incentive to grapple with the conflict from the perspective afforded at the next stage. This struggle results in moral growth. Thus, camp directors can foster moral growth through programs which encourage campers to deal with moral dilemmas.

One of the most powerful programmatic tools for teaching values is simulation games. During these exercises, individuals are placed in a situation and required to deal with circumstances and/or people often different from their usual experience. They are most useful when teaching difficult concepts that require understanding on a large scale, and their applications reach beyond the immediate setting. The real power of the simulation is when participants lose themselves in a role and situation to such an extent that they act and react as though the simulation is reality. Often times denial, narrow-mindedness and bigotry are revealed and honest discussions about sensitive topics ensue.

For example, in order to teach campers about the environmental ramifications of eating higher on the food chain, mealtime could be used as an opportunity for a simulation game. Since the earth cannot possibly sustain the carnivorous eating habits of most Americans throughout the world, the simulation would determine a certain percentage of campers to be served beans and rice for dinner while others would be served meat. The campers would be randomly assigned to one of the groups. After the meal, camp staff would lead discussion(s), addressing issues such as:

* How do you feel about the food you were served?

* How do you feel about the food served to others?

* How do you think decisions were made about who was served which food?

* How do you feel about the people who made those decisions? How do you feel about the people who served the food?

* How long would you be willing to eat under this arrangement?

* What changes would you like to make in this current arrangement?

* What has this exercise taught you about global food distribution and our environment?

* How do you feel about what you have learned?

* What else would you like to know about this issue?

* What did you learn that is applicable to other environmental crises we face?

* What behavioral changes, if any, does this exercise prompt you to make?

Discussion leaders need to help campers examine the issue, as well as their thoughts, feelings and attitudes. To help the discussion, they should be prepared with some basic background information. Applications to other related issues can be facilitated by focusing on underlying issues of power, helplessness, isolation, animosity, and so forth.

The effectiveness of simulation games will vary depending on a variety of factors, including the age of campers, skill of discussion leaders, and ease of integrating simulations into the overall camp program. However, these are all factors over which camps are able to exert some control.

A less predictable factor influencing success is the varying levels of moral development of campers. In the mealtime simulation game, some campers may eat their beans and rice meal without complaint because they fear dessert will be withheld (stage one), others may eat without complaint, not wanting to offend the cooks (stage three), while others may believe it is something they can do to help provide a meal for someone less fortunate (stage six). The discussion following the exercise should address such motivations so that campers can start to see how others make moral decisions and to foster opportunities for them to grow in their own moral development.


There is no denying the complexity of the issues dealt with here. Many of the questions posed require some kind of tradeoff. What is right for one camp may not be right for another. In many cases the answers to these questions may not be as important as the effort put forth to continually ask the questions and strive to make programs and facilities as earth friendly as possible.

One of the unique aspects of dealing with the environment is that it requires eternal vigilance and commitment. We as individuals and organizations can always do more to lessen our impact on the world in which we live. We no longer have the luxury of letting economic costs outweigh environmental costs; we must stop making excuses and start taking responsibility.

As camp professionals, it is time to be pioneers. We must strive to get our programs, ourselves and our campers into the loop where we are individually and collectively meeting the challenge to protect the earth.


Dustin, D. (1989, Sept/Oct). Magical outcomes of organized camping: The total camp environment. Camping Magazine. 62 (1), 31-35. Dustin, D. (1984, March). Recreational limits in a world of ethics. Parks and Recreation. 19 (3), 49-51. Ellis, T. (1989). Camps responsibility to the future: Beyond just being outdoors. Presentation at the 1989 American Camping Association National Conference, Seattle, Washington. Kohlberg, L. (1976). The Moral Atmosphere of the School, in D. Purpel (Ed.). Moral education: It comes with the territory. (pp. 196-220), Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corporation. Van Matre, S. (1990). Earth education: A new beginning. Warrensville, Illinois: Institute for Earth Education.

Kathleen Hovda DeGraaf is a former camp director at Fox Valley Family Center/Camp Algonquin in Algonquin, Illinois. She has also worked as a project coordinator with the Camp Adventure program through the University of Northern Iowa.

Donald DeGraaf, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Department at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia. He has worked in a number of camps including Fox Valley Family Center/Camp Algonquin and Camp Adventure.
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Title Annotation:1993 J. Wendell Howe Golden Quill Awards; environmental ethics in summer camps
Author:DeGraaf, Donald George
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Cameras in camp: helping campers understand principles of photography.
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