Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why Environmental Law Professors Should Watch "Through the Wormhole"

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

      Unfortunately, I am spending my day with a health issue. By way of a silver lining, that gave me the perfect excuse to catch up on episodes of "Through the Wormhole."  All of which has led me to conclude: If you're still a stranger to "Through the Wormhole," you shouldn't be. (And, by the way, the first two seasons are readily available through Netflix and probably a lot of other services.)

     So, why make the effort to watch?

(1) If you like environmental law, the chances are good that you have at least a passing interest in science. This is cutting-edge science, presented in a very intelligent format.

(2) Okay, it's mostly physics (and mostly of the quantum/cosmological type) -- but how often do we get to go there?

(3) Morgan Freeman hosts. 'Nuf said.

(4) But none of that would be enough on its own for me to feature the show on this blog. The real reason that I think "Through the Wormhole" is worth the effort for environmental law professors is that the show provides EXCELLENT examples of how to teach complex scientific concepts. Each episode starts with a plain English, common-sense explanation of why what you're about to learn is important. You then get some normal-life analogy to explain what the scientists are doing -- for example, smashing a watch becomes analogous to smashing atoms. But the best part of the show are the visuals it treats you to -- pictures, animations, special effects (aliens morphing into scientists being my favorite so far), and all manner of scientific illustrations and data displays -- while the scientists and Mr. Freeman explain (with excellent senses of humor all around) what the heck the scientists are doing.

     I can't say, after watching the episode on subatomic particles, that I can give you a physicist-quality explanation of what a Higgs boson is -- although, in my own defense, the physicists talking about it seemed a little blown away by the concept as well. On the other hand, the episode on the possibility of alien life certainly gave me some new perspectives on water and ecological principles that I plan to incorporate into class, and the discussions of alternate evolutions on Earth (with careful and understandable presentations of the scientific evidence) will have repercussions for how I teach students about deep-sea thermal vent ecologies in Ocean and Coastal Law. I recommend the episode to anyone who teaches biodiversity issues to students.

     More importantly, the series as a whole is giving me some great new perspectives on how to blend lecture, video, and graphics into much more effective presentations of hard-core science than I've been doing to date. I think that the examples from the series will be especially instructuve for how I teach the basic science of climate change in Environmental Law and the basic human biochemical reactions to toxins in Toxic Torts. I'm really looking forward to experimenting next year!

     Give the show a try!

     -- Robin Kundis Craig

July 4, 2013 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Science, Sustainability, Television, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Resources, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflections on Obama on Climate Change

Busy as I've been with summer work, I didn't get around to listening to President Obama's climate change speech until last night.  In case you are in the same situation, the video is here and a full transcript is here.

What a terrific speech.  I really liked Obama's observation that those who say that environmental regulation will harm the economy lack faith in American ingenuity.  He gave a lot of good examples of how regulation has led to innovation that has been good for both the economy and the environment.   This message would have broad appeal if people would listen. 

Another highlight was Obama's remark that Keystone XL should not go forward if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” commented upon at Legal Planet by Steve Weissman.

I also appreciated Obama's calling out that environmental protection has not always been and should not be such a partisan issue.  I knew, for example, that the Clean Air Act was signed by President Nixon, but I didn't realize that it passed the House and Senate almost unanimously (with just one no vote in the House).  Wow. 

And, finally, I liked how Obama made references throughout about the importance of this issue to today's children.  As I've said before, I don't get why more parents and grandparents aren't demanding strong action.  As Obama put it:  "And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?"  

- Lesley McAllister

July 2, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)