Sunday, January 24, 2010

13 Weeks to Earth Day: Week 4: The Past

This Post is dedicated to Dave Boynton

"What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment.  And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new.  Right now!"  Anonymous

For the most part, I try to live in the present; however,  I believe that I am not only the sum of my personal life experience, but of life in its entirety.   I think that it’s important to look and learn from the past both from our mistakes and our achievements.  We humans collectively seem to have a somewhat short memory when it comes to both!

When it comes to the environment there are certainly lessons to be learned from the past!  The story of Easter Island is one good example and there are many more; some are stories of destruction, as in Latin America and the Caribbean ,Africa and other places, but there are plenty of Success Stories too,  proving that increased education is helping us to mend our ways when it comes to environmental damage.  There is still a long way to go, but every step counts.
Lesson Plans

1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No:  4 is The Past!  With younger children, 4 – 8,  explore people living in the past, how they lived, what their lives were like.  Are there any things that we do today that are similar?  What can we learn from them?  One example of how we have recently learned from the past is recycling.  Recycling has become almost universal in many developed countries; before recycling, all those products went to the landfill.  When did we begin to make all those products?  How did people in the past dispose of their garbage?  What kind of garbage did they have?

2.  For older children take a look at some of the species that have become extinct.  China’s rare  River Dolphin  is one of the most recent animals to disappear; the Hawaiian O O Bird bird is another.  On the other hand there are quite a few success stories showing that when people discover something is wrong, they can work together to reverse the situation.  The Blue Butterfly is one example,  and the Osprey, another.  Ask your students to research some recent environmental success stories and examine why they were successful.  Are there any examples in your community of changes that people have made to protect the environment?

3.  Invasive or Introduced species can completely change ecosystems, for the most part in a negative way.  The Hawaiian Islands were once a flourishing haven of biodiversity and all the species that lived there came by wing, water or air.  The only native mammals were the Hawaiian Hoary Bat and the Hawaiian Monk seal.  The arrival of the first humans brought pigs, deer and other species that soon began to devastate the ecosystems.  Ask students to find other examples of species that have been introduced into a region in the past,  thereby affecting change to the present day ecology.  What do the students think about this?  Some people argue that it is just nature taking its course, while others say humans must intervene, so it provides an interesting debate topic.  However, in many instances humans transport species to new countries or regions. Here is a rather scary example of how a venomous Huntsman spider hitched a ride.  

Interconnections:  The global impact of Deforestation is a good example of how past actions to the environment are now impacting the present.   From desertification to climate change,  cutting large swaths of forest impacts everyone.  Ask students to write a list of how deforestation impacts the world, from the local to the global.  You can also use this as a History Lesson since deforestation in Europe and the United States began a long time ago!

Story – The Animal's Lawsuit is a story from long ago that has lessons that pertain to many of our present-day circumstances.  This organization in the UK has turned it into a Play and they are workshopping it in schools around London.  I highly recommend buying the Book; it is a remarkable read.

Songs:  I am always cautious about sharing too much information about extinction with young children, however, it is a fact of life and therefore I have written songs about this subject.  One is the O O Bird
and the bird-song featured at the beginning of the song, was given to me by Dave Boynton, a great naturalist and photographer who lived on the Island of Kaua’i.  Dave played this recording up in the mountains, after a hurricane devastated Kaua’I in 1985.  The song, which is sung by a female bird, attracted a male looking for the female.  Sadly this was the last bird to be seen, and Dave was the last person to see it, in 1987.  Dave Boynton died in a fall along Kaua’I’s Na Pali coast in 2007. The other song I have uploaded is Survivors which is about species trying to survive extinction.  These songs bring up a very important question; are we willing to stand by and allow so many more species to disappear because of our Unsustainable lifestyles?   2010 is the United Nations Year of Biodiversity, so perhaps you can talk with your students about what each one of us can do to try and mitigate this terrible decline in species.

Green Action of the Week: Plant a tree (if you can) or support an organization that plants trees, or have a fund drive to raise money to buy trees.  Learn about people like Wangari Maathai the Nobel Prize winner who began the Green Belt Movement, or watch the delightful film: The Man Who Planted Trees
Additional resources: This is kind of cool for students to see:  Maps Changing How We See the World
Hope you have a great week and that these ideas might help bring some fun and interesting discussions into your classroom or your home.
As always, in gratitude to this Earth for Life!

Drawing of the Hawaiian OO Bird by John Gerrard Keulemans from Wikipedia Commons
Animation by JC Little of
Trivia: There is a mistake in the lyrics of the song - the OO bird was last seen in 1987, so it wsa not after the hurricane of 1992.

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