2010-03-19

Reflection: SGA Spring Project

Our school's SGA spring project this year was about awareness of pollution, environmental damage, and global warming.'
(If you find any factual issues with this post, please post a comment!)
Their intentions were admirable...

[Day 1 (2010 March 16) - The Future:
The SGA decided to illustrate its vision of the future (literally). To demonstrate the effects of future energy and water shortages, the vast majority of lights were turned off, while all but 2 bathrooms and water fountains were closed down. Furthermore, teachers were not allowed to use the copy machines or the interactive display boards (though this rule was not strictly enforced).
In addition to this, the date was set as Tuesday, 2060 March 16 (which happens to be an actual date). Rather than announcing pertinent news on after-school activities and such, the anchors decided to simulate a newscast on the disastrous effects of global warming by reporting the deaths of animals at the zoo and the deaths of polar bears in the Arctic Circle.
My problem with this, of course, is that environmentalism is not environmental alarmism. People shouldn't have to speculate and raise wild doomsday predictions; the environment is bad enough now as it is. Alarmism only turns people off from the cause of conservation; I think even Al Gore gets that now, as most presentations on environmental conservation have turned away from the Al Gore-style predictions of an environmental apocalypse many years in the future.
Closing the bathrooms and water fountains? Really? Was the school asking for a lawsuit?
The choice of reporting on animal deaths was also bad; if the environment gets that bad in 2060, humans will have a lot more to worry about [themselves] than animals at the zoo.
Essentially, the main problem was that the message on Tuesday was raw emotion combined with dystopian speculation. That won't work to convince people to actually take part in environmental conservation; to the contrary, that just makes people pessimistic and unwilling to actually change anything. What's necessary are moral and logical (solid data) appeals regarding the environment as it stands right now. This means that any and all (positive and negative) developments should be taken into account, stressing that while the positive achievements are great, the problem is far from solved.

Day 2 - The Problems Right Now:
Well, that was nice. The SGA really did read my mind and went for a fact-based approach, detailing all the problems our school alone has with trash and energy waste. It was good because it showed what's wrong right now in terms that are easy to relate to and understand. I also thought the water bottle tower and trash bag pile were really cool; this is the kind of simple but effective method that should have also been used the previous day. (I was disappointed to learn that the trash bags and the newspapers filling them are not going to be recycled. Can anyone support/refute this?)

Day 3 - The Simple Solutions:
Following up with the posters of all the problems we had, the SGA also put up posters of simple solutions that students can practice in trying to reduce waste of resources. This includes stuff like putting a computer to sleep when not in use, turning the monitor off, not running the water when brushing one's teeth, and unplugging device chargers when not in use, among other things. These things really do make sense and are easy practices to put into effect. The SGA came by with 2 videos and a presentation; one of the videos humorously illustrated these "Do's and Don't's".
Sadly, the other SGA video was not so good. The SGA used the size of a Chipotle burrito to help us relate to the effects of climate change on the food supply. It basically shows a current burrito get smaller in the future.
The problem with the video is that as the shot of the burrito is taken head-on, the "smaller" burrito is actually just the same size and is just farther back from the camera than the current-sized burrito. Even a 3-year old could do that trick.
On a side note, wouldn't it be better if burritos got smaller? (Then I could actually eat one! [Just kidding.]) But on a more serious note, isn't the larger size of everything at restaurants a partial contributor to today's obesity crisis, which has paralleled the rise in global temperatures? If we had smaller burritos, the strain on the food supply would be less, the burritos would be cheaper, and Americans in general would be skinnier (though probably not by a whole lot). The current system is basically a self-feeding destructive cycle which would need to be broken at some point either because of food shortages or because of obesity one day becoming even less in control than today.
The SGA members who came to our English class also talked about the "Do's and Don't's" of environmental conservation along with throwing around some numbers about pollution and global temperatures.
There were some problems with this too, however. Somehow, the SGA representatives for our class confused the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole, conflating the rise in carbon dioxide emissions with the widening of the ozone hole. In actuality, however, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the cause of the ozone hole. Since their banning in the 1970s and subsequent decline in use (though they are still being used in many air conditioning units), the ozone hole has shrunk considerably, and in the very near future we could potentially see a closing of the hole altogether. This was not the only problem, however: there were a few other minor mistakes, but also a major misleading statement.
The statement says that as global temperatures rise, the incidences of heart attacks and strokes will rise.
I can understand strokes, but heart attacks? Might that not just be because the rise in global temperatures is occurring at the same time as the rise in waistlines? There may actually be a causative effect, but right now this is just a classic case of correlation-versus-causation. Just like the example of how height and vocabulary generally increase with age (but learning new words does not automatically make one taller - otherwise, if I say so myself, I would be rather colossal in stature), the 2 are linked to time but not necessarily to each other (though they are also linked to increased populations and consumption habits). Despite the SGA's best efforts to shake off this notions, everything they said to achieve this only reinforced the view that global warming causes heart attacks.

Day 4 - The Presentation:
Today was the final day of the project (as done by the SGA - after this, it's up to us to save the environment), so the SGA made their final presentation to the entire school (split into 2 groups to ease seating in the auditorium, given the large school population).
The presentation wasn't too bad. Then again, everything the SGA did after Day 1 wasn't so bad compared to Day 1. But really, the presentation wasn't that bad.
The SGA spoke about all these efforts and had a guest speaker (who worked for Michelle Obama during the 2008 Presidential Election campaign) talk about more national efforts along these lines. I like the fact that he really emphasized jobs and energy independence (i.e. national security) as driving reasons behind going green. However, he culled a few slides from Al Gore's presentation, including the graph of global temperatures. It shows the changes in global temperatures over time. The temperature stays relatively constant over time until the very end, at which point the temperature dramatically shoots up.
However, if one looks at the time scale used, it is on the order of magnitude of many thousands of years.
Well, duh.
It becomes plainly obvious why the spike is there; the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution is a very short period of time compared to the time scale used. It's a prime example of using misleading scales to mislead the audience (even if the data itself is correct). What would be much more correct would be to graph the trend in global temperatures from the mid-1800s till now. For all that, humans did not settle down in agricultural communities until 12000 years ago.
There is one more egregious error that I felt so strongly about that I went up to some SGA members immediately after the presentation and corrected them on this; thankfully, they have said that they will let the others know, though I don't know if this will actually happen. As someone who is working (at NIST) on something that Energy Secretary Steven Chu has mandated (with respect to climate change and energy savings) and having attended a lecture based on his past (Nobel Prize-winning) work on lasers and supercooling, I do not appreciate hearing a manipulated biography.
The guest speaker claimed that [20 minutes prior to the start of his speech] he learned that Steven Chu graduated from our school.
That's not even possible, considering he was born in 1948. Assuming he was 18 when he graduated, he would have graduated 4 years before the construction of our school was complete.
Repeat after me: Steven Chu did not graduate from Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School. He was born and grew up in the Midwest.
The person they were thinking of was Chris Lu, who spoke at last year's graduation ceremony. He graduated in 1984. He is now Cabinet Secretary for the Obama Adminstration. Though it may be easy to confuse 2 Chinese gentlemen working for the Administration, they work in completely different fields. Anyway, Chris Lu is the only member of the Administration who graduated from this school.]

...but the execution was bad beyond belief. The SGA seems to have gotten so many facts wrong and makes such emotionally charged claims (without caring to look at the current developments, like the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs and the increasing use of domestic natural gas, etc.) that I'm not sure whether conserving the SGA way is really a good thing.
I'm for environmental conservation, but not for emotional reasons.
Put a different way, I think Arctic ice melting is a problem for humans, but not because of polar bears dying (though I like polar bears).
This project was definitely worse-executed than the Internet Safety project (2007) and the Every 20 Minutes project (2009), and probably just as bad as the Rock The Vote project (2008).

2 comments:

  1. I heard that the newspaper in the trash bags was going to be recycled?

    But other than that I agree with you entirely-other than the fact that in my opinion it was a TAD bit better than the Rock the Vote program. The Rock the Vote concert had very little to do with the actual project-political awareness and Gym Class Heroes??? At least today's assembly-though the speaker was terrible-was relevant, and the SGA showed a relevant intention

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the comment. I really do appreciate it (few people comment on my blog despite my repeated requests, probably because other than posts like this the material seems arcane).
    The news from both sides about the fate of the trash bags and newspapers are probably both rumors; I can't officially confirm one position or the other.
    Upon second thought, I agree that Rock the Vote was even worse - I never actually knew what it was about until 2 days ago. At least this was better publicized in that sense.

    ReplyDelete