A little quiz with BIG revelations.
Take the following quiz and then check and review the answers that are provided afterwards. It is important to answer all eight questions before beginning to review them.
Question #1: How many of the world’s countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol
(the international agreement to curb the emission of greenhouse gasses)?
(d) more than 150
Question #2: Which political leader is known to have said the following (in the recent past):
“What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization and strong economic growth from a world population that has increased sixfold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long-term. And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence.”
(a) Former President George H.W. Bush
(b) British Prime Minister Tony Blair
(c) President George W. Bush
(d) French President Jacques Chirac
(e) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Question #3: Who among the following people are noteworthy contemporary environmentalists?
(a) Vandana Shiva
(b) Julia Butterfly Hill
(c) Wangari Maathai
(d) David Orr
(e) Aqella Sherrills
Question #4: Which of the following are titles of current environmental journals?
(a) E – The Environmental Magazine
(b) Earth Island Journal
(c) Orion Magazine
(d) World Watch Magazine
(e) Scientific American
Question #5: In the United States, how many tigers are kept as pets?
(a) less than 100
(e) more than 5,000
Question #6: How much native prairie still exists in Illinois (as a percent of what was prairie in the early 1800s)?
(a) less than 1%
(d) more than 30%
Question #7: What percentage of children in Illinois has elevated, and potentially dangerous, lead levels in their bodies?
(a) less than 2%
(d) more than 10%
Question #8: How much of the world’s military budget does the U.S. government spend?
(a) less than 10%
(e) more than 40%
Question #1 Analysis: (answer, d) Believe or not, over 150 nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, 161 countries have (as of Feb. 1, 2006) ratified (or otherwise formally approved) this important landmark in international environmental governance. Among the few exceptions are the following countries: Kazakhstan, Crotia, Australia, and the United States. The Protocol, which went into effect last year, after Russia’s Parliament ratified it, calls for the reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide (and five other greenhouse gasses) over the next decade. Its requirements are a first step and it is refreshing to see that most of the world’s nations recognize this and are making a commitment to reduce emissions of these important agents in anticipated climate change. It is rather absurd that the United States, the country that produces the most carbon dioxide (accounting for almost a quarter of the world’s emissions), hasn’t found it necessary to debate the merits of this policy with its citizens in an active display of democracy. Because the last two U.S. Administrations have rejected the Protocol, our country looks very selfish and anti-science in the eyes of others. Is this an image that we want to project? How aware are people here about how “backward” the U.S. appears on the issue of climate change and global warming? How many more environmental disasters will we have to endure before we admit that irreversible and catastrophic climate change may actually occur this century?
Question #2 Analysis: (answer, b) British Prime Minister Tony Blair said these remarks in a speech presented at the Prince of Wale’s Business and the Environment Programme lecture, Sept. 14, 2004. The position presented by Blair sharply contrasts with the White House’s, which repeatedly has questioned the scientific consensus on the likelihood of future anthropogenic (i.e., human initiated) climate change. Does it matter that a leader of a major power broker in the world (i.e., England) feels so drastically different from the United States on what some consider one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century? Once again, how is the United States perceived by others when such a sharp contrast is evident? If one also recognizes that the United States is one of very few countries to have not ratified the Biodiversity Treaty either, a recurrent theme becomes evident. Can we live in opposition to (or isolation of) the other 96% of the world’s people? At what cost?
Question #3 Analysis: (answer, a-e, trick question, all are true) The first four people mentioned are household names among environmental thinkers. Vandana Shiva is physicist and philosopher from India who has written extensively on a wide range of environmental topics and participated in many grassroots movements. She received the Right Livelihood Award (some consider this equivalent in magnitude to the Nobel Prize) in 1993 for “placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.” Julia Butterfly Hill is an environmentalist and writer who spent over two years in an old-growth redwood tree in the west coast of the United States to draw attention to the plundering of our nation’s ancient treasures. Her environmentally-consciousness materialized while traveling in our country’s natural areas, something she was drawn to do while recovering from a near-fatal automobile accident. Wangari Maathai should be a name familiar to everyone, given that she was the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 (and also a carrier of the Olympic torch last week during the opening ceremony in Italy). Wangari’s contribution to all of humanity is much too grand to capture in a sentence, so let me recommend that readers take the time to find out more about this gargantuan hero and all she has accomplished despite imprisonment and state-sponsored beatings. David Orr probably is unfamiliar to most but he is revolutionizing how we think about environmental education in this country. A professor at Oberlin College in Ohio, Mr. Orr, who has written books entitled, The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture and Human Intention (2004) and Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect among others, was the major force behind the building of an ecologically-friendly, energy-neutral, and state-of-the-art college building. Aqella Sherrills (someone I introduced to Zephyr readers several years ago) is not that well-known among environmentalists but should be. He was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and grew up watching many of his friends die at the hands of gang violence. While in college on a basketball scholarship, Aqella had a personal epiphany which began his lifelong journey to free his community of violence and to bring a sense of hope back, especially to its innocent children. Now, Aqella, one of the most captivating speakers I have ever heard, takes a deep understanding of how happiness, peace, and a clean environment are interrelated, and works with environmental thinkers from all over the world to bridge gaps of separation and disconnection. When we don’t have role models to draw lessons from, we have a hard time finding paths that are secure and humane. Might all of us have something to learn from these modern visionaries? Why is it that they get so little coverage by the mainstream media? Are there others who deserve our respect and admiration? Sure there are. Have we looked?
Question #4 Analysis: (answer, a-e, all are true) A walk through a typical grocery store check-out counter will not expose us to environmental thinking, quite the opposite. The magazines that are sold at mainstream grocers communicate messages, both in words and in photos, that are utterly counterproductive to a healthy planet—focus all of your attention on your looks, the lives of the rich and famous, and the acquisition of material commodities. Even during a recent trip to a “good” national book store chain, I found the environmental magazines (the four they carried) situated where the eye could not see them (unless you were a snoopy two-year old). It is truly amazing to me how hidden they were. Perhaps they are located where they were because they don’t sell well. Yet, whatever the reason, shouldn’t we ask why our culture has relegated environmental thinking to the margins of our collective landscape (if not eliminated them altogether)? What are the short and long-term costs to a society that chooses (or is directed) to be so blithely ignorant of important environmental concerns—such as, clear air, clean water, non-toxic soil, and biologically rich habitats? Fortunately, all the journals listed are available by subscription (at very reasonable prices), so why not pick one up for yourself or someone special? (For those that are skeptical about Scientific American being a prominent source of environmental thinking, check out its September 2005 issue—the one that I summarized in these pages in the September 29, 2005 issue.)
Question #5 Analysis: (answer, e) Would you believe that there are ~12,000 pets which are tigers in the United States? As reported in The Economist on June 15, 2002, we now have many more tigers in U.S. homes than exist in the wild! There are at least 4,000 pet tigers in Texas alone. This is more than are roaming about India! What is an environmentalist to make of this? What is anyone to make of this? Do you want a pet tiger? Well, apparently, there are many websites that enable people to buy one online for less than the cost of some purebred canines (and I’m not talking about some stuffed toy that you pick up at an amusement park). Should it be legal to own a pet tiger? There are laws against such things but so many loopholes exist and sufficiently strict laws banning this practice can only be found in certain states and municipalities. So while tiger habitat is being lost at astonishing rates and genetic variation within the species undergoes significant decline, I guess we can seek solace in the fact that Mike Tyson (one of the proud owners of a cub) is keeping the species alive for us. Who needs (or has time) to think about the rapacious depletion of forested areas in other countries when we have such a strong (some even might say “ferocious,” remember the biting incident) protector of animal rights? (Sarcasm intentional)
Question #6 Analysis: (answer, a) As much as I love tigers, they don’t necessarily help us breathe or maintain agriculturally productive lands here in North America. (Our continent’s tigers—including the Sabertooth—are thought to have gone extinct about 10,000 years due a combination of climate change and excessive human hunting.) However, prairies do, especially in the Midwest. Unfortunately, due to the aggressive and poorly managed takings of land, nearly all of the native prairies, which once covered ~60% of Illinois, are now gone. Might prairies go the way of the Sabertooth? Will it matter if they do? Consider the multitudinous services that prairies provide (essentially for free), such as, reducing soil erosion, purify the air and water, supporting pollinators, and serving as habitat for thousands of diverse species (all activities essential to maintaining productive lands for agriculture). Can we be so naēve to think that our prairies are so expendable? Since there still is some prairies (and therefore native seeds) left, all is not lost. Many organizations are leading the fight to protect the few remaining prairies as well as to expand opportunities for new prairie developments. I guess the phrase, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” needs a swift rejoinder followed by a sustained pattern of concern and action. Care to join this effort? You don’t even have to look very far for places to start. How does your backyard sound?
Question #7 Analysis: (answer, d) According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (ILDPH), nationally, about 16% of American children (under the age of 7) have lead poisoning. A large scale study done in Chicago from 1996-1998 found that (an amazing) 22.4% of child in IL’s largest city had elevated levels of lead in their blood, with black (non-Hispanic) populations exhibiting the highest percentages (nearly 30%). Closer to home, an IL study conducted by ILDPH on over 2,000 children in Peoria found that nearly 15% have blood lead levels in excess of 10 micrograms per deciliter (mg/dl), the threshold above which neurological impairment is expected; scientific studies have shown detrimental cognitive impact in levels at 2 mg/dl and lower. If 5 children (in a class of 30) are expected to exhibit mental delay (or other cognitive impairments) because of lead in our environment, shouldn’t this be a front page story (nearly every day until the problem is fixed)?
Where is the lead coming from, anyhow? Wasn’t it supposed to go “away,” once we took it out of our gasoline in the mid-1980s? Well, heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, don’t just go “away.” They circulate through bodies, streams, soils, and atmospheres, once we dig them up out of the ground and disseminate them. Despite awareness of the persistent hazards of these substances for many decades, we are still digging up more of them and spreading them throughout our environment (for example, mercury spreads by way of coal power plants). For our children, our homes are the primary sources via the lead based paint that we used a generation ago (before it was banned in the 1970s in the United States, even though it was banned in the 1920s by countries in Europe). Senator Barack Obama is leading a campaign to rid our schools, homes, and our lives of this pernicious substance. Might we help him in this fight? Do you want your grandchildren to wonder why our generation was so negligent? When do you think we’ll see a cover story on lead in this (or any other newspaper)? Don’t count your chickens; just make your own eggs (i.e., write the story yourself).
Question #8 Analysis: (answer, e) The United States spends over $400 billion dollars on military expenditures each year. This number is between 43-49% of the world’s total (numbers obtained from Global Security and Global Issues, two organizations which collect and report such data). This is 7 times more than China spends, 8 times more than Russia, 10 times more than France, 12 times more than Germany, and 27 times more than India. As astonishing as these figures are, one might ask, “Why is this relevant to a quiz on environmental awareness?” It couldn’t be more relevant, I am afraid. You see, almost every time I’ve hear cogent arguments about the need to clean up our homes (of lead), our lakes (of mercury), or the atmosphere (of sulfur dioxides or nitrogen oxides), I can anticipate the response from the power brokers of our society—“Do you know how much that is going to cost?” Yet, when one looks at the pot of money that we have to spend, we are always directed to look inside the “small” cookie jar, rather than the “big” one. If we even took 25% of our military budget and spent it on making our country (and, by extension, the entire planet) less polluted and less vulnerable to collapse, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time “worrying” about (or actually) being sick or stifled by the “it costs too much” syndrome. Isn’t it about time to tell the human hawks to vacate the treasury nests that they have so securely reigned over for so long, and let people with human principles and ecological knowledge protect the eggs so that future generations may prosper? How many more schools need to close before we realize who is stealing from our coffers?
How many questions did you get correct? Were you surprised by your performance? I’ve provided some commentary here, but it would be excellent if readers shared their views as well. Unless we begin to look squarely (i.e., face-to-face or in the mirror) at these types of statistics, how are we going to make the changes that are required to live in a safe, peaceful, and well-informed society? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this question as well.
Peter Schwartzman (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Knox College. He is a climatologist with publications in the area of climate change and human population growth. A nationally-ranked Scrabble® player, he is also the founder and maintainer of the website dedicated to peace and empowerment: www.onespower.org.