Santa uses critical thinking skills to act on climate change

Every Christmas, I think about a story a young boy wrote about Santa’s investigation of global warming.  After noticing a growing puddle in his village, Santa sent Rudolph and the other reindeer to see what was happening around the world.  The reindeer returned with stories of many changes:  melting of the polar ice caps, drought in the United States, storms and flooding in England, and the warming of the oceans.  Santa listened to the reindeers’ feedback and ACTED, placing solar panels throughout his village.

Oh, if politicians could be just like Santa and his elves.  But no, the delegates to the U.N.’s climate change conference in Doha (which ended this past Saturday) failed to “secure one new pledge from a major emitter.”  In fact, Canada, Russia, and Japan opted out of the Kyoto Protocol.   Lewis, Climate talks don’t move on emissions.  Chicago Tribune, p. 13 Monday December 10, 2012.  The U.S. is not a signatory to Kyoto.

What if Santa decided to educate the delegates about climate change? Motivate them to act on this pressing problem, Santa style.   Knowing Santa, he’d pick up his trusty copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy and take the delegates through the steps critical thinkers use to solve an issue.  He’d focus on the following elements:  knowledge (tapping into prior knowledge as well as teaching new material), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  For a more in depth discussion on Bloom’s Taxonomy, see Stern, 8/29/12.

To build knowledge, Santa would make the study of climate change real and personal.  He'd have the delegates go outside and look for changes in their environment.  He'd ask them to study weather and climate.  Perhaps they'd visit Chicago.  We hit 70 in Chicago in December and had record heat waves this summer. Better yet, Santa would have the delegates follow the path of destruction left behind by Hurricane Sandy.  Teach them that Sandy was so intense because it developed over oceans that were five degrees hotter than normal.

Next, Santa would be sure to check for comprehension.  He’d want to be certain that every delegate understood why the Earth was warming so that they'd be able to explain it to people in their nations.  He’d do that by having delegates simulate the Greenhouse Effect.  See, “The Greenhouse Effect in a Jar,  Over time, Santa would ask the delegates to compare the temperatures of the air trapped in the jar to circulating air.  Guess which one is hotter?

The best way to check for comprehension is to ask someone to explain the concept.  So Santa called on a delegate who described the Greenhouse Effect:

Picture the Earth in a greenhouse.  Call the air in the greenhouse gases.  Essentially, these greenhouse gases capture some infrared rays that should have been reflected out of our planet’s atmosphere.  Instead of being released or reflected back towards the Sun, some of these infrared rays are trapped (just like the glass of the greenhouse traps light and heat) and this heat trapped in our atmosphere has made our Earth hotter than ever before."

"That," he told Rudolph, "is an excellent example of comprehension!"

That delegate, however, was not done with his explanation:

What are some of these heat-trapping gases?  Two of the worst are carbon dioxide and methane.  Carbon dioxide comes from the burning of fossil fuels.  Methane is found in farming areas.

Another delegate drew a picture of the heat trapped Earth.  Santa was so proud that the delegates had the ability to demonstrate comprehension in different ways.

Now Santa moved on to a tougher element of Bloom’s Taxonomy:  Application.  “Take a look at the impact of climate change around the world.”  Things started to come together for the delegates as they were able to find signs of global climate change and environmental pollution on their own:

  • Drought
  • Rising sea levels
  • Melting of the western half of Antarctica
  • Polar bears sitting on melting ice floes
  • Oil spills in the Gulf of New Mexico

So tragic to see. The delegates began to shudder and shake.

Santa calmed the delegates with eggnog and schnapps and then introduced them to analysis, a challenging element of Blooms. Recharged, the delegates decided to analyze the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, the governing document on climate change.  They hoped this would help them understand the obligations of the nations who signed the Protocol. Maybe analysis would shed light on the reasons Russia, Canada and Japan were opting out of Kyoto.  Or, why the U.S. refused to sign Kyoto?  One of the delegates called the EPA, urging scientists to figure out whether we have exceeded healthy levels of carbon dioxide in our air.  If we have, how can we cut back?

Synthesis, one of the highest levels of thinking, is very abstract.  As Santa explained, synthesis involves coming up with a new product.  Perhaps a new agreement on climate change or different types of renewable energy. The delegates wondered:

  • How might Kyoto be revised?  What will happen when Kyoto expires?  Devising a new agreement would raise new issues.  A new mission statement.  More aggressive emissions targets.
  • Scientists are constantly coming up with new strands of renewable energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel.   This month, Israel and China agreed to collaborate on methanol and solar power technology.   Israel partners with China in Renewable Energy Technology,

Santa's elves have synthesis down pat, making solar ovens and building sleds of recycled aluminum.  The delegates were impressed.  They urged Santa to add higher order thinking to each stocking!

Evaluation is viewed by some as the highest level of critical thinking.  Judges use it when they decide cases.  So do teachers when they review students’ work and assign grades. Every Christmas season, Santa uses it when he decides whether children have been naughty or nice.  Santa urged the delegates to go back to their respective countries, review the Doha agreement, and begin thinking about which model for emissions reduction would work in their country.  After all, the delegates need to be prepared for next year’s round of climate change talks in Warsaw, Poland.

Though the weather continues to be mild,  Santa announced that it was time to return to the North Pole to make his final preparations for Christmas. Yes, he was giving the delegates the gift of critical thinking to solve climate change and other serious problems.  But what about the children?

Our real present to the children will be that the air is clean, the weather will return to normal and all the animals will stop being frightened.  The polar bears will be well fed again, the fish will return to the Maldives, the forests will stop catching fire, the seal pups will grow strong and healthy and people will be able to keep living the same way they have for thousands of years.

Anonymous, A young boy’s story on Santa’s investigation of climate change

Here's to higher level thinking and a greener world!  There's much to do this holiday season.  

Happy holidays!

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