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Humans and the Environment

  • Title: Humans and the Environment
  • Level: Grades 4-6
  • Duration:    Six to Eight weeks
  • Developed by: Carole Bollini, Teacher/Student Instructor, Workshops for a better world

Science Objective #4

Illustrate the relationship between human well-being, environmentalism and the interests of animals.

Unit Overview

The diet-health connection established in the 1980's is evolving, in the 1990's, into a diet-health-environment connection. This unit will illustrate how our daily choices in the areas o diet, exercise, recreation hobbies and attitudes affect not only our own well-being,but also the well-being of other animals and all living things.


Students will be able to understand the concepts of health and environment.

MOTIVATION: Ask students the questions:

  1. When a doctor talks about your "health" what does he think makes you healthy?
  2. What does the word "environment" mean? Could it mean your home? What else could it mean?

AIM: There are many ideas associated with these two concepts that have to be clarified in the students' minds, before further discussion.


  • Discuss ideas about health. Ask the question: "What do we need to be healthy?" As the students give answers, make up a list of needs on the board to be transferred later in a three- dimensional map, if desired.
  • Ask the question "What needs do we share with other animals?"

Have the class construct a list of animals' needs.

  • Discuss with the class what components make up the environment. Ask the question: "What is the environment?" Make a diagram of concentric circles on the board with the student at the center and the circles representing various levels of his/her environment.
  • Ask the question: "What are some animals you can find at each level of the environment?" Have the students write in the names of various animals at each level.

SUMMARY: Health means many things to many people. It is generally agreed that the following element should be present for health:

* fresh, clean air
* adequate, but not excessive sunlight
* fresh, clean water
* fresh, uncontaminated food
* adequate sleep and rest
* appropriate exercise/freedom to move
* freedom from excessive pain
* positive emotional stimulation and expression of emotions
* coping with negative emotions in a socially acceptable way
* privacy/freedom from excessive interference/quiet time
* mental stimulation/learning/recreation/fun
* expression of creativity
* positive role models

It has been found that other animals share many of these same survival/comfort needs. A holistic approach to human and animal health is increasingly being emphasized by environmental scientists as necessary for a balanced world environment.


Students will be able to identify the components of a healthy versus unhealthy way of living ("lifestyle".)

MOTIVATION: Ask the questions:

1. What are the things you can do every day to make yourself feel healthy?
2. What do some people do that makes them unhealthy?

AIM: Compare healthy versus unhealthy actions and habits that students might take and follow during one sample day.


* Class discussion of what actions and habits appear in their lives every day. Guide discussion within the areas of:

  • Diet: Food and Drink
  • Exercise/Recreation/Hobbies
  • Emotion /Moods
  • Thoughts/Opinions

* Ask students to help make a chart on the board of what foods and drinks are healthy and unhealthy. Discuss this list and modify, if necessary. (See appendices 1. and 2.) Transfer this list to a poster displayed permanently on a bulletin board, if desired.

* Ask students to help make a list of moods and emotions they might feel during the week. Ask how they can handle negative emotions so that they will not hurt themselves or their environment, which includes their family and any animals living with or near them.

* Ask students what thoughts and opinions they have about their environment. Make a list of positive, healthy emotions versus negative, unhealthy emotions. Discuss how students' thoughts and opinions will affect their environment.

SUMMARY: A person's way of living --"lifestyle" -- can be examined by observation of their diet, the ways they exercise and have recreation, by their emotions and moods and by what thoughts, opinions and values they hold. We cannot be expected to know whether our lifestyle is healthy or unhealthy or determine how we might affect the environment until we have carried out such observations.


Students will be able to explain how buying and using household articles can affect the well-being of animals and of other living things in the environment.

MOTIVATION: Ask one or more of the following questions:

  1. Do you know if any products that you use or have in your home are made from parts of animals?
  2. Can you tell me if any products you use in your home were tested on animals before being sold?
  3. Can you tell me what newspapers and rolls of kitchen towel are made of? Where does it come from?
  4. Do you know how the packaging of the products you buy can harm or help the environment?

AIM: How can parents' purchasing habits affect the environment in a positive or negative way?


* Class discussion of what products are in one room of students' home. e.g. the kitchen (see appendix 3.)

Sample questions:

  • "Where do those products come from?" "What do they contain?" How are they packaged?"
  • Why should products be tested in some way for safety?

* Brief class discussion of animals versus non-animal methods of household product testing (see appendix 4)

* Students help draw up a chart of items in one room of their home and how these items affect animals and/or the environment.

* Class divides into groups of 2-3 students. Each group makes a trip to the local supermarket, outside of school hours, to read labels on shelf items, including produce. I possible, the students should tell the store manager what they are doing. Goals of the activities are:

  1. to find as many items as possible that say "safe for the environment" or "environmentally-friendly" or "not tested on animals" or "all-natural ingredients" or "organic."
  2. to notice the different ways products are packaged, e.g. large or small container, paper, cardboard/plastic/glass/metal and to decide which versions are more environmentally-healthy.


Students will be able to explain how our dietary choices can affect the well-being of animals and of other living things in the environment.

MOTIVATION: Ask the question: "What did you eat yesterday for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

AIM: Compare an environmentally-healthy versus an environmentally unhealthy diet.


* Make a chart of one sample day's diet of a typical student. Examples:

  • Breakfast: Eggs, cereal, bread, pop-tart, banana, milk/fresh juice/juice drink.
  • Lunch: Hamburger on white bread bun, pizza, potatoes, cheese sandwich, pickle, carrot sticks, iceberg lettuce, apple, milk, soda, fresh juice, juice drink.
  • Snacks: Processed food snacks, crackers, cookies, cereal, fresh or dried fruits, soda, juice, ice cream.
  • Dinner: Meat, cooked vegetables, salad, cake, cookie, ice cream, milk, soda, juice.

* Have students discuss items that might be closely related to animals, i.e. eggs, milk, cheese, ice cream,, hamburger, pizza toppings.

Sample questions:

  1. Where do eggs come from?
  2. What are the different ways in which chickens are raised? i.e. free-range versus intensive farming; you might want to discuss the two methods - see appendix 5
  3. Where hamburgers come from?
  4. Do you know where many hamburger chains get their meat?

(For the answer to this, see below.)


Students will be able to explain how their choice of recreation and hobbies can affect the well-being of animals and of other things in the environment.

MOTIVATION: Ask the question: "What do you like to do for fun?"


* Discuss students' hobbies and recreational choices. Draw up two lists: those that help -- or do not harm-- and those that may harm, the environment.



  • Riding an all-terrain vehicle Bicycling/walking/hiking/camping or motor-cycle through woods, (if one does not litter the landscape) fields, etc.
  • Hunting, shooting/trapping/fishing
  • Quiet animal observation/photography
  • Motor-boating
  • Swimming/snorkeling/rowing

SUMMARY: Human beings can make choices in their forms of exercise, recreation/hobbies that will affect their environment either positively or negatively.

* Discussion of why rainforests are important to the world: biodiversity,  stabilization of planetary climate, protection against global warming, protection against global warming protection for wildlife and indigenous tribes, source of medicinal plants, etc.

* Discussion of what is happening to rainforests in Central and South America, because large cattle ranchers have taken over vast tracts of land near and in the rainforest areas. Ranchers graze cattle for beef to sell to some of the North American hamburger chains. Small farmers who have been forced off their existing farmlands are trying to establish new farms in the rainforest, clearing away all vegetation by a slash/burn method which greatly increases the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and is totally destructive to wildlife living in that part of the forest.

* Have students research how much water, energy (electric and fossil fuel) and grains are needed to raise cattle for beef in the modern Western grazing/feedlot method. Have students estimate if there is enough usable land, water and energy for everyone in the World to live on a North-American style meat based diet at this time. (See resource list for organizations and books to provide background material for this activity.)


BREAKFAST Eggs/bacon cheese
White bread/toast/butter
Whole milk
Whole grain cereal/bread
Low-fat milk/raisins/fruit
Fresh fruit juice
LUNCH Regular cheese pizza with pepperoni
Whole milk
Cake or cookie
Pizza with tomato sauce and vegetable topping
Fresh fruit juice/soda
Dried or fresh fruit. e.g. apple
SNACK Most commercially processed cakes, cookies etc. Low-fat low-salt nuts/crisps etc
Toast with peanut butter/jelly
DINNER Fried chicken breast
White roll and butter
Boiled vegetables
Ice cream
Glass of whole milk
Pasta with tomato sauce, without meat, or with small amount of meat chopped into the sauce
Salad and/or steamed vegetables
Cookie, fresh fruit juice


Our collective choice to eat a lot of meat and dairy foods in our daily diets results in intensive animal rearing practices called factory farming, which in turn results in a negative impact on animals, the environment and our personal health.


1. Construct an impact chart, showing three healthy and three unhealthy actions and their effects on the person and the environment, including animals, if relevant.

2. Survey how many people in your apartment building, or on your street:

  • know about what is happening to the rainforest and why
  • now why it is important to recycle plastic, metal, glass,, paper and newspaper
  • have a dog or cat wearing a flea collar
  • go to a hamburger/fast food restaurant more than once a week

Make up a chart showing:

  1. the results of your survey
  2. a suggested plan of action to help the neighbors in your building or on your street become more "environmentally-friendly."

3. Choose any ten household items (including food), e.g. bathroom cleaner, tissues, air freshener, soup, snack foods, cereals, tomatoes, etc.

  • Survey the different sizes available and the packaging treatments of each, in your local large supermarket.
  • Make recommendations for any changes you feel would make each item more "environmentally-friendly."
  • Write a letter to the chairman of each product company stating your recommendations.

4. Research what kinds of wildlife and plants may be found in a field and the woods around it. Construct three dioramas:

  • The first is this area undisturbed by human beings.
  • The second is this area after humans have walked through it, observing the wildlife and plants.
  • The third is this area after humans have driven jeeps and motorcycles straight through it.

5. Construct two charts, illustrating with pictures and objects: day, during which various thoughts. feelings and choices of action have some harmful impact on the individual or his/her environment.

* The second chart is about a personally-and environmentally-healthy day, during which no thoughts, feelings or choices harm the individual or his/her environment and/or may have a helpful effect on the environment.


  • The Animal Rights Handbook: Everyday Ways to Save Animal Live (sponsored by the ASPCA), 1990 Living Planet Press, 558 Rose Avenue, Venice, CA 90291. Discounts for bulk orders, call (213) 396-4858
  • Jensen, Dr.. Bernard and Mark Anderson. Empty Harvest. Understanding the Link between Our Food, Our Immunity and Our Planet, Avery Publishing Group, 1990
  • McDougall, John A. MD and Mary A. McDougall Plan, The McDougall Plan, New Century Publishers, 1983
  • Robbins, John. Diet For A New America, Stillpoint Publishing, 1987.
  • Sequoia, Anna. 67 Ways to Save the Animals, Harper Collins Publ., 1990


  • Heloise. Hints for a Healthy Planet, Perigee Books, Putnam, 1990.
  • Kohl, Mary Ann F. Good Earth Art, Bring Ring Publishing, 1991.
  • Miles, Betty. Save the Earth Knopf 1991.
  • Nations, James D. Tropical Rainforests: Endangered Environment, Franklin Watts, 1988.
  • Porritt, Jonathon and Ellis Nadler. Captain Eco and the Fare of the Earth, Dorling Kindersleyk, Inc., NY 1991.
  • Rosser, J.K. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's ABC's for a Better Planet, Random House, 1991.


You Can't Grow Home Again, (3-2-1-Contact) Children's Television workshop, 1990. 660 minute documentary about the rainforest, for grades 3-6.

Earth to Kids, (consumer Reports TV) Films Inc Video, 1991 (800) 323-4222,

Ext. 43. 28 minute documentary about recycling for grades 3-6.

APPENDIX 1.   Whate makes food and drinks healthy for human beings?

  • Large amounts of complex carbohydrates
  • Moderate amounts of pure water drunk by itself, not in coffee, tea or any other caffeinated or sugared drink
  • Small amounts of protein and simple sugars
  • Tiny amounts of many vitamins and minerals
  • Small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

Fresh quality, with few additives and high quality, preferably natural, preservatives

APPENDIX 2.  What makes foods and drinks unhealthy for human beings?

Large amounts of:

  • cholesterol
  • saturated fats
  • proteins
  • simple sugars
  • salt
  • caffeine
  • hormones added to animals' food during their rearing for meat consumption
  • environmental contaminants in the flesh of animals and in other animals foods

APPENDIX 3. Examples of items of significance to the environment which are found in an average kitchen and bathroom.


  • Redwood/teak or mahogany cabinets or furniture - from old-growth/rainforest timber.
  • Household cleaners - many contain harsh, toxic chemicals that are flushed into groundwater or rivers. Alternatives using plant - based, "environmentally-friendly" ingredients are now readily available in supermarkets and health food stores.
  • Paper towels - may be "first-generation" paper pulp from old-growth timber (from Pacific Northwest region), or may be "second-generation" i.e. from recycled paper (see label package)
  • Plastic wrap and plastic garbage bags - may be recycled plastic (and re-used bags) However, are not easily biodegradable. Recyclable alternatives are aluminum foil and even more environmentally-friendly, waxed paper and cellulose storage bags.
  • Brown paper bags - usually recycled paper and also degrade more easily in landfills.
  • Pet supplies - flea powders and flea collars may be toxic to animals and to the environment. Safer alternatives may be found in health food stores and through mail-order catalogs that are made from plant-based extracts.
  • Containers for recycling glass, metal cans, plastic bottles, newspapers and office paper - not found in all homes yet, but a necessary addition if we are to clean up our environment.
  • A composting pail - for an outdoor compost bin or pile, wherever possible.


  • Tissues and toilet rolls - may be "first-generation". Second-generation" from recycled paper can now readily be found in supermarkets, health food stores and mail-order catalogs. Plain white is better for the environment than colored or printed paper.
  • "Toilet dams" i.e. sheets of rubber, etc. to reduce the amount of water used during flushing - not found in many bathrooms yet, perhaps but a very important addition, to save water, especially in summer months.
  • Low-flow shower heads (see above comments)
  • Hand soaps, laundry detergents, air fresheners, cleansers - may contain harsh, toxic chemicals harmful to people and to air, soil and water. Many products are now available that contain plant-based and/or harmless synthetic chemical which do not harm the environment and which do not harm the environment and which biodegrade easily.
  • Cosmetics - man cosmetic and household product companies have stopped using safety testing methods that have live animals as test models. They are using a variety alternatives or using ingredients previously known to be safe for humans. Labels sometimes indicate this fact. Product labels usually have an "800" number to call for information. "Cruelty-free" products are now also readily available in health food stores and mail-order catalogs.

APPENDIX 4 :   Free-Range versus intensive methods of raising egg-laying hens

Free-range method: hens are kept the "old-fashioned way" in small flocks, free to run outdoors in natural sunlight, free to socialize, peck the ground, stretch their wings, and carry out their natural behaviors. Because they have adequate space to express their territorial urges, there is no hysteria and no need for debeaking. Usually the poultry farmer is committed to producing high quality eggs and so the hens' feed contains natural ingredients with no added pesticides, fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics.

Intensive (factory-farming/battery cage) method: hens are crammed, four or five, into a bare wire cage usually measuring 12" by 18". They spend their entire lives up to two years standing on a wire floor which causes painful malformations on their feet. Often their claws grow around the wire, trapping the bird. The extreme crowding results in extensive feather loss, producing red, sore skin as their bodies rub against the cage and each other. Unable to stretch their wings or legs, the agitated birds resort to excessive pecking of one another. To reduce this problem, laying hens are debeaked, a painful procedure which involves clipping or burning the beak top, without anesthesia. Over 50,000 hens are generally confined to one building, with fewer than three attendants to care for them. Egg collection, feeding and watering are completely automated. Illness and disease go undetected. Antibiotics are administered in their feed, to control disease and to enhance growth. It is believed now that this practice encourages the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella and other diseases communicable to humans. Poultry producers use a variety of other drugs which may cause cancer and birth defects.

None of these facts are on the label of the package of meat we find in our supermarket. the meat, egg and dairy industries are not required, by law, to show what is contained in their product as the processed, packaged food industries have been required to do. for further information about conditions for other food animals reared by intensive farming methods, see teacher resource list.