The environmental sciences/studies movement, with more than 1000 programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, is unified by a common interest-ameliorating environmental problems through empirical enquiry and analytic judgment. Unfortunately, environmental programs have struggled in their efforts to integrate knowledge across disciplines and educate students to become sound problem solvers and leaders. We examine the environmental program movement as a policy problem, looking at overall goals, mapping trends in relation to those goals, identifying the underlying factors contributing to trends, and projecting the future. We argue that despite its shared common interest, the environmental program movement is disparate and fragmented by goal ambiguity, positivistic disciplinary approaches, and poorly rationalized curricula, pedagogies, and educational philosophies. We discuss these challenges and the nature of the changes that are needed in order to overcome them. In a subsequent article (Part 2) we propose specific strategies for improvement. ?? 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.