Preface: The following post by Dr. John Lemons argues that there is an extremely urgent need to systematically transform US higher education to create an informed citizenry about the scientific, social, political, policy, legal, cultural, and moral dimensions of climate change. ClimateEthics believes that US higher education is at least partly responsible for the failure of the United States to respond to its ethical obligations, duties, and responsibilities for climate change. The following post makes the case that “piecemeal” reform of higher education about climate change will not be sufficient and that comprehensive educational reform of higher-education is necessary.
Some have argued that the lack of political resolve to tackle sustainability issues stems from resistance to assumptions that modern economic and technological thinking will solve society’s problems (Basso 1996, Bowers 2003).
I have been living in Alaska the past few years, and in contrast to assumptions about faith in technology, some Inuit people tell me their foundations for government and education are based on traditional sets of relationships by which they have lived. Their fundamental belief is that the connections that individuals feel for each other and to their environment determine personal character and value to the community. Without using the word “sustainability,” for Inuits this belief is the definition of “sustainability.” Sustainability is a core value of Inuit life. Instead of having to be incorporated or infused into policies and programs, culturally embedded concepts of sustainability form a natural foundation from which all policies and practices are derived. This is an inversion of the usual approach to trying to incorporate sustainability in policies, laws, and practices of the Western world (IALEI 2009).
The problem of global climate change can be considered a subset of “sustainability.” Universities need to urgently, if not radically, respond to the challenges of anthropogenic global climate change by focusing on the complicated intertwined aspects of the scientific, social, political, policy, legal, cultural, and moral dimensions necessary for an informed citizenry.
Following, I discuss three topics. The first reminds us of the quantifiable scientific urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The second concerns the evolution of environmental and sustainability programs because their evolution can inform us about prospects of emergent global climate change programs. The third topic focuses on prospects for change in universities, especially those of research universities, which, as I also note, have influenced the teaching missions of small colleges and universities. Part of my critique is based on the view that comprehensive responses by higher education include a return to liberal education and education about climate change for all students.
The year 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (UNCHE 1972), when the concept of “sustainability” arguably first began to influence higher education and public policies. We have not yet achieved sustainability.
Dernbach (2002) described the checkered history of sustainability as “…stumbling toward sustainability.” Stumbling toward solutions of global climate change is not an option, or at least a wise one. Time is not on our side. How can we dislodge our universities from their lethargic responses to the kinds of problems we are discussing?
II.Global Climate Change Science: The Problem of Urgency
Scientific conclusions published after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report (IPCC 2007) indicate that not only are greenhouse gas emissions rising faster than IPCC’s worst-case scenario but that observed impacts exceed those projected (Allison et al. 2009, Levin and Tirpak 2009, New et al. 2011).
Recent scientific studies conclude that in order to avoid serious and irreversible impacts there is an urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 40 percent by 2020 or so compared to 1990 or 2000 levels (Hansen et al. 2008, Baer et al. 2009; Bates 2009; Kaufmann et al. 2009; Rockström 2009). Several major scientific studies conclude that avoiding serious and irreversible consequences of global climate change is plausible, but only if urgent actions are undertaken by developed nations, which means that greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak prior to or not later than around 2020 and then decline at an annual rate of six percent or more, eventually reaching a level close to zero if equity between developed and developing nations is to be honored (Anderson and Bows 2008, Ramanathan and Feng 2008, Baer et al. 2009, WGBU 2009, den Elzen et al. 2010, New et al. 2011).
These kinds of studies add a quantified dimension that has been missing from prior discourse about sustainability-the importance of which should not be underestimated. For decades, scientists have quantified human appropriation of natural resources but have not put any numbers on when our use of resources will have to peak and then decline in order to avoid so-called “unsustainable” tipping points. By way of contrast, global climate change science is now quantifying that within a matter of a decade or so, we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by certain levels. Urgency beckons.
III. The History of Environmental and Sustainability Programs in Informing Emergent Programs in Global Climate Change
During the mid-1960s and early 1970s, development of environmental programs began to increase during the so-called “modern environmental movement” (see, e.g., Lemons 1995, Silveira 2001, Merchant 2007). In part, the modern movement stemmed from publication of popular books such as Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949), Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968), to name a few, as well as from international conferences (UNESCO 1993, UNCHE 1972, Johnson 1993). Also contributing to the modern environmental movement were social changes in American culture: e.g., rising income levels that increased peoples’ demands for recreational and other amenities from “nature;” increasing education levels that enhanced values associated with nature; various environmental “catastrophes;” environmental and social activists who pushed for the restructure of society and the formation of alternative lifestyles; and the passage of bipartisan environmental legislation. Lastly, interest also grew from coverage in the popular media about threats to environmental and human health well-being.
Higher education responded to the broad modern environmental movement with the development of environmental and, later sustainability programs (Jacobson and Robinson 1990, Orr 1992, Weis et al. 1992, Lemons 1995, Silveira 2001, Feinstein 2009, Vincent 2010).
In part, the focus on sustainability stemmed from a successive evolution of the “modern” environmental movement toward administrative and legislative remedies, increased strength of “grassroots” and citizen-based activism, and concerns about environmental justice, respectively (Lemons 1995, Silveira 2001, Dernbach 2002, Merchant 2007). Scientific studies documenting the human appropriation of natural resource capital called attention to whether and to what extent humans are depleting the natural resources on which we are dependent (Meadows et al. 1972, Vitousek et al. 1986, Daily and Ehrlich 1992, Goodland and Daly 1995, Meadows et al. 2004). The increased focus on sustainability also stemmed from international meetings and reports (UNCHE 1972, WCED 1987), Johnson 1993, Lemons and Brown 1995), and university consortia with expressed commitments to foster sustainability and mitigation of global climate (ULSF 1990, ACUPCC 2006, Rowe 2007, Feinstein 2009, IALEI 2009).
A recent study estimates the number of environmental and sustainability degree granting programs has more than doubled over the last two decades from around 500 in 1990 to over 1200 today, and further, that jobs in these fields between 2008-2018 are projected to increase at a rate of around 28 percent, which is faster than the average for all occupations (Vincent 2010).
So far, the above history of programs might be viewed positively as judged by the growth in numbers and projected increases in job opportunities (Feinstein 2009, Vincent 2010). Yet, a positive assessment about the efficacy of sustainability programs in general, and more specifically about global climate change programs, is problematic.
With respect to sustainability programs, which to repeat any program in global climate change should be a subset, it is difficult to judge the success of universities’ initiatives in terms of enrollment, learning outcomes, altering attitudes and beliefs, or influencing environmental legislation (Bowers 2008, Feinstein 2009, May 2009).
Elder (2008) examined the status of universities in developing and implementing environmental and sustainability programs. He noted that while some individual schools progress towards environmental and sustainability literacy without external funding support, most programs are piecemeal, meaning at best they consist of a series of extra-curricula events, seminars, an elective course, or in a lesser number of cases a required course. Infrequently programs consist of full stand-alone majors and only rarely of entire campus-wide curricula programs. While the early evolution of sustainability programs benefited from a strong national environmental movement, there is no such movement in support of mitigation of global climate change.
According to Seersucker (2002), Bowers (2008) and Elder (2008), the enrollment of students in environmental and sustainability programs is relatively low, and most courses focus more on scientific issues which these commentators suggest constrains wide-spread support for the programs. The social sciences and humanities, which one might think would have a keen interest in sustainability and global climate change, have been slow to focus on them. Vucetich and Nelson (2010) note that a constraining factor on the success of sustainability programs, both in terms of content and inclusion within universities, might be the lack of university hires focused on the ethical dimensions of sustainability.
Another problem is that despite the vast scientific knowledge about the existence of a serious and urgent global climate change problem, a recent search of ERIC’s educational databases produced only about 70 peer-reviewed publications using “climate change” or “global warming” as search phrases. Most of the publications were not in research-oriented journals but rather in teacher practitioner journals focusing almost exclusively on aspects of teaching about global climate change in a scientific context, thereby not addressing the multitude of complicated but relevant non-science aspects. Further, it is too early to know the efficacy of university consortia such as the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment to foster sustainability and GCC initiatives because most member universities have not yet had to submit detailed plans for what they intend to implement, and have not, in fact, implemented very much (ACUPCC 2006).
IV. Change in Universities
Should universities change to urgently respond to GCC, and if so, how can they do so?
Thirty years ago, Derek Bob (1982), a former president of Harvard College, reviewed various roles of universities and examined why some adopt particular goals and programs and others do not. Discussion addressed whether universities should: (a)be relatively cloistered from societal demands and problems and dedicate themselves to learning and research for their own sake, benefiting society only indirectly through advances in basic knowledge and the education of able students; (b)respond energetically to society’s increased demands on career, graduate school, and professional preparation and training; or (c)set their own agendas for reform by deciding for themselves which programs to mount and projects to encourage in order to bring about needed social change. One of Bok’s conclusions was that the domination of modern research universities in higher education is detrimental to addressing pressing societal matters and fostering greater emphases on liberal education.
Clark Kerr (2001), a former Chancellor of the University of California, identified the increasingly strong funding and other relationships between the United States government and universities that results in pressure on universities to focus on research and development central to maintaining strong technological and economic capacity. Kerr noted that one consequence of this quest is that in the modern research university the discovery and application of science, often for economic ends, diminishes intellectual or moral inquiry per se. According to George O’Brien (1998), a former president of the University of Rochester, many people in modern research universities implicitly or explicitly adopt the view that they have little or no moral task because their purpose is to teach science and not virtue, which is to say teach only “truth” derived from scientific verification so that it can be manipulated with technology for economic ends. James Freedman (Freedman 1996), a former president of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, is critical of what he believes is a dominant view that the purpose of the undergraduate curriculum is to focus on career and graduate school preparation, which, of course, limits exposure to areas outside of one’s major.
These university presidents believe that universities have uncritically acquiesced to adopting curricula that represent the desires of powerful sectors within society; e.g., science, economics, business, and professional schools and neglected topics that could or ought be taught that deal with civic and moral issues. Although these presidents have focused on the role of modern research universities, they also recognize how such universities have influenced and thereby detracted from the purported emphasis on teaching at small colleges and universities¬–a point not to be undervalued. In short, these presidents lament the decline of liberal education and implicitly or directly associate the decline with problems of sustainability and global climate change.
If anything, global climate change fundamentally is a moral issue and, given this, Bowen (2008), Michaels (2008), and Oreskes and Conway (2010) are strongly critical of the decades-long ways in which large corporations, as well as some government agencies, have knowingly seeded scientific doubt about the threats of global climate change and, in fact, have at times changed scientific conclusions to fit administrative policy decisions.
Seth (2008) makes explicit the failure of higher education to address the strong ties between capitalism and ever-increasing consumerism which, of course, increases the problems of global climate change. Vucetich and Nelson (2010) demonstrate how the lack of inclusion of ethics into sustainability programs, and by extension those with a focus on global climate change, is stifling progress. Nussbaum (2010) also lends her voice to how universities have neglected liberal and civic education and by doing so contribute to the root causes of problems such as global climate change. Interestingly, more than 20 years ago the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS 1990) concluded that scientific goals to solve society’s problems are fostered by a greater emphasis on liberal education.
In their prescient book The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man, Shepard and McKinley (1969) argued that a change in western perspective was necessary to address problems of environmental and human health caused by our failure to pay attention to ecological limits and the moral implications of our use of technology. They also wrote: “Where now there is man-centeredness, ecology…faces the task of renewing a balanced view.” The essays in the book went on to say that much of ecology, if properly understood, is radical insofar as it is subversive to the powers that benefit from the status quo in society and that impose unjust harms on others.
Bowers (1997, 2008) and Orr (1992) are perhaps the most well-known critics of failures to include sustainability and global climate change into universities’ programs. They understand ecology’s subversive implications, as did Shepard and McKinley. Bowers and Orr also understand that it is fallacious to believe that required or elective courses here or there or even a degree program is sufficient for most students to understand the urgency and moral necessity of dealing with global climate change. Such minimal approaches cannot be effective when the overwhelming majority of the curriculum–which reflects the cultural mores of the larger society that is concerned about increasing the GDP through increasing consumerism–is so much more influential. This problem is, of course, related to an uncritical assumption of linear progress from scientific, technical, and economic power and innovations, which is to say there is insufficient concern about the harms to sustaining ecological and human communities resulting from faith in linear progress.
Parenthetically, I have used the term “liberal education” several times despite it being fraught with ambiguity. My operative definition is: “An education that helps persons be open-minded and free from dogma and preconceived ideology; conscious of and skeptical of their own beliefs and traditions; trained to think for themselves in a studied and mindful manner rather than defer to authority; understand the nested relationships between diverse individuals and human and ecological communities and the bridges that link their pasts, presents, and futures; recognize the value of multicultural diversity; have a focus on active and participatory citizenship; and are mindful about what needs to be conserved or changed, and why.” Accordingly, liberal education should include all academic disciplines for all students.
The failure of universities to develop comprehensive global climate change programs might also stem from a lack of attention to responsibilities that come with the protection of academic freedom, which not only allows faculty to conduct their own teaching and research, but also entails the responsibility to enable all students through university-wide programs of study to acquire learning to make significant contributions to society (AACU 2006). Academic freedom therefore requires faculty to advocate for the inclusion of comprehensive global climate change programs. Surely, global climate is a huge societal problem. Further, if faculty members avoid taking action this implicitly or unwittingly represents a form of advocacy because it is tantamount to supporting continuation of the status quo that is responsible for global climate change.
V. Concluding Remarks
Why should universities deal with global climate change in a more wide-spread and comprehensive manner? The reason lies within university responsibilities to educate about important societal issues across all disciplines, including the benefits of liberal education for all students. Recent quantifiable scientific evidence concludes that mitigation of serious and irreversible consequences of global climate change are plausible but only if urgent action is taken within about a decade or so. Drawing on assessments about the efficacy of environmental and sustainability programs, it seems clear that “piecemeal” approaches to addressing the complicated root causes and possible solutions to global climate change will not work. Because of the pervasive influences that have caused global climate change, its solution needs to include all disciplines and programs.
In order to foster comprehensive education about global climate change, it will be necessary for educators and environmental scientists and managers, and high-level university administrators to advocate for university reform. One might not relish being involved in advocacy, but the stark choice is this: Either engage in advocacy or not. But if not, understand that this is a decision, intentional or unwitting, to support the status quo that is responsible for global climate change. Scientists or other educators who might be reticent to engage in advocacy because of fear that it might compromise real or perceived objectivity would be well advised to read Lemons (1987), Nelson and Vucetich (2009), and Moore and Nelson (2010) which dispel myths about the legitimacy of such reticence.
William Butler Yeats wrote: “Education is not about filling buckets, but lighting fires.” If he was correct, there is precious little time left for universities to “light fires” and do what they can to mitigate global climate change.
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Department of Environmental Studies
University of New England
Biddeford, ME 04005
Great post. Thanks Dr. Lemons.
In my view, universities should be honest about, value, and facilitate human well-being as well as the well-being of the biosphere and environment on which we depend (not only for life itself, but also for sanity, meaning, beauty, and etc.). “Truth” in knowledge and understanding are vitally important aspects of this, but the “seek truth solely or primarily FOR TRUTH’s OWN SAKE” misunderstands the primary value of understanding. Indeed, wisdom is not identical to truth (alone), of course. And putting “truth” or “truths” to work immorally or negligently is not the same as putting them to work morally and responsibly. There’s a big difference, and it’s a difference we shouldn’t (using the term literally) neglect.
I went to Berkeley and Harvard and, although I am fond of them both, and admire them (in many ways), I’m also deeply disappointed in them, and in higher education more generally, because of what they aren’t doing (or are not doing enough) in relation to climate change and other sustainability issues. Presently, I live close to Stanford. I admire Stanford in many ways but am also disappointed in it. It presents an interesting case. Stanford houses some great champions of sustainability — including the late S. Schneider and the very-much-alive Paul Ehrlich — but it also houses (last I checked) the second-longest-serving member of ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors. It’s also home to one of the most elite programs for new members of corporate boards (a program of Stanford’s law school) — I doubt there’s very much genuine attention given to sustainability issues in that program — and also effectively lends bragging rights to its brand to ExxonMobil in exchange for funding that is not insignificant to Stanford but is a drop in the bucket to ExxonMobil. So, in short, Stanford is certainly a very mixed bag, presently, in terms of its role in relation to human sustainability. Many people there, I’m sure, have good intents and are working hard on the issues, but somehow my impression is that Stanford (or people working “in the name of” Stanford) are doing just as much to further our un-sustainability as to get us closer to sustainability. Probably most universities (including all of those mentioned here) are similarly schizophrenic.
So I agree that changes would be wise, and will be necessary.
This post is solid and its urgency is clear, but while those of us who read it or contribute to the ongoing dialog are more alarmed with each passing day, I see little being done to turn outward and reach the broader population. How do people selling products succeed, even when their products may be demonstrably destructive of human health, such as sugary beverages? They appeal to the basic instincts of people, immediate feelings, primal urges, even with such “posinon” phrases as “It’s the real thing!” which get a positive emotional response but communicate no meaning. I am convinced that when we have
best selling novels, Broadway hit musicals, TV reality shows and even the Wrestling industry carrying forward the urgency of the climate situation, things will change. No amount of research, intellectual blogging, ethical philosophy or academic agitation will turn the world around. When Everyman comprehends all the science and economics and human impacts it will be too late, and the world will be beyond the tripping points where multiple forcings cannot be undone. We must not wait for universities to move. We must move those who hold the levers that control Everyman, the artists, copywriters, sales and promotion people to grab the attention of Everyman and get him/her in motion. Let’s get the people who can sell cigarettes on board and get them to sell the reality of Climate Change to the populace as a whole. Universities are hopelessly slow and cautious about reform. Many have forfeited their credibility by backing their highly paid and tenured economists, law and business professors who should have been able to see the onrushing “economic Armageddon” that their teachings have fostered.
Thanks to Penn State and the Rock family, especially Don Brown, for this continuing dialog called ClimateEthics. If only we could be as good at jingles, logos and slogans as the commercial people are at selling basketball shoes, cigarettes and “energy drinks.” Does anyone have a suggestion? I know Al Gore’s movie won an Oscar, but because his name is anathema to many, it may have been counterproductive.
James P. Louviere email@example.com
I agree completely with your comments. Especially, the one about the difference between “truth,” which in universities tends to mean something that is verifiable according to natural science, social science, or economics normative methods, and “wisdom,” which is something different. It is the latter we should be pursuing.
The question I posed in my commentary, which I do not have an answer for, is given the urgency of global climate change how do we bring about change in a sufficiently timely manner?
People such as yourself who make their views known become important and necessary advocates for change. How do we get the mainstream academics to go along?
Again, thanks for your comments.
The problem is that most people have no idea what science is all about. People are being fooled by the fossil fuel industry because they don’t understand what science is. Democracy depends on the average citizen being able to understand the issues. In the 18th century, that requirement was met. In the present time, that requirement is not met. ALL college majors, even music and drama, should require at least the “Engineering and Science Core Curriculum.” All high schools should require 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 8 years of math of all students.
In a technological society, everybody has to be a scientist in order to understand what they need to know to vote. Without that basic knowledge, you are just too easy to fool.
See: “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler, 2006. As the Tofflers say: “Science is different from all the other truth-test criteria. It is the only one that itself depends on rigorous testing.” They go on to say: “In the time of Galileo . . . the most effective method of discovery was itself discovered.” [Namely Science.] The Tofflers also say that: “The invention of scientific method was the gift to humanity of a new truth filter or test, a powerful meta-tool for probing the unknown and―it turned out―for spurring technological change and economic progress.” All of the difference in the way we live now compared to the way people lived and died 500 years ago is due to Science. The other truth filters have contributed misery, confusion, war, fanaticism, persecution, terrorism, inquisitions, suicide bombings, false imprisonments, obesity, diabetes and other atrocities.
See: “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul, 1980, University of California Press. In this book on the Eloges of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1699-1791) page 99 says: “Science is not so much a natural as a moral philosophy”. [That means drylabbing [fudging data] will get you fired.]
Page 106 says: “Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.”
Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority. That means that scientists are NOT the authorities. NATURE is, and when you try to violate Nature’s laws, things go rather badly for you. For example, jump off of a tall building and try to violate the law of gravity.
People call scientists “self-righteous.” That is wrong. The simple truth is that all other so-called “truth” is just plain wrong. The only way to change the culture is to give laboratory courses starting at a very young age. Make no mistake; what is required is a change of culture and religion. “God” will not save us because there isn’t one.
When I said things will go rather badly for us as a species, I was referring to the population crash that will happen circa 2052. I refer to work by Aiguo Dai, Barton Paul Levenson, Brian Fagan, Jared Diamond, William E. Rees, K. E. Trenberth, and T. Qian.
“Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series” by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published.
Under BAU [Business As Usual], agriculture and civilization will collapse some time between 2050 and 2055 due to drought caused by GW [Global Warming].
Reference: “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses. Fagan and Diamond told the stories of something like 2 dozen previous very small civilizations. Most of the collapses were caused by fraction of a degree climate changes. In some cases, all of that group died. On the average, 1 out of 10,000 survived. We humans could go EXTINCT in 2051. The 1 out of 10,000 survived because he wandered in the direction of food. If the collapse is global, there is no right direction.
“Population crash” means that the human population of Earth goes from somewhere between 7 and 9 billion down to somewhere between zero and 3 billion. Extinction is included in the possibilities. The primary reason will be the collapse of agriculture.
As you point out, science can inform us about many things. As you also point out, knowledge gained from science has been used in ways that have caused both harms and benefits.
While scientific literacy is a huge problem in this country, there is a lack of understanding of the moral dimensions of global climate change that causes great harms. Many Americans do not think or care that the current and historical emissions of greenhouse gases from our country impose avoidable harms on the most vulnerable people, present and future, who have done little to contribute to the harms. Or they do not understand the limitations of how the United States uses cost-benefit analyses to, basically, calculate economic costs to itself and ignores those imposed on other nations. So scientific literacy is only part of the problem.
And as James has rightly pointed out, unless the wider population beyond the universities becomes more literate and, as well, reduces its consumption little will be gained
Thanks for your comment. Yes, good question. Just a couple quick thoughts:
One effort-getting-going is called the “MAHB”, at Stanford, involving Paul Ehrlich, Douglass Carmichael, some others at Stanford, and some from other universities, including Dr. Brulle, who sometimes posts on ClimateProgress. It is an open group trying to expand and make a difference. (Stanford’s S. Schneider was also a founding member and was very active before he unfortunately passed away.)
I think one part of the answer to your question has to do with critical mass, of course. More and more folks within and outside academia have to band together and encourage change, request it, and insist on it, as well as help facilitate it.
There is also a gentleman — Nicholas Maxwell, a retired philosopher from University College London — who wrote a great book, long ago, called ‘From Knowledge To Wisdom: A revolution for science and the humanities’. He is still very active, or at least somewhat active, in the U.K. trying to get academia and society itself to make the move from pursuing “knowledge” for “the sake of knowledge itself” to pursuing and facilitating wisdom, which of course includes knowledge within a broader context having to do with aims, exploration of aims, human (and other) well-being, and so forth. Putting knowledge to good use, seeking knowledge that can be of good use, and not shying away either from understanding ‘good use’ or from engaging society to enhance well-being and so forth.
Again, I think one part of the answer is critical mass. How to get more and more of these people connected, talking, and so forth?
Cheers for now,
Here’s the video record of speakers at an excellent U Illinois conference. It lit some fires and encouraged a good deal of cross-dept activity by faculty.
PlanetU: The Human Story of Climate Change
James P Louviere | December 29, 2011 1:19 PM
It has been some time since I comented, and things are, of course becoming more urgent by the minute. Today’s headlines? US Warns Iran not to Close the Straits. Why? Because we are fatally co-joined with all the fossil fuel exploiters. (How dare anyone say “We produce 4 million, or 10 million, barrels of oil a day. Natural processes over unmeasured ages produced coal and crude oil. Huge corporations and soverign powers gouge the Planet and extract the materials, convert them into countless useful products, many of which will, like CO2, remain in our environment for a hundred years or, like plastics, many hundreds of years. They issue no caveats, give no quarter when it comes to admitting the dasterdly nature of their unconscionable behaviors, policies and schemes.
The current (December 28 2011) concerns about the Keystone Oil Pipeline is understandable, but in the larger context, the acidification of the oceans and the release of methane from underwater and permafrost clathrates is much more threatening.
We cannot simply demand that students in our high schools take more and more science courses. Education by coercion is counterproductive. If we offered our students real science courses involving real quantitative and qualitative research, and combined that with the challenge of adding the “D” to the R&D so critically important in our survival as a productive nation, then we may be able to halt our slide into irrelevance and bankruptcy and once again become the creative innovators that can produce high value results instead of more coal “producers” (ha!)
and oil & gas “producers.”
But science teaching must be done by teachers who understand science. Many do not, for they may have been in some kind of touchy-feelie “science” courses, but few are really researchers or innovators themselves, and many are simply pressed into teaching science (especially in grades 1-12) because there are so few genuine science experts available.
The result is science is often taught “by the book,” without anything but cook-book style labs, if any labs are actually done. I suggest that schools of education bring in professors of chemistry and physics and mathematics who really have that certain heart that lets them lead would-be science educators into the “hard sciences” in a humane and enlightened way, but, as Seymour Papert says in his many writings, hold the students to the “hard fun” that is lab science and the creation of their own mental concepts and hands-on experiences that will give us citizens who go into adult life understanding what research is and able to tell scientific facts from facile fiction.
James P Louviere