Monday, December 18, 2006
BACKGROUND: Teaching science with "An Inconvenient Truth" -- Exxon-Mobile and the NTSA
Should high school's in America get a free DVD of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"? The National Science Teachers Association has apparent declined to help. Read various viewpoints on the controversy.
The conservative Media Research Center's post on the subject by Noel Sheppard
The liberal-progress Center for American Progress post on the matter:
Both of which are a reaction to this op-ed piece in The Washington Post,
written by Laurie David, the producer of the Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient
ORIGINAL HEADLINE IN WASHINGTON POST:
"Science a la Joe Camel"
By Laurie David
Sunday, November 26, 2006; B01
At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.
The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.
The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.
In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.
Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.
Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.
That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.
It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.
And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.
So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.
In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.
And Exxon Mobil isn't the only one getting in on the action. Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox.
NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record -- citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way -- but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without uel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.
The education organization also hosts an annual convention -- which is described on Exxon Mobil's Web site as featuring "more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements." The company "regularly displays" its "many . . . education materials" at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA's partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association's annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.
Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.
"The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission," Borowski says. "The oil and coal guys won't address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts."
An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."
So, how is any of this different from showing Gore's movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren't facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.
It's hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don't pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.
As for Exxon Mobil -- which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions -- this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn't change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.
While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids' science homework.
Laurie David, a producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," is a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of StopGlobalWarming.org
MORE ON LAURIE DAVID:
A version of David's op-ed piece first appeared on The Huffington Post on
Saturday, Nov. 25:
which includes posted comments.
Hollywood environmentalist targets Middle America
Tue Nov 21, 2006 1:32 PM ET
By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood environmentalist Laurie David's fight to convince America of the dangers of global warming begins in her own bathrooms.
David, producer of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth," is taking her crusade to Middle America and Washington next year, setting her sights on convincing President George W. Bush and average U.S. citizens to make changes to safeguard the planet.
But first she had to deal with her preteen daughter, who stole toilet paper from friends, and comedian husband Larry David, a creator of "Seinfeld" and HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who rebelled when she switched to toilet tissue made from recycled consumer waste.
"I had a contest to see who in my family would complain first ... it was the husband, who complained bitterly," David said in an interview with Reuters last week.
David, 48, has overcome bigger obstacles, like convincing a reluctant Hollywood that there was wide interest, and money to be made, in "An Inconvenient Truth," a film about former vice president Gore's slide show on global warming.
The unlikely box-office hit was the third-largest grossing documentary of all time and is on the short list for an Academy Award nomination. The DVD version goes on sale this week.
While admitting to being nervous about Oscar season, David is moving on to her next headline event to "kick up the dirt" in mid-America and the nation's capital with one of the biggest names in music.
"Sheryl Crow and I are going to go out on her biodiesel tour bus, starting in Texas, and invite friends to join us on various stops," said David, speaking in the garden outside her Los Angeles-area home office overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
"We really want to go to places where people are not talking about these issues as much as they should be."
During 10 days in April, the two women will drive to Washington, D.C., for Earth Day, where she hopes some of her 525,000 virtual marchers -- people who have signed on to her Web site http://www.stopglobalwarming.org ) -- will join them in person.
"There is a window closing here," said David, citing experts like NASA climatologist James Hansen who say the world has 10 years to take action against global warming or face widespread climate disaster.
"If they say nine years or 10 years, I am thinking maybe it is five years because scientists are the most cautious people on the planet," David said.
GORE IN 2008?
Despite having spent most of her adult life around comedians as a talent manager and comedy producer, David can be awfully serious, especially when talking about the lack of leadership in Washington.
"The rest of the world is so much more engaged on this issue than the United States," she said. "We're the biggest cause of global warming pollution now and we are doing the least about it and that is not acceptable."
But she sees hope after the Democrats won control of Congress in the midterm elections and vowed to make the environment a priority.
"Action on global warming has to happen while the Bush administration is still in office," David said. "I am not waiting for 2008."
But looking toward the next elections, she said she would do anything to get Gore to make another run at the presidency after he was edged out by Bush in 2000.
"He's not planning on it for the moment but it would be one of my dreams to see him run for president again," David said.
Even with the shift in political power, David said her goal is unchanged: "To permeate popular culture in every way I can to get people to wake up to what is going on."
She believes Hollywood is doing an admirable job on fighting global warming, from studios like Warner Bros going green to celebrities like Leonardo di Caprio embracing the hybrid cars her family has been driving for years.
And what is Larry David's role in his wife's crusade? Well, he drives a hybrid on his HBO show, funds some of her activities and, perhaps most importantly, keeps her laughing.
"It is a bit of burden to feel like we have this giant problem and I personally feel like I have to do something about it," she said.
"If you can be married to a comedian, that's a good start."
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