If you’ve ever wondered whether today’s youth understand that our warming planet is causing a growing crisis, or whether my peers are serious about solving the problem then you only needed to be with me last week when I spent a day with 1,500 Middle and High school students at MAST Academy. And if you’ve ever been concerned about whether kids can quickly swing into action to create those solutions then you sure would have been impressed by the kids that I met on campus that day.
MAST Academy is a nationally recognized school, the only maritime and science technology magnet middle and high school in the Miami-Dade County system and has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) focus.
It also happens to be located on Key Biscayne, a beautiful barrier island just off the coast of Miami, that is only one of the most susceptible places on earth to a future of sea level rise. In fact, at the rate we are going it’s likely that MAST and much, perhaps all, of Key Biscayne will be under water in a few decades unless those kids and others like them join me in solving this problem.
I started my morning with presentations to two groups of high school students that filled the school’s auditorium. These young people were very engaged, had excellent questions, and were eager to learn more about what they could do to help.
I then spoke to the school’s environmental clubs and we discussed ideas to help make their school and community more sustainable. Prior to my visit I was asked to help the children think of new projects, to inspire and motivate them. We talked about their recycling initiatives, beach cleanups and campus greenhouse. And we talked a lot about solar power, a topic that the students were fascinated with.
While my time with the high school students and clubs was amazing, perhaps the highlight of my day was the enthusiasm of the middle schoolers that packed every seat in the auditorium after lunch. In fact, after my lecture these students had over an hour of questions and comments about climate change, sea rise and solutions to these problems.
The children were so enthusiastic that day that the school’s leadership was spontaneously inspired to create a school-wide sustainability committee. Over 50 children volunteered on their own volition to participate and then joined me to discuss how they could raise money, approach local political leaders, design, plan and implement a range of projects on their campus and in their community.
When I say that these children were motivated, I really do mean it. They were hungry to learn and become involved and, most importantly, to solve the climate change crisis with one another. As I have said and seen many times before, Kids Get Itand that sure is true at MAST Academy.
Thanks to Michele Drucker for kindly inviting me and being so enthusiastic towards the children as well as me and my work.
Thanks also to MAST’s Principal Ms. Otero for allowing me to visit her school as well as supporting the children’s excitement for the future.
I’ve promised to return to MAST and help the children in any way that I can and I look forward to doing that so as to build on their enthusiasm. It’s exactly that type of enthusiasm that gives me great hope that by working together my peers and I will, in fact, solve the climate crisis.
I woke up this morning filled with joy, elated and proud to be an American.
On Friday, however, I was not sure how to feel or what to think. To say that I was upset is an understatement.
You see, it was Friday that my entire school gathered for convocation and watched the Inauguration of our new President. Although Mr. Trump was not my preferred choice to become our new President, the ceremony itself was not what upset me. No, not at all.
White House climate change web page as of January 20th, 2017
It was later in the day when one of our school’s College Counselors, Ms. Armato, shared the news that the White House website had already removed its LGBT and Climate Change pages that the Obama administration had built and embraced. After seven years on campus for Middle and High School I’m known, I suppose, for many things and two of those are my passion for diversity, as a member of our school’s Diversity Council, and the other is my work related to the environment, especially climate change.
Washington D.C. Women’s March, January 21st, 2017
In a simultaneous change, at the same time that our new President was being sworn into office, his new administration was taking one of, if not their very first, actions in leading his vision of America by removing these pages from the world’s eyes and in doing so sending a strong, disheartening message. His message could not be more clear: LGBT rights and climate change are unimportant to him and his followers. That reality, those actions, made me sad. So sad that I was in tears multiple times on Friday. Click here to read an article about the website changes.
But today is, thankfully, different.
My elation has to do with the millions of amazing women and men that marched in Washington D.C., here in Miami and all over the world yesterday to send a message to Mr. Trump that we will not allow our voices to be silenced or our concerns diminished. The women, and those with them, who descended on Washington one day after the Inauguration far outnumbered those who attended Mr. Trump’s ceremony and that, too, gives me great hope. Their powerful passion can (and must) now be turned into votes.
Demonstrators in New York, January 21st, 2017
Until then, we cannot forget the first actions of our new President. How he attacked our LGBT friends or the environment. Or learning a day later that the National Park system’s leadership was banned from using social media after publishing pictures of Washington’s Mall, the park it oversees between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capital, that compared Trump’s Inauguration day with that of President Obama’s eight years earlier. Or any of the disturbing, terrible things that we will likely witness over the next four years.
National Park Service retweets comparison of Obama and Trump inauguration
Let us use all of these things to motivate us to work hard to make progress and positive changes wherever possible within our own communities. Speak up. Speak out. And when it comes to the environment remember that science trumps politics.
Let us use these events to register to vote and then to voice our views by turning out to express ourselves in record numbers.
That’s my plan.
To work hard to make a positive difference wherever possible while fighting for what’s right and fixing what’s broken. I do hope that you will join me and, while you are at it, please bring a friend or two, we can use all of the help we can find.
Together we can do great things in this amazing place called the United States of America. And along the way when you suffer from doubt or fear or shed a tear, please think of those patriotic people that marched all over the world yesterday. They are my inspiration and this is my plan.
I have only ever written the blogs that you have read here at The Sink or Swim Project, but I am delighted to say that changes today. I am honored to introduce to you a guest blog from my good friend Mr. Dick Jacobs. Dick is a lawyer by education and today, as a man in his eighties, continues to thankfully practice law with a focus on our environment. I met Dick as a result of his amazing work with Our Children’s Trust, a group of inspired youth that are fighting for climate justice in state and federal court all over the our country. If you have not learned about Our Children’s Trust, please click here and keep an eye out for news about my future involvement in the organization’s pursuit of climate justice here in Florida.
What today’s guest blogger really is, is an explorer and a photographer and a writer and a very passionate man when it comes to our planet. Dick Jacobs has traveled the world many times over and has visited all seven continents from Africa (where I will be heading in a few weeks) to Antarctica, from North America to the Himalaya Mountains. Dick’s book, Wonderlust, is a gorgeous coffee table size reflection in story and photographs of his life, as he says, “wondering while wandering,” that I highly suggest.
So, without further adieu, allow me to share with you Dick’s latest blog; a piece that is most certainly topical given the changing climate of American politics and the fact that, as Dick says, “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
HOW WILL WE FILL AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT OFFICES?
Sunrise or Sunset?
Chapter 26, the final chapter of Wonderlust, Where Will Our Stories Lead Us: Sunrise or Sunset?, poses the question:
“Where will the stories we’ve gathered on our Wanderings and fixed within our belief systems lead us?”
And makes a suggestion:
“What must we do? Create the right stories for our inner self that will lead to the right actions by our outer self. Our choices of stories will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.”
As 2017 is now upon us, and we consider our “new beginnings” and reflect on 2016, I could not help but consider the Chapter 26 question.
For 2016 will surely go down as the “Year of the Stories” – the year shaped by invented truths and fake news, with yet-to-be-determined real-world consequences.
A few weeks after our 2016 election, Story Hinckley wrote Why fake news holds such allure, pointing out that for many voters, “Fake news sites are essentially the only outlets these readers say they can trust.” When what’s going on, or being advocated, in our world challenges our deeply-held beliefs, fake news that’s in sync with our attitudes and propensities insulates us. It reaffirms our world views and validity. It’s the comforting theme underpinning fake news, not the accuracy or inaccuracy of the facts it touts, that resonates with us.
“But here’s where problem lies with fake news and the human mind. . . . [O]ur minds make value judgments about what to keep. Humor tips the scales in favor of being remembered and recalled, even when counterarguments are strong. . . . ‘When you have exposure to fake news or satire, or any content at all, as soon as those constructs have been accessed and brought into working memory, they are there. You can’t un-think them.’ This mental reflex may explain why caricature traits — ‘Al Gore is stiff and robotic’ or ‘George W. Bush is dumb’ — persist in the zeitgeist for so long despite being untrue.”
Of course, fake election news is not the only volume of incorrect news we experience. Fake news has shaped our thoughts and reactions about such important issues as: the safety of vaccinations, the virtues of smoking, the superiority of a race, and climate change being a hoax. In fact, fake news is an industry with high-paying jobs for those who master its persuasion. Oreskes’s and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, provides a sobering, unsettling look at the industry.
Were this year’s election winners and losers the products of 2016 being the “Year of the Stories?” The election results certainly reflect an uprising of “America’s Forgotten Class”, those living in small towns and cities, particularly in the Rust Belt.
Many of the Forgotten Class never voted before. Did fake news drive them to action?
It would be easy to criticize these energized voters for being swayed by the propaganda effect of false news. We could lament for the Forgotten Class being energized by impossible political dreams. Dreams about making America Great Again. Dreams about restoring jobs and ways of life displaced by global markets and automation. After all, Brookings and JP Morgan Chase’s reports in Redefining Global Cities:
“In the United States, a useful proxy for other advanced economies, already demonstrated technologies have the potential to automate 45% of the work activities in the United States.”
But I’ve heard arguments before that “naive” folks like those who are members of the Forgotten Class must be wrong and were misled when I was in Eugene, Oregon. I was attending the hearing brought by the fossil fuel industry and our Federal government. They were asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by 21 Gutsy Kids claiming they had a right to an unpolluted environment. Not included in my blogs about the hearing were comments in The Register Guard, Eugene’s local newspaper, in response to its article, Protesting for their future. Several comments were like this:
“Using children to press a high-profile lawsuit is a waste of public resources and a shameful exploitation of children who are largely incapable of processing the requisite amount of information and making the necessary calculations to understand climate science in the slightest.”
As you consider the validity of the comments about the 21 gutsy kids being exploited, check out:
• Earth Guardians, the webpage of a 15 year old, one of the teenagers bringing the federal suit.
• Teenager Delaney Reynolds’ Ted Talk. Although not a Federal plaintiff, Delaney’s a Florida activist, whose theme is quite simple:
“Kids get it, why don’t adults?”
Yes, when it comes to what’s going wrong with our care of the environment kids get it. And the first-time Rust Belt and other red-state political activists are on to something we should be paying attention to. In Revenge of the Forgotten Class, Alec MacGillis quotes a Trump supporter:
“I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.”
Okay – so, how does all this affect the answer to our question: How Will We Fill America’s Most Important Offices?
Take three minutes and watch Texas Tech’s Pollitically-Challenged “educated élite.”
We can laugh at the Texas Tech kids wrong answers about our government or their unerring knowledge about entertainers. But their responses tell us something important is missing: understanding necessary to make our system of government work. This brings us to those important political offices we have to fill in 2017.
The most important offices we have to fill for 2017 and beyond are not those occupied by our President, his cabinet or the Supreme Court. The most important offices we have to fill are what the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis called the “Office of Private Citizen:”
“The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.”
Frederick M. Lawrence elaborated in the Key Reporter: “There are three sets of skills needed to perform the duties of the ‘office of private citizen:’ . . .
“First, a private citizen must be able to turn raw information into knowledge. Much of our information inundation comes to us without the benefit of curation, editing or vetting in any form. …
“Second, a private citizen must be able to evaluate arguments. Just as statements of fact must be proven, not merely asserted, arguments must be rational and logical and not simply propounded. …
“Finally, a private citizen must be able to engage in reasoned debate with others. Presenting one’s own rational claims, based on provable truths, as well as being prepared to listen thoughtfully to those of others, is the hallmark of liberal education.”
We can be concerned about the effect of 2016 being the Year of the Stories and about false news influencing the Forgotten Class.
But, we can’t ignore the legitimate concerns that underlie their populist revolt. In his New Yorker article about the Populist Revolt, George Packer writes the Democrats morphed from the “working class” to the “educationalist élites” and the main-stream Republicans to the very rich. Packer concludes:
“This new populism is no kind of blind rebellion …. It is rather an effort to bring our governing élites to their senses. … The great truth was that large numbers of Republican voters, especially less educated ones, weren’t constitutional originalists, libertarian free traders, members of the Federalist Society, or devout readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They actually wanted government to do more things that bene!tted them (as opposed to benefitting people they saw as undeserving).”
And we can’t ignore that too many of the rest of us aren’t fulfilling our Office of Private Citizen. Consider:
• When it comes to voting, CNN reports that only 55.4% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election. Trump won by achieving the support of 26.3% of the eligible voters. Apathy by the many empowered the few.
• Like the “educated élite” from Texas Tech, too many of us are Politically Challenged. We may be well-educated consumers, but we’re poorly educated citizens. UNESCO defines citizen educationn as “educating children, from early childhood to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society.”
The lesson? Democracy is not a spectator sport.
What must we do?
Take Lawrence’s three steps seriously: Develop a broad-base of knowledge so we can evaluate and engage in reasoned discussions across the political spectrum, not merely with those who “think” like us.
That requires careful listening and consideration of others, particularly their concerns and thoughts. It may require us to compromise and reconsider many of our prevailing beliefs, whether liberal or conservative. But, doing so will lead us to the right stories for us to operate our Office of Private Citizen. Armed with those stories, our inner-self will lead us to the right actions by our outer-self.
When we’re politically apathetic, disengaged and “challenged” as the Texas Tech kids are, we have no chance at all.
Lawrence is right. Russon-Gilman is right. The stories we chose to frame how we operate our Offices of Private Citizen will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.
That’s our hefty Office of Private Citizen responsibility!
Thanks, Dick, for your lifelong pursuit of justice and your passion for the environment, as well as for your friendship to me personally. Thanks also for a wonderful blog posting and for being the very first guest blogger here at The Sink or Swim Project. To learn more about Mr. Jacobs and his work, please visit Wonderlust Journeys.