Echoes into the Future

posted in: Blog, Energy, Environment, News and Issues | 0

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

-John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed

Spirits of Hopkins

The auditorium at Benjamin Franklin High School is as dim and faded as the community that surrounds it.
The wooden seats are draped with the heavy coats and protest signs brought for the long march ahead.
The crowd, clusters of young and old, leans into the speeches to sort the earnest words from the echoes that chant them back again. A painted outline of the proposed incinerator belching smoke looms behind Kelly Klinefelter Lee, the English teacher at the school as steps to the podium and raises up a spirit from the past.

“The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”

Lee pauses for a moment, letting the room fill with these words from the past.

Published over three quarters of a century ago, these words by a Dewey, (Hopkins Ph.D. philosophy, 1884) still remain important revelations for our educational system. His ideas can be recognized in new initiatives for project based learning, service learning and community schools.

Then Lee adds her own voice, her own echo.
“When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.”
“I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.”
“There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.”

“Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?”
“You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most.
You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this.
So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.”

“It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?”
“This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.”

“We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.”
As the applause greets Lee back to her seat among the crowd, it is clear that the ideas of John Dewey are alive here. His ideas can be recognized in project based learning, service learning and community schools. Studying stuff that matters. Solving problems in the world.
Dewey viewed education as a social process and the school as an institution which would create social reform.

As students march with their teachers, parents and supporters to the site of the proposed incinerator
their voices ring forward together to protect their families and community.

“Who’s City?” “Our City!” “Who’s City?” “Our City!”

It’s a cold mile march past piles of coal to the chain and barbed wire fence that surrounds the site of the proposed incinerator.
But as students talk about the pollution in their community, the class where all the kids had asthma, and the neighbors who have died from cancer,
there is an echo of another voice whispering from the past. Rachel Carson (Hopkins MA, 1932) pointed out the effects of chemicals on the ecosystem in her book, Silent Spring, a hauntingly beautiful love letter and requiem to the world. She urged us to realize that as part of nature, we too, taste the effects of the poisons we spread.

So when Destiny Watford worries that the incinerator could aggravate her mother’s asthma and when Michael Graham worries that people will be killed for profit, it is clear that these new voices will send their echoes into the future just as Carson did.
Our buildings, roads and universities often bear the names of those who have built and gone before. We travel on and through them to our destinations.
But it’s the invisible avenues of thought, practice and conscience that guide us best through our lives and toward our future.

At the dark end of the road, these voices from our past offer us light and compass to illuminate and choose our path.
They beat within our hearts and connect us hand in hand with those who went before and those who will follow.
The students, teachers and community of Benjamin Franklin High School are learning and marching together, shouting and singing their care for each other and their world.

Who will hear their echoes?

Will Science Kill Us or Save Us?


Will Science Kill Us Or Save Us?

The record so far is…Yes.

Nice invention, da Vinci, but if the plane flies, how would you shoot it down?
Great theory, Einstein, but how can we use it to make bombs that could destroy the world?
Nice process, Haber, it can help produce food to quadruple the world population.
So how can we use it for gas warfare and explosives?
Interesting demonstration, Edison. How many enemy soldiers did you say your machine could electrocute?
Even our vaunted Nobel peace prize, was established by Alfred Nobel who established over 90 armament factories in his lifetime.

So the jury is out on science and its getting more interesting by the moment.
Because it appears that we have been participating in man’s largest experiment– without noticing for the first 150 years.
This climate change experiment is particularly interesting for two reasons.
First, we are experimenting upon the entire world in ways that could have drastic consequences.
Second, we are trapped inside it.
Seems like this would create incentives for good outcomes and rapid results don’t it?
Once we experimenters realize that we are inside of the experiment we would immediately start altering the conditions to ensure that we and our planet live long and prosper, right?

Happy music plays, everyone hugs, movie ends. Goodnight, thanks for coming!

But…..
It is not quite going that way, is it?
You see this experiment involves a small zoo of lab animals. We have white mice, chickens, monkeys and sloths.
The white mice are wearing lab coats and pointing to charts of steadily dire temperature readings and photographs of melting ice sheets. They are standing on tip toe atop reams of data and squeaking as loud as they can to be heard . “It’s bad! Must change!”

The reaction among the rest of the animals is mixed.

The Big Chickens that own coal and oil companies are running around screaming “The sky isn’t falling! The sky isn’t falling! And the sea won’t rise!” They are very adamant that smoke from their products won’t harm us, just like the tobacco companies were very adamant that their cigarettes wouldn’t cause cancer.

The Scared Chickens with insurance companies have put money on the high water lines and they are squawking up a storm. With greenhouse emissions on the increase, insurance is becoming a very risky business. Payouts for flooding and extreme weather events endanger their golden nest eggs. These conservative guys are running the numbers and they do not like the odds.

The Monkeys have grabbed the car keys and are stepping on the gas. They like it fast and cheap and have their eye fixed on their bank account, the next quarterly return and their bucket list. They will fly across the world to view the melting of the last glaciers and put the images on flicker so their great grandchildren can have a glimpse of what was. But they won’t insulate their homes or put up a solar panel. Storms keep wiping out beachfront properties? Rebuild! Let’s Keep Dancing Until the World Ends!

The Sloths are hanging listlessly in the branches of government sending emergency aid to an increasing number of disaster areas, allowing oil pipelines and exports of oil, gas and coal. Money to improve energy efficiency or to switch to renewable energy is just a few inches from the sloths reach and he is pondering whether it’s worth the effort.

So with these animals running the zoo, things have not gone well.
Since the Kyoto Protocol world greenhouse gas emissions have risen by an average of two percent each year.
Of the ten hottest years recorded since 1880, nine have occurred in this decade.
The word from government isn’t “avoid” or “protect” any longer. It’s resilience.
Resilience is the new “Duck and Cover” from the Cold War where children were taught to hide under their desk in case of a nuclear exchange that would destroy life on earth. It means that we are willing to spend far more to try to patch a broken world than it would cost to protect it now.

If a foreign army or terrorist group attacked a square foot of American soil, we would sacrifice our lives and treasure to reclaim that soil and bring the invaders to justice. But what do we do when it is us attacking our planet with our needless carbon emissions? Who do we gas, bomb or electrocute then?

Scientists can no longer be patient, quiet or neutral as this war is waged upon our world.
Our future demands that we play a deep role in realigning human endeavor with our natural world.

Once we pretended to be the controllers of the world, somehow above and apart from nature.
But we now know that we are woven inexorably within the web of the living systems of our world.
Incentives that allow the few to profit as they poison our earth, our air and our bodies can no longer be tolerated.
The true costs of dirty energy should not be paid with the health of our citizens and the future of our world. Shifting the costs of pollution onto governments and citizens is not true capitalism or free enterprise but plunder and folly.
Scientists, health experts and economists must now join together to demonstrate the true costs of pollution and the economic viability of renewable energy.

And let’s join with some good lawyers.

As scientists we collect and analyze data using sound scientific principals and standards.

Lawyers call this evidence.

Just as tobacco companies had to pay for some of the health costs of their products, the coal and petroleum industries should pay for some of the damage they have done to our air and our health. They should carry insurance and bonds against future health and damage claims.

This will change the economics of pollution. No longer will those who pollute the air and water remain free of the health, economic and social costs that they create for others to bear. And the money from these payments will help develop and implement clean and truly cheap energy sources for our world.
At last, our free enterprise system will be able to choose energy, technology and industry that is truly efficient and sustainable.

In this experiment we are not chained and blindfolded like Houdini, but free to move inside the invisible box of our atmosphere like Marcel Marceau to create solutions that will protect us and our world. Let us not miss this critical moment to create a non-smoking planet.
It is time for science—for us– to save the world.

Recalculating: Missing the Off Ramp on the Road to Climate Change

posted in: Blog, Energy, Environment | 0

Recalculating: Missing the Off Ramps on the Road to Global Warming

My GPS left me after our first drive together.
Her voice was so calm, mechanical and authoritative that I imagined her wearing a neatly pressed uniform inside my phone.
“Turn left at the next exit.” She faltered in surprise when I continued down Main Street.
Failing to make the next “turn left at the next intersection” resulted in a stern, but matter of fact: “recalculating..” and a “turn right at the next light…”
By the fifth missed turn, GPS was clearly annoyed, spitting out “RE- CAL- CU- LAT ING!!! In the loud slow syllables normally reserved for BAD! DOG!
GPS grabbed her phone and turned so I wouldn’t hear, but her voice was fast and exasperated.
“Hundreds of billion dollars in research, satellites, telecommunications and computerized speech technology to give this guy directions and he won’t make a friggin’ right turn!”
GPS got out at the corner. “I’m going to look for someone who will listen to me.” She said. “Don’t try to find me. Then she bursts into a laugh “…you’d just get more lost…”
Years later, I’m still driving through the city in pinball style, but GPS has been calling to ask if we could get back together.
Her voice is worn and raspy.
“They sent me over to help guide climate control policy.” GPS takes a long, deep breath.
“These guys show up every few years with their same list of resolutions that they blew off last year. Ok, this year we are really, really going to cut down on smoking. They set a goal of cutting down for say 20 years from now and adjourn to the courtyard to light up another pack. They take some pictures, get drunk and hop back on the bus and hit the gas.”
“And while they are blowing past their emissions goals, guess who is supposed to be giving them directions?
I’ve had to shout RECALCULATING so many times that the bozos have made it into a drinking game.
Every time they blow past an emissions goal, someone has to take a shot of whiskey and grab the steering wheel.”

“Know what’s happened since the Kyoto protocol where they decided to end global warming?”
“Greenhouse gas emissions have increased an average of two percent every year! And all they can talk about is whose fault it is. The United States took off some pounds by shifting its manufacturing to China and is now pointing out how big China’s butt is getting.”
“When are they going to get it? We are all together on one big scale. The atmosphere doesn’t care which country dumped the most carbon into the air.”

“Did you see the report on global climate change yesterday? Nine of the ten warmest years since 1879 have been in the last decade. But every time it snows, somebody declares that climate change was a myth.”

GPS pokes her finger at my chest. “So when you breeze past an exit, you are going to be late for your meeting.
But when these guys blow past one, there goes Micronesia and half of Florida.
So as they year after year I’m screaming at them to get off this carbon freeway and year after year they blow by the exits faster.
“Can’t slow down now,” they tell me, “jobs and economy and all that.”

“So here I am using big data and global modeling to guide them away from the broken bridge ahead, but they won’t turn away from disaster. All we are asking is an honest switch from dirty to clean energy. It will create jobs and save cities and economies.
But these BOZOs sit down with their coal and petroleum friends and start drawing underwater cities and talking about resilience!
You know what resilience is? Duck and cover! Because we have set off climate changes that are going to come after us.”
GPS sounds tired, defeated. “I guess they are right–Dig data can’t change little minds.”

“You know what hundreds of billions of dollars of research and technology have given us?”
“The precise location where we buried our heads in the sand and a pretty good prediction of when the ocean will cover it.”
I try to smile to shake off the irony, but GPS just shakes her head and wipes at a tear.
“It’s just that when we finally reach our destination, I wanted the world to be as beautiful as was when we got on the bus.”

Shan Gordon

Questioning Energy Answers: The best speech I’ve heard this year.

Excerpted from a speech by Kelly Klinefelter Lee, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School on December 18th, 2013. She spoke to a group of students and citizens protesting the planned construction of the largest incinerator in the United States in a Baltimore neighborhood already among the most polluted areas in the country. You can see video of her speech and the protest at www.coolgreenschools.com.

The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”

When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.

I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.
There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.

Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?
You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most. You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this. So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.

It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?
This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.
We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.

Interviews with Protestors of Energy Answers Incinerator

Interviews with Destiny Watford, graduate of Benjamin Frankin High School, Charles Graham, student at Benjamin Franklin High School and Mike Ewall, Director of Energy Justice Network at the protest march against the planned Energy Answers Incinerator on a site one mile from the High School. Students said that the plant would add pollution to their industrial neighborhood which is already one of the most polluted areas in the country.

Energy Answers Questioned. Why Students Are Fighting a Planned Incinerator Near their School.

Benjamin Franklin High School teacher, Kelly Klinefelter Lee thanks students for their critical thinking skills and citizenship as they continue to study and object to the proposed Energy Answers Incinerator. The proposed incinerator would be built on property a mile from the school and would burn waste including car tires and car parts from Maryland and other states. Curtis Bay is an industrial neighborhood in Baltimore that is already among the most polluted areas in the country.

Protest March Against Energy Answers Incinerator

Students at Benjamin Franklin High School lead protest of the Energy Answers Incinerator planned for construction at a site a mile from the school. Students fear that the incinerator will bring waste including car parts and car tires from other other states and will add lead, mercury and fine particulate pollution to their neighborhood that already ranks as one of the most polluted areas in the country.