This week, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” won a much deserved Academy Award for his riveting documentary on climate change science. Many teachers, including myself, are obligated to use Mr. Gore’s carbon dioxide graphs and stunning visuals of glacial melting and climate change exacerbated hurricanes to educate the nation’s 55 million students. But know this, teachers and caring parents, if we want to move climate change knowledge from facts to action, I strongly suggest a “one-two punch strategy”: show “An Inconvenient truth” after showing the best environmental education film I have ever watched; “Oil on Ice.” This documentary not only outlines the folly of drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it contains an incredible array of climate change solutions intertwined with the cultural need to create a “sustainable energy society” here in the United States. Couple this showing with a subsequent viewing of Mr. Gore’s work and you will have a populous of young adults questioning our insatiable addiction to fossil fuels and demanding that the adults who hold power right now implement realistic solutions that could reduce carbon dioxide by 80-90% immediately: not the preposterous and woefully inadequate calls for “reasonable” reductions many decades out.
Having taught for 26 years, I have only encountered a handful of “environmental education” films that have interwoven the needed ingredients that produces a visual that captures the attention and hearts of young adults. Oil on Ice has that rare recipe: spectacular wildlife scenes that tug at the heartstrings throughout, hard data-well explained and factual with a riveting narration. Today’s students, their attention spans conditioned by “MTV style” quick pace productions often lose interest in “talking heads,” and the “talk over” strategy in Oil on Ice employing memorable scenes kept my students attentive and in rapid fire order, asking numerous questions. Barely, over 40 minutes long, it took me three days to show the visual, stopping often to “take notes” and engage in lively debate (what teachers fondly refer to as that “teachable moment”). While “An Inconvenient Truth” depicts our climate dilemma in brilliant science, teachers must “massage” the film when it overstays long scenes of Al Gore and references to his political history. Some students asked why Mr. Gore talked so much about his own life and his loss in the 2000 election. It is crucial for good teachers to “connect those dots” for students without detracting from the science. Critics have claimed that Gore used this production as a vehicle to remain politically viable. Some decry no mention of the Clinton/Gore Administration’s environmental failures: from failure to implement the Kyoto Protocol to allowing “carbon storehouses” our national forests to be clear-cut at unconscionable rates. I defend the film for its scientific integrity, the beautifully illustrated graphs and excellent visuals on Arctic and Antarctic melting. What data that is left missing in Gore’s film, be it intentional or not, makes using Oil on Ice as a preface undeniably valuable. The union of the two films strengthens the message of “An Inconvenient Truth” and gives students the “whole truth.”
Oil on Ice frames four main objectives in brilliant clarity and with an uplifting message of hope and possibility:
- First, it gives stinging statistics about our fossil fuel dependency. When energy guru Amory Lovins explains that the world uses a cubic mile of oil a year and the United States uses 10,000 gallons a second, the look on your student’s faces will be priceless;
- Secondly, it smashes the myth of economic havoc created by reducing and eliminating our oil addiction. From 1977 to 1985 with the implementation of CAFE standards (higher mileage for cars) and energy conservation our nation made outstanding economic growth. Our economy grew by 27%, yet our oil use dropped by 17%, our oil imports dropped by 50% (including an 87% drop in Middle Eastern oil imports) and we doubled efficiency in transportation. Why did we abandon that strategy and continue the folly of oil addiction?
- Thirdly, Oil on Ice weaves commentary about our human spirit. Amongst backdrops of polar bears and Arctic wildlife, solar panels and wind mills, passionate beliefs in a sustainable generation of Americans brims hope and an uplifting message: spoken by Native peoples and common citizens alike;
- Lastly, Oil on Ice squarely and unapologetically exposes the connection between big oil and our political powerbrokers. It casts light on the incestuous energy relationship between US senators and the biggest fossil fuel cartels.
Those four areas alone make this film a must see and a preface to the Gore film. This one-two punch of using both films with their combined data provides an unforgettable opportunity for soon to be voters and taxpaying citizens to make the wisest possible judgments on our climate change challenge.
I am an unconditional supporter of “An Inconvenient Truth” and have written extensively and critically of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) decision to refuse free distribution of 55,000 of Mr. Gore’s DVD. Laurie David, co-producer on Gore’s Oscar winning film, made this educational landmark offer to the NSTA, only to be rebuffed by this organization with over 50,000 science educators.
When some 12,000 teachers collect in St. Louis at the end of March at the annual NSTA conference our organization will be there also. The Native Forest Council will be in St. Louis to give out climate change education materials, information on the vast importance of our National Forests and to expose those who debunk climate change. Yes, the American Petroleum Institute and other corporate powers will be in St. Louis looking to use teachers as pawns to downplay ecological woes by giving them duplicitous and dishonest curriculum honed by the best propaganda oil profits can spin. Funded by gracious donations from around the country, the NFC will counter these lies, not with vast wealth, but, uncompromising truth and peer reviewed science.
I will hand out materials on how to show “Oil on Ice” in conjunction with “An Inconvenient Truth.” Laurie David provided me with some 200 copies of Al Gore’s movie and I will pass them out. I wish I had a couple of thousand of both movies to provide, but we lack the deep pockets of the American Petroleum Institute and their backers. I can only hope that in the next four weeks, a guardian angel will have read this piece and helped us with acquisition of these grand films. For now, I can hope that teachers acquire copies of both films (www.oilonice.org and www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/) and teach from them with passion and ignite a critical mass of concern, caring and ultimately action from our school children. The message is simple and clear: climate change is real, it can be solved and caring students can pave the way.
John F. Borowski (public school teacher of 26 years) and the Native Forest Council will be in St. Louis the last week of March helping teachers and their students. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org