Monday, February 15, 2010

The Stakes: Nonfiction Monday

Apparently the recent outbreak of unusually snowy weather in the south and east of the U.S. has been fodder for climate change skeptics. An NPR piece on this subject leads this way: “With snow blanketing much of the country, the topic of global warming has become the butt of jokes.” Jokes? Okay, I’ll admit to laughing on the odd negative-20F Minnesota morning when some wit quips, “so, how about that Global Warming, eh?” You know what, though? It’s less funny all the time.

The igloo below (photo courtesy of Senator Inhofe on various web sites), erected in DC last week, is a “joke” courtesy of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. The signs on it read “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.” I’m not laughing.

Wherever you happen to fall politically and whatever your position on the climate change debate (to the extent that there is one), this should terrify you. Inhofe is a member of the legislative body with arguably more power to influence the direction of global climate policy than any other on the planet, and this joke is the intellectual equivalent of seeing an airplane overhead and concluding the theory of gravity is bunk. It’s not just unfunny, it’s dangerously stupid.

The difference between “weather” and “climate,” between a single data point and trend are among the many, many things the next generation is going to need to understand in order to navigate a new century of challenges. I firmly believe this. If our elected officials and our news media are content to allow or even advance a false equivalency between scientific observation and political posture, then the people writing nonfiction for young people must equip their audience with the tools to separate the scientific wheat from the political chaff, the photo ops from the data charts. It's a high calling for high stakes.

Chart courtesy National Climatic Data Center.


mattcorey said...

I have been putting together a global warming controversial issue unit for my ninth grade students. I'm using AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH as well as articles published in ROLLING STONE and the WASHINGTON POST. I have to give the "other side" of the issue, so I'm including Ron Paul's petition to the House of Representatives.

What bothers me is that global warming is even considered a controversial issue.

One of the questions we'll be addressing is from a quote Al Gore used in his movie. It comes from Upton Sinclair: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

I think this is something that global warming opponents need to look at.

Blythe said...

Good for you, Matt. I appreciate the effort. Sometimes I get a little disheartened when I notice the currents of outright hostility toward science in this nation--but then I remember there are teachers at work. I'm sure there will be some negative reaction to even mentioning climate change as a subject, but I'm equally sure that the students need to have the opportunity to think critically and evaluate sources.

Anonymous said...

Who knew that Minister of Magic Fudge worked under so many aliases?

:( Tammy

lady hermes said...

I saw that picture and am so glad to read your comment on it. More needs to be said.

As the author of 2 books on the subject (WHY ARE THE ICE CAPS MELTING? Harper/Collins LRFO, illustrated by Paul Meisel, and WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT GASOLINE? also Harper an also illustrated by Paul Meisel.) I've been amazed at how many people feel that calling attention to this growing world crisis in a children's book amounts to abusing children or such. We need to learn all we can about the problem and figure out what we can do about it. What harm is there in that?