I went back to school to get my bachelors and teaching certificate in the fall of 1983. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon took place that fall. I remember a girl running out of Ed 201, after we’d watched “Cypher in the Snow.” Turned out she had had a friend in that barracks, one of the ones who didn’t survive the bombing.
Fall 1983 was also the time of the “A Nation at Risk” report on the state of American education. It outlined the ways in which our flawed education system was putting the nation at risk, and urged immediate action to remedy the situation. If we didn’t do so, the report suggested, then in 25 years we would have lost our lead in technology, but even worse we would have a population in which the teachers began to become as poorly educated as the teachers, since those teachers were themselves emerging from a flawed system, from public school all the way through their work on their bachelors and teaching certificate.
In 2008 I wasn’t in much of a position to ponder this too much. Just from incidental encounters I could see that a lot of younger people were poorly educated. They weren’t stupid. They just hadn’t been taught basic math, English or social studies. They were ignorant.
Nobody talks about education reform at the moment. Climate change and the political circus we’re experiencing have people’s attention. The failure of our education system led to both the emergence of a large number of people who are so ignorant they don’t understand climate change, and who are easily sucked in by the pernicious and increasingly common use of false information to convince them of the most outlandish things. And of course we have a person in the White House who is a major climate change denier, as well as one who has created a cloud of misinformation about himself so dense that is becoming impossible to see a human being in it.
At the end of the Permian Era, about 252 million years ago, the fifth mass extinction event in the planet’s history took place. It is often referred to as “The Great Dying,” since approximately 96% of the species living at that time were gone by the time it was all over.
That was a very, very long time ago, and life came back. So what’s to worry about today? Only the fact that as many as one million species may become extinct this year, joining the uncounted others that have met that fate since humanity became a cancer on the earth.
There are scientists who predict that this ongoing event will be another “Great Dying,” and imply that homo sapiens may become extinct, after causing the extinction of so many other life forms.
And we have a climate change denier in the White House. The chances we will take effective action to ameliorate the effects of climate change are about nil. When 90% of the earth’s cities are at least partly underwater, in 30 years or so, what will we do then? When extreme weather events have become the norm, causing untold damage to property, and taking many lives, what will we do then? When loss of species results in the failure of crops, what will we do then?
There are a lot of other questions in that vein, but I’m not going to pose them. I just hope there are people out there who understand that climate change is not only real, but inevitable, and who are learning (or teaching others) to deal with what’s coming on a personal level. There have to be, and they will have a decent chance to survive what’s coming.
I won’t see this change in its fullness. I’ll be long gone by then. But it’s happening right now, of course. I will see enough of the change to have pity on humanity, and be thankful I won’t have to be around for the really savage and ugly stuff that will happen when there are millions of hungry and homeless people trying to survive. When you’re in survival mode, you’ll do whatever you need to do. I know this is true, because I’ve experienced. I’m glad I don’t have to be around to see what will happen when tens of millions of people are doing what they have to do, to survive. It’s bad enough to imagine it.