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Johanna's Journal

Thoughts on Global Crises

  • In your view what are the three most important challenges society in the near term (say 50 years)? Why are each of these so important? What does science have to offer for each? What does technology have to offer for each? Your entry should clearly address which are science based and which are technology based. You can describe both science and technology approaches for each of the problems you identify.

In the next 50 years, the human race will be facing challenges dealing with the health and welfare of our planet and peoples. Scientists claim that our window of opportunity to effectively counteract the effects of global warming is swiftly closing, there is a shortage of available, clean, fresh water in many parts of the world, and diseases like cancer, AIDS, and malaria continue to spread.

Science has already done a great deal of its part in dealing with issues surrounding global warming. Scientists have tracked and measure the rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sought explanations for strange phenomena such as changing weather patterns and decreasing wildlife populations, and discovered the impact of human activities on the earth and its systems. We know we must cut back on the consumption of fossil fuels and emissions of carbon dioxide, and now we must turn to technology to provide efficient and effective means of doing so. Wind, solar, and nuclear energy might all be part of the solution, but still pose problems such as waste management, expense of production versus profit, and energy distribution.

While science has provided us with a number of ways to clean water and make it potable, the problem seems to be finding ways to do it cheaply and efficiently, in order to make the technology available to people in the parts of the world that most suffer from water deprivation. Water cleaning and distribution systems must be affordable to and usable by people whose material and knowledge resources may be limited.

Finally, the spread of disease is a problem that we continue to deal with, and will in the future. While science has taught us a great deal already about the causes of cancer and the nature of the spread of AIDS and malaria, it is technology that we must now employ to develop cures and preventative measures. While we do not know how to "cure" viruses, we do know how to create vaccines to prevent them. Technology has provided us with malaria vaccinations, why can't it provide us with an AIDS vaccine? The issue here is not that we do not have the technology, but that the people with the resources to do so have their attention drawn elsewhere, usually to more economically beneficial endeavors.

Atmosphere I

The designers of the Atmosphere at London's Science Museum exhibit chose to feature several topics dealing with climate change. A separate kiosk addressed each of these topics:

  • The impacts that future climate change will have on the Earth, and the choices that will be faced by the humans inhabiting it
  • The Carbon Cycle
  • The processes of Earth's atmosphere
  • The history of climate research
  • The causes and effects of greenhouse gases

The kiosks were designed to be approached in any order, and all possessed at least one interactive game or activity to supplement the informational displays. These made for a far more entertaining learning experience than the standard pictures/diagrams/artifacts with informative plaques set-up. Rather than making me feel I was being tricked into learning something, the interactive displays made the intake of information feel like an exciting process of discovery. I was really impressed with the way technology was employed in the pedagogy of the exhibit.

For example, in the kiosk that explained the sources and effects of greenhouse gases, there was a display that involved participants by inviting them to turn the blank pages of a book. Illustrations and text would appear on the screen that corresponded with the page that the book was opened to. While this may seem a bit gimmicky, I liked it because watching the technology work kept me engaged with the material much longer than I would have been if the same information was simply posted on a sign. Another favorite of mine was the game in which the player had to warm Earth's atmosphere by aiming the sun's rays through the clouds, and then holding in heat energy by moving particle in the atmosphere. This simple game was a lot of fun because it reminded me of the computer games I played as a child as well as what I already knew and had semi-forgotten about how the Earth keeps its inhabitants warm.

I felt that most of the information in the exhibit was not new to me, but it was nice to have a good number of facts and ideas packaged into a nice review that placed them into context with one another. Perhaps the most interesting to me was the kiosk about the the future choices that human civilizations will face in the future as they deal with the consequences of climate change. Strangely, this seems to be one of the topics least-addressed in the process of education about global warming. Perhaps this is because the topic is usually covered in science classes, where humanitarian concerns are not generally the focus. However, where responsibility towards the Earth might not be an argument that some people appreciate, responsibility towards fellow human beings might be more compelling. The interconnectedness between humans and Earth systems is something that is not really addressed academically until college. It would be interesting to see this become a larger part of the public conversation about climate change.

Something else I noticed about the Atmosphere exhibit was that it presented the facts supporting theories about climate change as though they were undisputed. In the United States, climate change is taught in schools as though it is a somewhat controversial issue, and something believed in only by liberal democrats. In terms of sources, most statistics and data were attributed to "scientists," as though the whole scientific community was in perfect agreement about them. I wonder if this is true, and the controversy surrounding global warming in the States is only a scientific one a a guise for political motivations.

Greenland Review

Greenland is pretty successful in its endeavor to address the problem of climate change from scientific, political, and everyday-human angles. What allows this success is the sort of collage of story lines and visual techniques that are employed within the play. Acting and technological effects were combined almost seamlessly. For example, in an opening scene, a young woman stages a protest at a grocery store, and the wall behind her displays information about the amount of packaging and transportation represented by various food items in the store. The swift transitions between scenes also contributed to the collage effect of the play.

I do not think I really learned anything new from Greenland in terms of "facts" or further scientific understanding of the phenomenon or consequences of global warming, but I certainly benefited from seeing the issues presented by the play put in context with one another. Greenland addressed the importance of the individual world citizen's response when faced with the facts of climate change, the political and economic challenges that stand in the way of making serious progress in the fight against global warming on an international and governmental level, and the various ways that different people interact with the natural world and think about their responsibility towards the planet. The combining of all these issues, along with some scientific facts and data, was a creative and refreshing framework from which to begin thinking about problems with climate change in a new way.

Reflections on Climate Change

The we've been talking about climate change issues in this class has made me realize how useful it is to think about the interconnectedness of and the interactions between science, technology, and society. One of our initial conversations dealt with the way that science and technology are both applied to solve problems for society. What is interesting about climate change is that it seems as though society itself is a large source of the problem. Science has told us the problems and their causes, and technology has provided us with a wide variety of ways to alleviate the problems. Scientists continue to produce more and more accurate climate models and engineers continue to improve the efficiency and practicality of alternative energy. It is society that continues to drag its feet. There are those who insist that scientist are misinterpreting the data, those who simply do not want to be faced with the responsibility of trying to fix the planet, those for whom the economic setbacks that implementing serious change would involve are too great. The earth will not be the same if the predicted effects of global warming take place,and while science and technology fight to preserve teh planetary environment to which humanity has adapted itself, society seems to refuse to take its proverbial medicine. While I had previously known a great deal of the facts about the causes and effects of climate change, during this course I've gained a better picture of the the way human beings interact with science and technology in response to these facts.

While the readings and the Atmosphere exhibit at the Science Museum both made important contributions to my knowledge about and thought process dealing with climate change, Greenland was the the outside-of-the-classroom activity that best complimented the issues we've been talking about in class. Seeing Greenland at the end of the unit brought me back to one of our initial class discussions about the interplay between science, technology, and society. It really helped bring forward the ideas I've discussed above. Both Greenland and the Atmosphere exhibit invited me to engage with issues surrounding climate change on a level that, while still intellectual, was also emotional. The readings really only invited me to engage with the material academically.

Something that really struck me about the scientific discussion surrounding climate change in the UK, as I've experienced it so far, is that it seems to take place in a much less politically driven space. In the United States, there are many circles where being highly skeptical of, or even denying, the phenomenon of human-caused global warming is perfectly acceptable or even the norm. These are almost invariably politically conservative communities. There seems to be far less politically-driven debate in the UK about the validity of scientific theory regard climate change. At Earlham, the idea that humans have contributed to dangerous rates of global warming is generally accepted, and anyone professing skepticism would surprise his or her fellow students. However, Earlham is also a place where many people assume that others share their liberal political views as well. And at Earlham nestled safely in the most land-locked part of a first-world country, there still seems to be little discussion of the drastic social impacts that global arming can have. The focus is more on finding every-day answers to the question of being a responsible citizen of the globe.

Science At Kew

Kew Gardens, funded in part by the public and in part by admission fees and concessions, is not just a nice park to spend the afternoon in. It is also an employer of copious amounts of scientists, a collaborator on one the world’s largest plant catalogues, and runs a seed bank to preserve a great number of the world’s endangered plants. When I visited the Gardens, I walked through greenhouses full of plants labeled with Latin names and arranged so that their genetic relationships with each other were evident. This gave me a view into the some of the sorts of knowledge that Kew’s scientists are accumulating, preserving, and sharing with others.

What seems most important to me about the work being done at Kew is that it is preserving and discovering an important part of the world that is disappearing. The loss of plant species means the loss of genetic sequences that describe traits that could be useful natural tools. As discussed in Science Matters, the world is composed of deeply interconnected and interactive systems. It’s hard to believe, considering this, that the loss of plant species is not something that could cause the human race to suffer.

Fibonacci At Kew

Technology and Sustainability Talk

The best things about Charlie's talk were it's optimism and his enthusiasm of delivery. Charlie is a pretty dynamic speaker, especially for a scientist, and his interest in this topic really came through in his expression and explanations. He highlighted technological advancements and possibilities that I was only vaguely familiar with and discussed how useful they could be in addressing problems surrounding climate change. I like the way his talk was organized, as well, with technologies categorized by the way they address climate change -- reduce, adapt, etc. This arrangement was very easy for me to follow and was a good way for me to mentally clump the talking points when I was thinking about them later.

The embedded and easily accessible images were also nifty, but I would have liked to see more of them, or more images in general. Something that tends to be tricky with power-points is creating one that allows you to change slides at just the right rate. If you have too little information on each slide, it's hard for people to hold overarching themes in their minds. However, lack of variety can lead to lack of attention. The embedded images seem like a good solution to this problem. You can show an image, and then move back to the original slide. I think a few more images to go along with each of the slides might have been nice, I sometimes found myself thinking, "Wow, it's taking a long time to get through this one slide. I wonder how many there are." Changing what I was looking at more might have helped with this mental distraction. The presentation had a lot of good visualizations of concepts -- graphs, Charlie's arm-span comparison to Earth's timeline, etc -- but I also found myself wondering what some of the pieces of technology he was talking about looked like. More pictures like the diagram of the open-source electric car would have been nice.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the presentation because it was a neatly packaged, optimistic, and charismatically delivered set of information that got me thinking about the future of the planet without that icky dread feeling.

Astronomy and the Cosmos

These are my questions about the reading:

1. I'm not sure I understand part about dark matter and how we know it's there. I don't really understand the bit about the spinning particles on the edge of the galaxy. I am also wondering, even if we can't see it, would we be able to feel it, taste it, smell it etc? Also, is this the "space" that is expanding like bread dough between galaxies? How could "space" expand if it is a vacuum?

2. It doesn't seem like the Big Bang Theory really explains the beginning of the Universe. There had to be matter already in existence -- in compressed form -- in order for it to expand. How do scientist explain how the original stuff got there? And WHY did it suddenly explode?

3. The book first says that all stars go through a cycle of birth and death, but then it says some stars manage to avoid collapse. Aren't these contradictory statements?