From Earlham Cluster Department
Thoughts on Global Crises
- In your view what are the three most important challenges society in the near term (say 50 years)? Why are each of these so important? What does science have to offer for each? What does technology have to offer for each? Your entry should clearly address which are science based and which are technology based. You can describe both science and technology approaches for each of the problems you identify.
In the next 50 years, the human race will be facing challenges dealing with the health and welfare of our planet and peoples. Scientists claim that our window of opportunity to effectively counteract the effects of global warming is swiftly closing, there is a shortage of available, clean, fresh water in many parts of the world, and diseases like cancer, AIDS, and malaria continue to spread.
Science has already done a great deal of its part in dealing with issues surrounding global warming. Scientists have tracked and measure the rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sought explanations for strange phenomena such as changing weather patterns and decreasing wildlife populations, and discovered the impact of human activities on the earth and its systems. We know we must cut back on the consumption of fossil fuels and emissions of carbon dioxide, and now we must turn to technology to provide efficient and effective means of doing so. Wind, solar, and nuclear energy might all be part of the solution, but still pose problems such as waste management, expense of production versus profit, and energy distribution.
While science has provided us with a number of ways to clean water and make it potable, the problem seems to be finding ways to do it cheaply and efficiently, in order to make the technology available to people in the parts of the world that most suffer from water deprivation. Water cleaning and distribution systems must be affordable to and usable by people whose material and knowledge resources may be limited.
Finally, the spread of disease is a problem that we continue to deal with, and will in the future. While science has taught us a great deal already about the causes of cancer and the nature of the spread of AIDS and malaria, it is technology that we must now employ to develop cures and preventative measures. While we do not know how to "cure" viruses, we do know how to create vaccines to prevent them. Technology has provided us with malaria vaccinations, why can't it provide us with an AIDS vaccine? The issue here is not that we do not have the technology, but that the people with the resources to do so have their attention drawn elsewhere, usually to more economically beneficial endeavors.
The designers of the Atmosphere at London's Science Museum exhibit chose to feature several topics dealing with climate change. A separate kiosk addressed each of these topics:
- The impacts that future climate change will have on the Earth, and the choices that will be faced by the humans inhabiting it
- The Carbon Cycle
- The processes of Earth's atmosphere
- The history of climate research
- The causes and effects of greenhouse gases
The kiosks were designed to be approached in any order, and all possessed at least one interactive game or activity to supplement the informational displays. These made for a far more entertaining learning experience than the standard pictures/diagrams/artifacts with informative plaques set-up. Rather than making me feel I was being tricked into learning something, the interactive displays made the intake of information feel like an exciting process of discovery. I was really impressed with the way technology was employed in the pedagogy of the exhibit.
For example, in the kiosk that explained the sources and effects of greenhouse gases, there was a display that involved participants by inviting them to turn the blank pages of a book. Illustrations and text would appear on the screen that corresponded with the page that the book was opened to. While this may seem a bit gimmicky, I liked it because watching the technology work kept me engaged with the material much longer than I would have been if the same information was simply posted on a sign. Another favorite of mine was the game in which the player had to warm Earth's atmosphere by aiming the sun's rays through the clouds, and then holding in heat energy by moving particle in the atmosphere. This simple game was a lot of fun because it reminded me of the computer games I played as a child as well as what I already knew and had semi-forgotten about how the Earth keeps its inhabitants warm.
I felt that most of the information in the exhibit was not new to me, but it was nice to have a good number of facts and ideas packaged into a nice review that placed them into context with one another. Perhaps the most interesting to me was the kiosk about the the future choices that human civilizations will face in the future as they deal with the consequences of climate change. Strangely, this seems to be one of the topics least-addressed in the process of education about global warming. Perhaps this is because the topic is usually covered in science classes, where humanitarian concerns are not generally the focus. However, where responsibility towards the Earth might not be an argument that some people appreciate, responsibility towards fellow human beings might be more compelling. The interconnectedness between humans and Earth systems is something that is not really addressed academically until college. It would be interesting to see this become a larger part of the public conversation about climate change.
Something else I noticed about the Atmosphere exhibit was that it presented the facts supporting theories about climate change as though they were undisputed. In the United States, climate change is taught in schools as though it is a somewhat controversial issue, and something believed in only by liberal democrats. In terms of sources, most statistics and data were attributed to "scientists," as though the whole scientific community was in perfect agreement about them. I wonder if this is true, and the controversy surrounding global warming in the States is only a scientific one a a guise for political motivations.