From Order to Chaos: The Attack on the EPA

From Order to Chaos: The Attack on the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 under Richard Nixon’s administration.  Now in 2017, it is likely that at least 25% of the agency will be dismantled by the Authoritarian’s administration.

This is a crime against the well-being of all living things and their environment by the White House

Even before the current administration took over the White House, the Authoritarian’s transition team sent clear messages that the EPA was in trouble. The so-called transition team wanted names of EPA employees who worked on, wrote papers about, and did research in the fields related to climate science.

They were not doing this give out awards!  They did it put the EPA on notice that “we are out to get you.”

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Russian Science & Democracy: Which Comes First?

I received an email from Anya Kucharev, who I met in 1983 on the first AHP-Soviet-North America Exchange Project trip to the U.S.S.R.  Kucharev was known as the “cross-cultural Sherpa” for her work as a guide and interpreter during the Soviet-American citizen diplomacy projects in the 1980s and 1990s.  She is the Citizen Diplomacy Archive Project Director at Stanford University, and has more recently been involved with Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. interviewing participants and collecting materials from the Soviet State Archives.

Anya’s email called attention to an interview with MIT science historian Loren Graham by Leon Neyfakh.  The interview was published in the Boston Globe’s Ideas section and can be read here.

One of the ideas that appears in the interview is the significance of Russia’s failure to commercialize science.  Graham suggests that not using scientists and engineers adequately may be one reason that Russia has not transitioned to democracy.  The interview is interesting, and the many comments are as interesting.

I spent 20 years  participating as Director of the AHP-Soviet Exchange Project, and the Global Thinking Project which brought together teachers, students and their parents from Russia and the U.S., and many other countries.  As a science educator, I was introduced to a number of Soviet and Russian scientists, engineers, and educators.  One of the most remarkable experiences that we had during this period was visiting the town of Pushchino, which is about 75 miles south of Moscow.

Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow on the bank of the Oka River. It was founded in 1962 as home to Pushchino Biological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Up until about 1993, most the funding for the research centers came from the Russian Academy of Sciences. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the funding from the government radically diminished to about 10% – 15% of what it was. Thus began a program of reaching out to other funding sources not in Russia (Russia Foundation for Fundamental Research), but abroad, and the development of funding proposals to secure financial support. The various research facilities in Pushchino were able to collaborate with U.S. organizations including NATO, the European Environmental Research Organization, US State Department, as well a number of U.S. universities including the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.

We also interacted with many scientists through informal visits to Russian homes, and into the labs of science departments in some universities.

In 1989 I met Dr. Anatoly Zaklebyney, a professor of biology and ecology and a member of the Russian Academy of Education in Moscow. The GTP in Russia was organized by the Russian Academy of Education, and it was through that connection that Anatoly and I met and became close friends. He was one of the most respected ecology and environmental educators in Russia, and had been involved in the development of environmental education teaching materials, as well as in directing environmental science teacher education seminars in the summer in Siberia. It was Anatoly who introduced me to Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, whose ideas influenced the GTP, and our own understanding of the biosphere, geology, and life on the Earth.

One of the most profound books published in the last century, was written by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky.  Vernadsky’s ideas didn’t make their way into the west for many years. His original book was in Russian, and a French translation was published in 1929. And it wasn’t until nearly at the end of the 20th Century that his ideas were translated into English.

Interestingly, Vernadsky’s ideas were slowly coming into vogue in Russia at the same time that Gorbachev’s use of the concept perestro?ka (restructuring) took hold in the Soviet Union. Our work in the Soviet Union was propelled by the emergence of perestro?ka, and it aided in our work in Russian schools and in the Russian research institutes that supported us. An atmosphere of change was clear in our meetings with our Russian colleagues.

Vernadsky’s book is entitled The Biosphere (public library, 1927), which is composed of two lectures by the author that describe his conception of the biosphere, and it is the view that is accepted today by science (Jacques Grinevald, from the Introduction of the Biosphere).

The interview with Dr. Graham is important in the context of the increasing turn back to an authoritarian leadership in Moscow, and the deteriorating relationships with the West.

 

 

 

 

 

Can EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism Inspire New Ways of Teaching Science?

EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism  (Library Copy) is the title of a new book edited by Michael P. Mueller, University of Alaska, and Deborah J. Tippins, University of Georgia.  It’s the first in the new Springer Book Series Environmental Discourses in Science Education in trying to bridge environmental education with science education.

ecojustice bookI received my copy of the book in the mail today, and was very happy for Mike and Deborah who have worked for several years to bring together the research and writing of science educators from various parts of the globe.  One of the aspects of their work that is represented here is their remarkable dedication to challenging traditions, especially an ideology of human domination over nature, and not the deep ecological perspectives that were signaled by Rachel Carson and Arne Naess.

In my view, their book, a cornucopia of fresh, abundant and grounded ideas based on case studies, research reports, and theoretical perspectives, offers a vital alternative to the Next Generation of Science Standards.  One of the themes that overflows in this book is a repositioning of teaching and learning into contextual situations, rather than a collection of sterile, barren, and garden variety behavioral goals or, as the NGSS puts it, “performance expectations.”

The ideas of ecoJustice, citizen science and youth activism are largely ignored in the NGSS, and as a result the ideas that are presented in this book will require activism centered on the belief that youth of all ages and all cultures are quite capable of engaging in real issues in their neighborhoods, as well as expanding their horizons to take part in challenging opportunities to collaborate with others, and seek solutions to problems that face humankind.

We need to question the purposes of teaching science, history, mathematics, and language arts beyond the content specific goals of the Common Core State Standards, as well as the science standards that I mentioned before.  Ed Johnson has said in letters and reports, if fundamental questions about the purposes of schooling are not addressed, and if we can not agree on these purposes, very little will change the system.

The so-called education reformers (corporatism neoliberal) cut learning to performances that can be easily measured on standardized tests, which now are becoming more complex, and numbing, especially after the U.S. Department of Education provided more than $300 million in funding to groups who’ve developed standardized tests that measure academic learning in math and language arts, and science in near future.

  • What do these tests tell us about student growth in areas that will have more meaning to their lives than a score on a test?  Zero.
  • What do these tests really tell us about what students know in math, language arts, and science? Not very much.
  • How does the student’s love of music, art or the humanities play a role in fostering their interest in math, language arts, and science?  It isn’t very much, and indeed these areas of student life are not really considered important to policy makers.  And that’s too bad.

In contrast to the research reported in EcoJustice, Citizen Science and Youth Activism, the current approach to education created by the CCSS is a “neoliberal ecosystem,” mapped by Morna McDermott, Professor at Towson University, and co-founder of United Opt Out National.  McDermott visualizes a web of connections among  corporations and organization and the Common Core.  The map exposes the influence peddling that shadows and casts a pall over public education.

On the other hand, the work that Mueller and Tippins have put together their book shows how education for youth can be quite different from a more traditional perspective.  In the closing chapter of the book,  Angela Calabrese Barton explains why the current purpose of teaching science which is based on a scientific literacy that focuses on knowledge and skill development is simply not enough.  She writes:

Indeed, as I noted in my introduction, many hold the view that if simply teach students “enough” science (whether it be content or practice) then they will have what it takes to engage in civic society.  However, this functional view of science literacy attends to participation in the world as it is now, without attention to what could be.  It ignores the integrated knowledge and practice that may support young people in working with and in science to bring about a more just world for individuals or communities while also, themselves, being transformed by broader and more diverse participation.

Why are ideas such as ecoJustice, citizen science, and youth activism important when we consider the curriculum of the school, and lives of our students?

In the last chapter of the book, Angela Calabrese Barton titles her chapter: Taking Action with and in Science, and in particular suggests that we need to take seriously the work of students who take civic action with and in science.

In the view of the authors’ of this book, the curriculum should be reconsidered in light of the themes of ecojustice, citizen science, and youth activism.

Very little of the curriculum enables or indeed allows students to take action of civil, cultural, social, or environmental issues.  Most of school is learning stuff that will be on the standardized tests which are used in every state to rate and rank students.  And the data from these tests is now being used to rank, rate and judge teachers, putting at risk their careers based on the unremarkable algorithm (Value Added Model).

Are the Ferguson demonstrations that taking place around the country important in the lives of students in school?  Of course they are.  But are students’ concerns or ideas explored or discussed?  What role does school play in exploring the injustices that are being protested?

When a very powerful organization like the National Football League (NFL), and its partner teams decide to build a new stadium, do they really take in consideration where they build their bigger and more monstrous stadiums, who it affects, or what small businesses are affected.  In the end, who benefits from the construction of these humongous edifices?  Are their ecological and human injustices when a team such as the Atlanta Falcons uses its reserves of green to convince historical churches to move so that they play football?  If students were engaged to consider the ramifications of such an ecological project, what would they learn?  How would they convey their findings to the community?  And would their conclusions be of value to the community?

 Higher Ground

There are 27 chapters in the EcoJustice, Citizen Science, and Youth Activism book, and each is based on projects and activities that take place in real schools around the world.  These are not wild-eyed ideas that have been dreamed up by élite groups of folks.  Instead they have designed serious projects and programs that focus on a triumvirate of trends:

  • Ecojustice–evaluating the holistic connections between cultural and natural systems, environmentalism, sustainability and Earth-friendly marketing trends.
  • Citizen Science–a pedagogy of ways to enact ecojustice, especially engaging students in monitoring locally to uncover issues and problems in their own communities.
  • Youth Activism–another approach in which youth can come together to offer a platform for the community to consider.

Although some of the authors might not agree with my assessment of the Common Core or the Next Generation Science Standards, we do agree that we need to move to “higher ground,” an idea narrated by Mike Dias and Brenden Callahan.  They ask why is it so rare that students during the school day are involved in citizen science and youth activism projects.

Disclaimer: I am author of the chapter entitled Citizen Diplomacy to Youth Activism: The Story of the Global Thinking Project.

 

 

Climate Change: Are We In Trouble?

This is a reblog from the Moyers & Company website. It’s an article written by John Light that I’ve reblogged here as a follow up the May 7th post entitled Extreme Earth: Coming to an Environment Near You.

The National Climate Assessment Says We’re in Trouble. This Chart Shows Why. (via Moyers & Company)

This animated chart from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences shows the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Note the spike? Measuring CO2 in parts per million (ppm), the chart shows, first, how the amount of the gas…

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Extreme Earth: Coming to An Environment Near You

The Earth’s climate has changed rapidly over the past fifty years, but when people talk about climate change, they frame it as a future threat.

David Popeik, in Scientific American guest blog, says that “climate report nails risk communication.”  He suggests that the National Climate Assessment that was released by the White House presented a powerful report that he hopes will play a role in the U.S. acting on climate change.  He writes:

Most climate change communication has framed the issue as a future threat. Future risks don’t worry us as much as threats that are imminent or current. The basic message of the National Climate Assessment, offered repeatedly through the entire report, is that climate change is not something we need to worry about tomorrow. It’s something to worry about now. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” it reads.

In this post, I was to focus on the latest report about climate change, and how the report should be used to have people take seriously climate change.  I am convinced the earth is heating up (see Figure 1).  In one sense, we might say were living in a period of “extreme earth.”  This is not to say that there haven’t been other extreme (hot or cold) periods in the paleoclimate record.  But this extreme earth period was caused by the activities of humans.

Extreme Earth raises questions about the nature of science, especially as it relates to climate change. Global warming has been in the public eye for years now, as scientific panels and independent scientific research studies have suggested that the changes in earth’s weather and climate might, to some degree, be due to human activity, especially fossil fuel extraction and the burning of fuels resulting in a 25 – 30% increase in CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately the science of climate change has become politicized , and resulted in the what some say is a “head in the sand” approach to doing something about the changes going on all around us.  (see Hassard, Jack (2012). Extreme Earth: The Importance of the Geosciences in Science Teaching  Kindle Edition.)

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Figure 1. Temperature fluctuations from various sources over the past 1000 years. From Mann, et al 2008

Many of you are familiar with the environmental phrase, Think Globally, Act Locally.  We used it with middle and high school students as an important concept in the Global Thinking Project, which was headquartered at Georgia State University.

But, there is good reason to rephrase this statement, and put it this way: Think Locally, Act Locally.  In the Global Thinking Project, which was a hands-across-the-globe environmental science program, we engaged students in local problems (acid rain, ozone, soil erosion, water quality), but connected them with peers using the GTP telecommunications network and web resources.

The project helped students realize that studying their own environment was as important (maybe even more so), than connecting with problems in other parts of the world.  Don’t get me wrong, one of the attractive features of the GTP was bringing middle and high school students from different parts of the world together to share ideas, and solve problems.

But there is something missing about the issue of tackling the problem of global warming and the induced climate changing of which we are participants.

As Dr. Popeik says, climate change is now and it is affecting each of us at the local level.  If those of us that live in the Atlanta area think about extreme earth events that occurred in the recent past, we can list a few: the flooding of rivers and streams, a drought that cost many people their livelihoods, high temperature periods that were hazardous to many people’s lives, snow events that created chaos in Atlanta, Augusta and other communities, increased number of fire threats across the state, more tornadoes than have been reported in the recent past, and increased concern about hurricanes.

But perhaps one of the most serious problems that we face in the context of climate change, are those few deniers that distort climatology to support their political and economic views.  For example, some researchers have commented that the science of climate change has been distorted, and at the same time science is evoked as a defense. They describe how a handful of scientists obscured the truth, not only about climate change, but issues related to tobacco and to the government’s “star wars” strategic defense system. As they point out, the climate change deniers use the same “play book” that big tobacco firms used to try to convince the public that smoking tobacco was not associated with cancer. (see Oreskes and Conway, 2010).

In the field of science education, professional science teachers have had to deal with a subset of deniers who inhabit or hope to get elected to state legislative houses.  The Next Generation Science Standards, the latest published set of science standards in the U.S. have come under fire for the position and specific content related to climate change and global warming.  There is also the usual protest about teaching evolution, but for this article, we’ll limit it to climate change.

Several states have moved to block the use of the NGSS in their schools.  In Kentucky, a coal-producing state, the legislature blocked the NGSS, but the governor overruled them.  But it is the case in Wyoming where the issue of teaching climate change became a hot political issue.  Apparently some legislators objected to teaching “theories” and not ideas in science that had been proven.  But if we go deeper into the issue, we find that they oppose those theories that don’t fit with their world view.  In this case, supporters of the fossil fuel industry object to teaching any science that might put them in bad light.  In Wyoming, the NGSS was blocked by a footnote added to the state budget that prohibits the spending of any money on the review or revision of student content and performance standards for science.  Even their own!

 

Will data from the National Climate Assessment change people’s views of climate change.  Maybe, maybe not.  But those that oppose climate change science will probably not be swayed by this report.  After all, it is a government report.

But perhaps if people begin to realize that the extreme weather events that have come to them are do to an increasing risk for several weather events by the warming of the earth.  Most climatologists would agree that we can “blame” a single event (such as Hurricane Sandy) on global warming, but how can we not consider the possibility that the extreme weather events that have been documented over the past twenty years might be due to human activity?

Pictures tell a story more powerful than words, in many instances.  Here are few that might bring back events that affected you.

Figure 2. Extreme earth events in the U.S. Source: Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.
Figure 2. Extreme earth events in the U.S. Source: Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States:
The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.

Do you think the events of the past few years will impact people’s views of climate change?