Minneapolis Zoo Teaches Activism, Disruption

Published February 7, 2011

The School of Environmental Studies (SES) at the Minneapolis Zoo is the environmental academy for juniors and seniors within the public school district serving the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Upfront Activism
Unlike many environmental schools whose educational philosophy is vaguely documented, SES is extremely forthcoming about what it does and does not teach. It does teach conservation and environmental activism; it does not teach environmental science.

The school emphasizes it “is not an Environmental Science school. Environmental Studies include literature, history, art, philosophy, political and social science, writing, economics, public speaking, photography, technology and math, along with environmental science (emphasis in original).”

The school is not kidding. Students are never issued their own environmental science textbooks; there is a single one for reference in the 11th grade classroom, and it is16 years old. Instead, students read such books as Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Walden and other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. And they study “ecofeminism” and review articles such as “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse,” by Stephen Jay Gould.

Instead of science, they study broad themes, such as: “How do organisms adapt culturally?” “What has shaped our view of the relationships between humans and the natural world?” “What environmental ethics have humans developed?” “What is the aesthetic value of water?” and “What is the symbolic importance of water?”

Shouting Down Science Experts
The omission of science from the school’s curriculum doesn’t stop some of these students from believing they are environmental science experts and acting on their presumed knowledge.

SES sent a delegation of students to the United Nations Climate Conference (COP16) in Cancun last year, where they joined other climate change alarmist youth groups in asking conference attendees to restrict carbon dioxide emissions. They also engaged in chanting, singing, dancing, and shouting down those who disagree with them.

For example, they confronted Lord Christopher Monckton, a prolific and prominent global warming skeptic.

As the students tell it on their blog: “When we came to the 350 booth [the 350 group wants governments to force carbon dioxide reductions] to 350 parts per million by volume from the current level of 390 ppmv] something strange was happening. Lord Christopher Monckton, one of the world’s most prominent anthropogenic climate change skeptics, had started to be interviewed by a mob right next to where YOUNGO [youth non-governmental organizations] had been doing an action.

“One of the YOUNGO members, Reed Aronow, was proceeding to yell and invite passers by to come and vote against sea level rise in hopes of drowning out Monckton. Coming across all of this action definitely caught us off guard and left us in a bit of a shock, but as soon as I came to my senses I was quick to disregard Monckton and join Reed in a chant saying, ‘1.5 degrees [below some recent level in Celsius] in the text. Right here. Right now!’ The two of us chanted and brought in people to vote against the rise of sea levels.”

According to the students, they shouted Monckton down. “Eventually we had drawn a crowd and the cameras left Monckton for us…. In the end we had drowned out Monckton, reducing his crowd to three, two of whom were debating him.…”

The Other Side
That’s not how Lord Monckton tells it. He remembers “the shrieking children” in the 350 group: “They had asked me why I doubted the ‘overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists,’ and I had been quietly explaining that science is not done by consensus and never was.…”

Monckton says he explained climate computer models don’t work, that they exaggerate the climate’s reaction to carbon dioxide levels, and that “there were many far greater problems right here, right now, not the least of which was energy poverty: People living without electricity in villages just one or two miles from the swank Caribbean resort where the conference was being held.”

Monckton said the students “demanded to know why I objected to keeping global mean surface warming below 1.5 Celsius.” Monckton asked: “1.5 Celsius below what?…
The bafflement on their faces was no surprise: They hadn’t thought of that.”

An adult said 1.5 Celsius below preindustrial levels, Monckton recalled. “Ah, but which preindustrial level?” Monckton recalls asking. He went on to point out, “In central England we have the longest continuous regional temperature record in the world. From 1695 to 1735 in Central England, which has been shown to be a reasonable proxy for global temperature change, the climate warmed by 2.2 Celsius in just 40 years, and there has never been so rapid a temperature change anywhere in the world since then. But temperature today is a few tenths of a degree higher than it was in 1745, so we are already heading for twice the 1.5 Celsius limit you want to impose. Are you really saying that more than 1 C of global cooling is a good idea?”

The students left, Monckton said, “arguing with one another about what ‘1.5’ could possibly mean if the limit had already been exceeded, and whether they really wanted people to die of cold. Some of them looked quite worried,” Monckton recalls, adding, “they have much to learn about the uses and abuses of rational argument, and still more to learn about the science and economics of climate.”

—Maureen Martin

For More Information:

School of Environmental Studies Curriculum: http://www.district196.org/ses/curr/curriculum.html

The School of Environmental Studies at Cop16: http://www.sescop16.blogspot.com

Commonly asked questions about the School of Environmental Studies: http://www.district196.org/ses/visit/20_ques.html