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Sandra's Journal

First question.

The three most significant challenges (in order of importance) I think society faces include utilizing more sustainable energy sources, controlling and eventually eliminating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera, malaria and dengue fever throughout the world and finally modifying devices in order for them to last longer while maintaining peak performance.

In my view the challenge of utilizing more sustainable energy sources arises out of the rapidly growing numbers of middle-class families in newly industrialized countries like China and India. Demographers have pointed out that India’s population could well surpass that of China in the next 30 or so years and what this means is that we can expect more families seeking out the general comforts in life such as televisions, refrigerators, cars and iPods. These are all materials that produce considerable amounts of waste that end up having catastrophic effects on our environment. I do not think this world has enough room for more countries like America, in terms of nonrenewable energy that is consumed and returned to the environment as waste, thus I think it would be very wise of today’s world leaders to actively invest and support research into sustainable energy resources. Much debate has taken place regarding the precarious state of our planet’s nonrenewable resources (oil in particular) and how the status quo benefits the few at the expense of the many in the long-term. However, I think that science has an extremely important role to play in providing this debate with a definite direction. Hazen and Trefil write "Science is one way of knowing about the world (p 4)"and when facing this challenge, I think that science can provide valuable data, not only detailing the negative impacts that humans have had on the planet but some positive impacts as well that can be augmented or modified. An example of what scientific research can bring about is New Zealand's Auckland airport which boasts one of the largest photovoltaic panels in the world, low energy way finding signage and high efficiency chillers for air conditioning. Basically, science with regard to this challenge does not solve the problem by providing a "one-fit-for-all" solution, rather it is a combination of seemingly little solutions that ultimately serve to increase the quality of human existence.

In many sub-Saharan African countries HIV/AIDS still remains a pandemic that affects large chunks of the working-age(21-55) demographic within populations. This in turn has an effect on the productivity of a countries economy who repercussions can be felt by the wealth and education that many of its citizens may have. I think that science provides a realistic solution to the challenge of finding cures and vaccines for diseases that still claim millions of lives today. In our first class we talked about scientific method and how it presented a model of sorts that show how scientists begin to ask the right questions about what they want to find out as how to build and integrate previous research that has been carried out on similar experiments. Given the nature of viruses such as HIV which continues to mutate thus rendering antibiotics ineffective after sometime, science in this case plays a particularly crucial role in that observations made in the past can help with future solutions. While some may argue that cures and vaccines do exist but are being held onto by corporations desperate to make a profit of them, or perhaps the transportation of these vaccines is what hinders much of the populations that need it from receiving it, however I think these two problems are externalities to the precedents set forth by science.

Lastly, I think that working on devices which last longer and still maintain the same levels performance is a challenge that will catch up with the human race within the next 50 years, if it has not begun to do so already. Our social lives are becoming increasingly connected to devices that utilize power i.e laptops, cellphones, iPods, iPads, and Kindles. The more we have devices like these, the more we find ourselves dependent on them- I for one use my Blackberry for everything from texting, to Facebooking to getting directions on Google-maps, and not surprisingly I find myself always seeking out a socket at whatever restaurant I find myself in (something that restaurant managers do not seem to like). While one answer to the challenge of longer lasting devices would be to use them for a shorter time, there are no indicators that this will be a trend quick to catch on in the near future. Thus it is not so much science as it is with technology that one may find one of many solutions to this challenge. If technology can find a way to make one's life easier, I think that it can equally find a way to make it more energy efficient. Although I was old enough to have a pager when those were the "in-thing" to have, I think they were very efficient in that they lasted long and you did what you needed to do- which was communicate with person B in location X. Today, we are literally spoilt for choice with how we choose to communicate and somehow we rarely think "This is the more energy efficient route to communicate therefore I will choose this" and end up becoming part of the never-ending cycle of constantly trashing the old and getting the new when we have overused and exhausted these devices.

ATMOSPHERE I (Monday 7 February 2011)

  • Which specific aspects of climate change did the designers of atmosphere choose to focus on?

The overall exhibition focused on climate science and how humans interact within that realm. The designers emphasized a fundamental understanding of how our climate has worked over the years and how it might work in the future. Although I did not manage to try all the interactive models they had, I found the demonstration on how different parts of the Earth experience different climates to be extremely helpful. The exhibition also focused on advancements that have been made in technology that use more sustainable energy sources and have a marginally lesser effect on the Earth’s environment.

   * How well sourced was the science and technology discussed in the kiosks? 

I would say that the information presented at the various stations throughout the gallery was very well sourced for two main reasons. First, much of the information covered topics that I have learnt about in previous classes and as far as I know it was not contrary to what I read in textbooks or discussed lectures. An example of this was the graph that showed the increase of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 50 years or so, I recognized this from a climate and energy policy class that I took last spring with Thor. Secondly, on the science museum website it was noted that most of the information displayed in the exhibition was received from the Met Office, a “trading fund”(a department established within government using special funds) under the Ministry of Defense. They have state of the art equipment that is funded by the government and have been heralded with the success of the D-Day landings in 1944. In my opinion, that is enough to convince me that the information presented is well-sourced (in the narrow sense of the word-information derived from a reliable, renowned source).

   * What was the most surprising thing you learned?

I would not use the word surprising to describe the experience I had at the exhibition, I would use the word “intriguing” instead simply because climate change has been an ongoing topic whose content has been seen across all fields (science and humanities). That being said, there were two things I found intriguing throughout the exhibition simply because I felt like I walked away with some valuable knowledge after seeing/interacting with them which were the demonstration on how different climates in the world are formed and research that is currently going into batteries with renewable power storage. This is mostly because I talked about longer lasting devices in my first journal and think that batteries with renewable power storage present a much better alternative in that we, as humans, would still be able to use the same amount of energy if not more while having a greater positive impact on the environment. However, the slideshow I saw talked about solar energy in batteries being at 29% efficiency at the moment, which is much higher than previous attempts in the past.

   * Which of the interactive kiosks did you find most engaging? Why?

The interactive kiosk I found most engaging was one that asked you to be build a model of the environment in order to help explain the various mechanics of how climate can be influenced and what effect it has on land and water. This was very engaging because it was challenging especially after each successive level. Figuring out what to put in the model was not arbitrary and one really needed to consider what was scientists would want to show using that model and what elements would be most important if featured in the model.

Which of the interactive kiosks did you find least engaging? Why?

I found the interactive kiosk about London and how much it contributed to global warming a lot less engaging than other presentation because it presented information that was fairly general in a monotonous slideshow format which came off as extremely passive and unstimulating.

Greenland Review

Greenland- the territory that belongs to Denmark? Not quite. This is the title of a play that was the culmination of four individuals finding a way to communicate the subject of climate change to us- plastic consuming, environment polluting, Blackberry using humans. Before the play began, a handful of quotations were projected on the theatre’s version of curtains made mechanical. I commented to Mckayla and Gillian that statements like that including phrases like “the time is now; it is already happening; population; unsustainable” were wearing thin on my fairly progressive conscience- because everywhere you look that seems to be the message being pummeled into your eardrums. At this point, it is safe to safe I understand the gravity of the situation that mankind is in. Watching this play turned the delivery of this message from pummeling into something more reflective and self-directed, in that I had the choice of which how I chose to understand climate change.

This play was extremely effective because it portrayed the flawed human and our tendency to create and perpetuate a self-fulfilling paradigm, whereby our lifestyles and what we are willing to give up in the name of our beloved environment is nowhere near how much is done to push the message of making a change now because it is already "too late." Although the play begun in a rather eclectic fashion that took a while to get used to, I felt represented both as one of the characters struggling with the question of what to do as well as an audience member watching the show and criticizing their approach to the topic. The set was incredible and masterfully materialized through each scene serving to keep the play lively and entertaining. Their use of the projector to display numbers, graphs, video clips and statistics was a modern twist to theatre I have never experienced before, but nonetheless appreciated greatly. I believe the intention of the writers who wrote this play was to probe at the question of what our role as human beings is in the face of climate change without the unnerving feeling of having a moral at the end of the story with scary figures and statements. In addition, I thought it prompted the audience to critically examine how their role could be affected given factors such as television, technology and growing inequality playing such a tremendous role in how we think about climate change and what ends up being done about it.


   *  What do you believe the take-away message to be?

Based on all the experiences I have had including reading Science Matters, visiting the Science museum, watching Greenland at the National Theatre and walking around Kew Garden, the take-home message to me seems fairly infallible. Know how your world works and then you might start to have an idea as to how to help preserve it and understand why scientists study what they do. A book like Science Matters should be compulsory reading for every freshman in every college around the world because it provides a fundamental and user-friendly glimpse into the world of science. This has been an important foundation for understanding the value of places such as the Science Museum and Kew Gardens because instead of looking at the wealth of objects they have on display for us as aesthetic elements, merely for our pleasure at their novelty, everything from the smallest fossil to the tallest tree serves to increase our knowledge of the Earth, even if one does not feel like it in the moment.

What I believe to be the take-home message is indeed very broad as there are different ways one can know about our Earth as well as different ways of interpreting that knowledge. However, the fundamental element in knowing how our world works comes from the ever-increasing evasiveness of technology and how fast it is (in theory) to gain knowledge on anything from how to build a bomb to how to belly dance. Having gone on the excursions for this course, I firmly believe that knowing about how our world is not about ‘googling’ the greenhouse effect and skimming paragraphs on Wiki- it is about learning something through experiencing it and having it mean something to you.

• Which of the modalities did you find most effective at communicating that message: reading, museum, or theatre? Why?

Quite honestly, I think that a combination of all three has been very effective in sensitizing the importance of being scientifically literate and understanding the implications of climate change. However, if I had to pick one I would lean toward the museum experience as the most effective means of communication because it relies on the individual’s agency in seeking information and knowledge about how our Earth works. Theatre and reading also include some degree of autonomy however one cannot skip to the middle of play because they suddenly become curious about issues addressed at the point, nor can one read a book in a sequence in which new ideas pop into one’s mind. At the museum, I have found that certain facts and concepts were revealed to me in a very calm and unstructured environment making me more receptive to information and less likely to assume that I would not understand it. Sometimes effective communication does not lie within how the information being communicated is packaged i.e. how in a book or in a play, it more dependent on how willing a person is to receive that information and past experience dictates that this is most likely to occur when someone does not feel compelled or coerced into receiving that information.

• What's different about the message here in England than what you hear in your home country about climate change? Different than at Earlham?

In Kenya climate change is not a policy that has a priority as high as increasing MPs allowances. Students usually receive information about climate change in Geography classes early on in their education, however there aren’t separate programmes that emphasize sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. One of the more famous movements led by Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai the Green Belt Movement is one of the only well-known and establishments in Kenya relating to climate change. While Maathai did excellent work in organizing large numbers of women and planting as many trees as they did, they only served to single her out as a political threat and resulted in much harrasment (beatings, arrests and unfair treatment) when raising awareness about climate change and preserving Kenya’s resources. Hearing about climate change is an option that is available to an elite few with enough sense and education to actively seek it out and take it seriously. I think that the message in England differs from that at Earlham in that the issue of climate change is not treated as a social signifier indicating lifestyle and character. Here everybody is somehow forced to be aware of the implications of climate change because recycling is compulsory and everybody that has a car pay a congestion tax. At Earlham nothing necessarily exists to unify our ideas that identify climate change as a problem affecting all of us requiring a collective effort. Instead you see extreme ends of the spectrum visible in that you have the few who dry their clothes on lines of rope on Barrett’s balcony and recycle almost everything and you have those that not only leave their lights on and laptops plugged in, but never recycle because they consider it a “hippie” thing to do and something that they, and those they identify with would never do.