"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Propaganda In College and Society: Part 2

In my last post we examined some of the most disturbing ideological positions in a college science textbook called Visualizing Environmental Science. In this post I will continue giving examples of the propaganda it contains along with some other observations and random quotes from the text. There is no particular order since I wrote these down over the course of an entire semester as I first came across them. Some of these examples have serious and disturbing ideological underpinnings, others were perhaps intended to be serious but are quite funny, so read with a lighter heart.

What does the book say about evolution? Surely here we can get the hard facts of science without any controversial politicization. “Our immensely complex and multi-dimensional brains evolved precisely because we interacted with growing things, weather patterns, and other animals” (41). Unfortunately, we aren't going to continue evolving because, “the world we have created screens us from all that. The sophisticated devices we imagined and manufactured—such as televisions, computers, and automobiles—now define our world” (41). So if you want to continue evolving you need more interactions with “weather”! Next time there is a thunderstorm get away from everything man-made and go stand on the top of a high hill. I guarantee a little natural electrical stimulus in the form of lightning will help your mind evolve!

On page 28 a large picture shows a “typical” American family of four with all their possessions grouped around them on the street in front of their house in order to show the “large amount of natural resources” they consume. Standing in the midst of this opulence, the mother of the family is prominently seen holding a large family Bible, opened to a picture of Jesus with hands raised. What this picture is meant to suggest I have no idea but no doubt a tree was cut down to supply paper for that huge Bible! These religious fanatics (from Texas, no less!) are part of the problem and should make major changes to their “consumption patterns and lifestyles” (28). The first change, if I might suggest it, would be to get rid of that useless Bible with its “environmentally disruptive” command to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

According to the current paradigm, people are starving from overpopulation and the earth cannot sustain many more people. So... to remedy the situation in Florida, “State and federal governments are working on... the conversion of some agricultural land to marshes... Restoration will take more than 20 years and cost $8 billion” (124). Convert farmland to swamp... no wonder the models all predict that the earth won't be able to sustain any more people. If all farmland is converted into swamp at massive cost to taxpayers not one person will have enough to eat.

“Different groups propose different solutions for resolving the world's food problems, including controlling population growth, promoting the economic development of countries that do not produce adequate food, and correcting the inequitable distribution of resources” (Berg 340). We can only laud the book for giving fair representation to all (well, at least some) of the possible solutions; unfortunately, the first, which deals with world population, is clearly not a solution even by the standards of the text since just two sentences earlier it points out that current agricultural output is sufficient to feed everyone on the planet (Berg 340). In addition, everyone knows that even in the past when population was reckoned in millions not billions, huge numbers of people went hungry. The second solution is at least a valid possibility. The third solution about correcting the unequal distribution of resources is also a valid possibility that has been trumpeted for a long time by Marxist theorists. Socialism, according to a Marx or Trotsky can only be successful on a global scale through the redistribution of all resources. It is interesting that in a discussion of political solutions to world hunger the authors of the book fail to mention the competing political theory that democratic capitalism could reduce world hunger. Perhaps some mention of the theory that since hunger is greater in autocracies and warlord or communist controlled governments what is really needed is freedom to produce food and security to keep it and sell it. Or as Frances Lappe succinctly puts it: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy” (www.smallplanet.org).

Then there is the stab into psychology and philosophy as if physical science and politics were not scope enough for a science textbook. Sounding like Thoreau meditating on the bank of Waldon Pond, the authors assert: “Wild areas—forest-covered mountains, rolling prairies, barren deserts, and other undeveloped areas—are important to the human spirit. We can escape the tensions of the civilized world by retreating, even temporarily, to the solitude of natural areas” (313). Now, I happen to agree with this statement and what it tells us about the universal human condition; however, I find it out of place in a “science” text of this nature, especially in the context of encouraging the creation and permanent management of more public lands by the federal government. In what almost sounds like an endorsement of religion the text claims that, “organisms not only contribute to human survival and physical comfort, they provide recreation, inspiration, and spiritual solace” (365).

“Slightly more than one-half of US forest are privately owned... Many private owners are under economic pressure to subdivide the land and develop tracts for housing or shopping malls, as they seek ways to recoup their high property taxes.” (322) You got the high property taxes right... but “shopping malls”? How many shopping malls are being built in the middle of the forest? Or again when talking about rangeland the text laments: “...two thirds are privately owned. Much of the private rangeland is under increasing pressure from developers, who want to subdivide the land into lots for homes and condominiums” (325). Seriously, how many condos are being planned on the rangeland of Kansas?

Deforestation. The word can freeze the blood and send an acid rain of sadness and anger pounding on the roof of the mind. Ai! Ai! O forest, where art thou? No doubt logging companies in North America trying to supply lumber to bloated consumer economies like the US account for most of the world's deforestation. Well... not really. Despite the other environmental flaws of the developed world, deforestation is not one of them. We have to give credit to the book for making the unpopular claim that, “Most of the world's deforestation is currently taking place in Africa and South America” (318). Total forests in Europe and Asia have actually grown recently (319). In less developed nations trees are cut down for fuel or slash-and-burn agriculture is practiced. If we want to stop deforestation we need to improve the energy and food supply of Less Developed Countries.

“Most Species facing extinction today are endangered because of the destruction, fragmentation, or degradation of habitats by human activities. We demolish or alter habitats when we build roads, parking lots, bridges and buildings; clears forests to grow crops or graze domestic animals; and log forest for timber. We drain marshes to build on aquatic habitats, thus converting them to terrestrial ones, and we flood terrestrial habitats when we build dams. Exploration for and mining of minerals, including fossil fuels, disrupt the land and destroy habitats. Habitats are altered by outdoor recreation, including off-road vehicles, hiking off-trail, golfing, skiing, and camping” (370).
If you don't feel guilty about that round of golf or ski trip there is something wrong with you. And whatever you do, don't dare wander around in the woods “off-trail” like some modern-day John Muir because that will drive an entire species to extinction!

But, if you read very attentively “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free:” “the effects of many interactions between the environment and humans are unknown or difficult to predict, we generally don't know if corrective actions should be taken before our scientific understanding is more complete” (14). A strangely contradictory admission from those preaching to people everywhere to repent of their evil ways because the time is short and the imminent destruction of the Earth is near.

“The involvement of governments in childbearing and child rearing is well established” (174). Yeah, what next? “They” are already in our bedrooms and our nurseries.

One last funny and off the wall excerpt from the text:
“Contraceptive use is strongly linked to lower TFRs [Total fertility rates]” (172). No kidding! Who would have guessed!?

Linda Berg and Mary Hager, Visualizing Environmental Science. John Wiley and Sons Publishers-National Geographic Society, 2007.

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