Our future depends on scientific literate citizens–Outdoor School gets us there
Scientific illiteracy in America can be astounding. I’m not talking about how there are more Chinese PhD students in America than native born students. Or that fewer and fewer college students study the sciences. No, its that 46% of Americans in 2012 believed that God created humans in their present form (down from 53% in 2005). The strong skepticism about basic scientific ideas goes beyond evolution–fundamental to understanding the natural world. Facts proven by science are considered malleable and matters of personal opinion. For example, witness the wholesale rejection of climate change by people calling themselves conservative, led by pandering politicians like Senator Ted Cruz and ex-presidential candidate (and former climate change believer) Mitt Romney.
Jared Diamond (author of Collapse and other works on human’s relationship to their environment) lays out 12 challenges to human survival over the next 100 years–all connected to environmental limits.*
“You have not fully expressed your power as a voter until you have a scientific literacy in topics that matter for future political issues. This requires a level, a base level of science literacy that I don’t think we have achieved yet.”–NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
How do we ensure that we re-connect people with the scientific knowledge and understanding that will allow them to make smart personal and political choices that recognize these challenges and effectively respond to them?
Oregon, along with a few other states and local school districts, have historically taken students out into the world to engage in hands-on and place-based science. Called Outdoor School here in Oregon, its origins were efforts to engage an increasingly urbanizing population in the late 1950s. Its founders wanted to connect Oregon kids with the Oregon landscape as a source of wealth (through farming, timber and fishing), clean water and recreation as well as a place of great beauty and renewal. Kids are transformed by the experience, seeing their deep connection to the natural world as well as connecting with each other. High school students working as junior counselors learn leadership and are exposed to careers in science and natural resources.
*Diamond identifies five factors that contribute to collapse: climate change, hostile neighbors, collapse of essential trading partners, environmental problems, and failure to adapt to environmental issues. (source Wikipedia)
He also lists 12 environmental problems facing humankind today. The first eight have historically contributed to the collapse of past societies:
- Deforestation and habitat destruction
- Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses)
- Water management problems
- Effects of introduced species on native species
- Increased per-capita impact of people
Further, he says four new factors may contribute to the weakening and collapse of present and future societies: