Image12.gif (9696 bytes)PROGRESSION'S PRICE
By Heidi Ainsworth
University of Idaho


In the second half of the century, economic growth boosts economies, brings jobs, and promises to improve the quality of life in developing and industrialized countries. It also brings disease and destruction to land, air, water, and living things - spurring the environmental movement. This lesson focuses on a program segment about mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay, Japan; the discovery of the toxic effects of DDT on pelicans; and the 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which called public attention in the United States to the environmental costs of progress. In this program, environmental activists, former industry employees and Minamata Bay citizens describe how their lives were changed by these events.

Through the use of this program, students will reflect upon their own regional and national environments. They will analyze the causes of environmental problems as well as their implications during this 5-day unit.   Students will learn the effects of population growth as they participate in "The Popcorn Game," which illustrates what happens when exponential growth is limited by finite resources.

At the completion of the unit, students will investigate their own community's environmental quality and assign a rating to it. For their final assessment, students will work in groups to research one environmental issue of their choice and prepare a videotaped newscast, which will be broadcast throughout the entire school.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:

  • State facts about environmental issues in the United States.
  • Deduce why these environmental issues are occurring.
  • Explain what measures are being taken to reduce or eliminate environmental dangers.
  • Analyze how environmental detriments affect their individual community.
  • Interpret data and research in order to assign an environmental quality rating to their community.
  • Analyze how exponential growth works, as measured by "The Popcorn Game."
  • Demonstrate their knowledge of current environmental problems, as measured by a student-created newscast.

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  • Worksheet #1
  • Worksheet #2
  • Worksheet #3
  • EQR handouts: Part One and Part Two
  • Butcher paper
  • Markers
  • Journal
  • 1-2 brown paper grocery bags-one decorated with the Earth, the USA, and an "X" on your location. Label it "Earth's Resources."   (food,fuel,shelter,space.)
  • A sign for yourself on a string to wear around your neck or pin identifying yourself as Mother/Father Earth (or Nature)
  • 2 plastic trash bags-one for reserve popcorn, and one for recycled popcorn
  • Popcorn (2-3 days ahead, tell students they can earn 5 bonus points for bringing in a full unopened bag of popped microwave popcorn)
  • Hot air popcorn popper and one bag of popcorn as reserve if the donations don't arrive.
  • After determining how much is donated, fill the grocery bags, (approximately one-two per class)
  • Paper towel and placemats to put popcorn on.
  • Paper or index cards numbered for generations (#1-16 for a class of 32 in pairs).
  • Small (50 ml) and larger (400 ml) beakers to scoop popcorn.
  • one video camera
  • props (each group will choose what props they want to use during their newscast.)

Previewing Activities

A preview of the dangers of progression is necessary. At the beginning of this unit, students will be assigned to watch a news program, on their own time that highlights some sort of environmental problem. Hand out worksheet #1 before they watch the program. As they watch the program, students will be required to write down (on Worksheet #1) the environmental problem that is being discussed, its causes, its implications for the future, and what is being done to prevent the problem from escalating. You may choose to Have students do further research on their topic.

The next day, students will be divided into groups of five. In these groups, students will work together for thirty minutes. Each student will share their research with the other members. Students will then collaborate their ideas and create a poster, which will be headed "What We Know about Environmental Problems." This poster will include sentences, phrases, drawings, or sketches that the students feel illustrate their environmental issues. During this time, ask students to choose one member for their group to be a spokesperson. This appointed member will present the group's poster to the entire class.

After thirty minutes, invite the presenters to come forward one at a time and present their ideas. As they are doing this, record all of the students' ideas onto a larger poster. Students should be encouraged to discuss these environmental issues at this time.

On the third day, have students write in their journals for 15 minutes before viewing the program (Worksheet #2). Their journal responses should address the following questions:

What Should We Do? 
The population of the U.S. is expected to double in the next fifty years. Knowing that overpopulation is associated with many problems, would you be in favor of population control measures in an attempt to extend that timeline? Why or why not?

If there was no choice, which of the following measures would you consider implementing (be sure to discuss what each would achieve and possible problems related to implementation)?

a. limiting family size, number of children

b. limiting life extending measures for the terminally ill

c. limiting immigration (people coming into the U.S.)

d. others that come to mind

Focus for Viewing

During the video, students will be responsible for keeping track of key points and ideas. To give the students specific responsibilities while viewing the program, hand out Worksheet #3. This will serve as a viewing guide as it highlights the major concepts of environmental issues.

Viewing Activities

BEGIN THE VIDEO at the beginning as it describes the economic problems in Japan, specifically, the mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay, Japan.

PAUSE THE VIDEO after Tomiji Matsuda says, "I think people must be very careful about progress. It doesn't just bring benefits; it brings danger as well". Ask students to respond to the first question on Worksheet #3 in their daily journals. This question calls for examples of local, regional, and global environmental issues. Lead a discussion, which asks students why the Chisso Corporation and the Japanese government were slow to respond to the poisoning of Minamata Bay? Have students give other examples of how businesses and governments responded to environmental problems and what strategies people used to force them to take action (this question is also found on Worksheet #3  and students should write this information in their journals as well as discuss it in class).

FAST FORWARD THE VIDEO to the segment, which discusses the 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

RESUME THE VIDEO. Students will view this segment because Silent Spring was very significant in that it called public attention in the United States to the environmental costs of progress.

PAUSE THE VIDEO after the Silent Spring segment. Students will then form groups of five and share some of the activities they perform every day. They will also discuss how these activities help or harm the environment. (These questions can be found on Worksheet #3  and students are required to write their group responses in their daily journals as well). RESUME THE VIDEO.

STOP THE VIDEO after Astronaut Gene Kranz describes how seeing Earth from outer space changed his view of the environment. Lead students in a class discussion about the many different examples of harmful human activity. Students will then finish Worksheet #3  on their own.

Post Viewing Activities

Activity One

  • Introduce yourself as Mother of Father Earth/Nature and show students the bag (usually a brown paper bag that represents all Per Student: the resources of our planet. i.e.: food, shelter, fuel, space…)
  • Fill the bag with all the popcorn students have brought in, that you've gotten from a theater, or that you've already air popped. One or two grocery bags full is usually enough for a class of thirty.
  • hand out the generation numbers to pairs of students who have paper towel placemats on their tables. In a class of 32, you'd have 16 generations.
  • Go to generation "1" and scoop out 2 50 ml beakers of popcorn and put it on their placemat. This represents all of the Earth's resources that their generation used.
  • Then go to generation "2" and congratulate them on the births of their beautiful children. Ask them how much of the Earth's resources they need, if there are now twice as many people on the Planet.  They will say "4 beakers-full". After giving them their popcorn, ask the third generation to identify themselves and ask them how much they need to survive. (they need 8).
  • As you start to go scoop crazy, you might want to use a larger beaker. Each generation will need twice as much as the preceding generation. Usually around the 6th generation, the supply cannot meet the demand, and humans go extinct.   Just hand that generation what's left or give them the entire bag.
  • When the complaints begin, Mother/Father Earth just comments that "you aren't even born, so what's your problem?" Then, after their anxiety level is very high and to avoid Mutiny, ask the early generations if they are willing To take better care of our Planet and share the resources with Later generation. You can redistribute the popcorn then so that Everyone gets some.
  • Closure

  • How much popcorn would be required to last through the Neighboring class, assuming doubling? Through the school?
  • Can exponential growth continue without limit?
  • Compare the feeling of the early generations with those who were cheated.
  • Options for approaching the limit can be discussed, and Their social implications evaluated.
  • Write a paper on current systems of population control.
  • Write a paper on the statement "the secret of living a good Life is learning to live within limits."
  • Make Earthday or Conservation posters to display.

Post Viewing Activities

Activity Two
Community Quality Rating (E.Q.R.) (developed by Jon Fiorella)

In this investigation, we will use a rating system to indicate the environmental quality of your community. The following procedures explain how you can determine an E.Q. R. score for your community. This score will give you some idea of the pollution problems your community may be facing. If your community is fortunate enough to have no form of pollution, its E.Q.R. is 100. If the pollution is mild, the value is between 90-99 A score of 80-89 indicates a moderate problem. If the E.Q.R. is below 80, your community has a severe problem.
Part One

Part Two

Teacher's Note: This activity can be done in class as a field Trip. You can arrange for a bus to take students around the community to observe its environmental elements. However, this is time consuming. Teachers may opt to use this as an enrichment activity, which students would do on their own time. If this is the case, students should do this at the end of the unit so they can reflect upon on they have learned as they observe and analyze their community's environmental quality.

At the completion of the unit, students will work in groups of five to create a newscast, which addresses some environmental group. Each group is responsible for the research, dialogue, and props necessary for their newscast. Students will have two full class periods to work on this newscast. On the third day, each group will present their newscast to the entire class. The teacher will videotape these newscasts. These newscasts will be broadcast throughout the entire school on Earth Day.

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  1. The advantages and disadvantages of a changed diet.
  2. How such a change could be implemented within our society.
  3. Problems that might be encountered in implementing such a change.
  4. Your present diet: would you be willing to change it, if you are not already eating vegetarian-like meals, why or why not?

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