Sunday, December 05, 2010

Observations from UN-COP16: indoctrination

Thursday in Cancun for the UN Climate Change Conference, we visited their Green Village. As we waited for the doors to open, we were in line with quite a lot of school children – primarily in the 10-14 age range. The exhibits made for a great field trip for kids – except for the message.

As we entered the first exhibit area, we were greeted by an interesting display showing the sources of fuel/energy over the time that man has been on earth. It started with fire and wood for the cavemen and ended with today’s sources of oil, water, nuclear, wind, solar and coal. Included in the timeline was the population for the various time frames.

What was missing was context. Why did we see such an explosion of population numbers as we became more advanced as a society? What enabled people to stop being nomads and live year-round in colder areas? What technology gave us the ability to not worry about gathering wood or water and to build houses and hi-rises for housing?

Energy sources for machines and heating/cooling; coal and steam that are much more effective and efficient than wood and open fires; oil and electricity from coal or nuclear – these are what has allowed us to be where we are today. And, without having to worry about such things and warmth in the winter, we have focused on other technological advances and have grown our families and population.

But that wasn’t being explained to the children. They were being shown has the evil energy sources have led to overpopulation and an ‘attack’ on the planet.

The next exhibit was a world map on a large board. You would press a button in front of one of the energy sources and boxes next to each nation would digitally display what percentage that nation used of that particular source for their energy. France, it was no surprise, had the highest percentage from nuclear power. Mexico, if I remember correctly, had the highest percentage usage of oil. The United States, according to the map, got about 20-30% for a number of sources.

But clearly, there was a problem with the map, so we were told, as not one nation got more than a minute percentage of their energy from wind or solar or other ‘renewable’ sources. Some didn’t even register a full percentage point. The exhibit wanted you to conclude that the use of readily available and proven sources was a bad thing while the non-use of wind and solar was a problem to be corrected.

The common sense conclusion from the exhibit is that various nations use what they have a natural abundance of – Mexico using oil; the US using coal and Iceland using geothermal. France, without an abundance of natural energy sources developed their nuclear power grid. After all, when people look around for a way to improve their lives, especially since the days of the cave men, they don’t look to other continents – they look around and find, then use, what is available to them.

This could have been a great lesson in creativity and ingenuity that led to our industrial revolution and today’s comforts. But the children weren’t there to learn to think critically about such things so they could come to a common sense solution. They weren’t even there to understand why wind and solar aren’t more dominate. They were being a taught a political message and, being children, appeared to be learning it eagerly.

Perhaps the scariest exhibit I saw was one done by children. It consisted of great pictures that they’d done all displayed on the walls of the booth along with two large globes of the earth.

***Aside: I took a nice video of a young lady by the name of Stephanie explaining this project that her school did, but my videos were corrupted in the download process.

Stephanie, who spoke very good English, explained the ‘let the children speak’ exhibit, pointing out the differences between the two globes. The first one was very black – black buildings, dark colors, and lots of garbage and pollution all over the place. The shores of the continents were marked by cigarette butts, paper, wrappers, plastic bags, etc… In the Pacific Ocean, there was a huge ‘raft’ of aluminum can tabs. There were very few animals.

The second globe was very green and had beautifully-colored oceans. There were no hi-rises, lots of trees and lots of animals of all kind. Stephanie explained that one globe represented where we are today and how man has contaminated the planet by tearing down trees and polluting it. The second globe represented how the planet could be with houses powered by solar panels on the roofs and a restoration of extinct animals and more trees. When asked where she thought the world was today, she said somewhere in between.

But I was curious – as she should have been – and asked her about the lack of buildings on the future globe. I said that Mexico has millions of people and many of them live in cities in apartment buildings and hi-rises. I asked where all those people would live on the future globe. Either she did not understand my question due to the language barrier, or she didn’t know how to answer this common sense issue. She explained the hi-rises contaminate the planet because you have to cut down the trees in order to build them, but that people in the future globe would live in houses powered by the sun. She explained that we needed to stop cutting down our trees.

When I said that it didn’t seem like enough houses for everyone, she had no response. By that point, I decided my next question might actually produce a scene because I could only wonder how many more trees would have to be cut down to build one- or two-story houses to contain all the people who now live in hi-rise apartments. All those houses would have a much large impact on the number of trees to be cut down than a single apartment building. That common sense perspective – the innate curiosity that should have led to Stephanie and her fellow students wondering the same thing – was missing. But the political message was very clear.

There were actually two problems with this exhibit. One was the merging of issues like pollution (garbage) and conservation with the global warming scare tactics. The second was the indoctrination.

I’ve yet to meet someone who believes it is okay to pollute the planet. No one wants to see garbage by the side of the road or on the beach. Preventing such an outcome really has nothing to do with whether or not the temperatures of the earth are rising due to man’s actions. But again, that common sense observation was absent. But to the believers, common sense and critical thinking are not wanted as they might result in a challenge to the political message. This is indoctrination of young minds so eager knowledge that they soak up whatever authority figures, like teachers and the state (but I repeat myself), tell them. There is no context of opposing views – at least, not without derision and ridicule – and no encouragement of their natural curiosity, lest they ask a question that challenges the ‘consensus.’

And this is our biggest problem. President Ronald Reagan once said ‘the problem with Democrats isn’t that they’re wrong – they just know so much that isn’t true.’ If don’t stop trying to tell our children *what* to think, we will soon end up with a society that doesn’t know *how* to think. And when that happens, we are all doomed.

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