Monday, December 15, 2014

Student voices

I am so glad that the students have been actively posting on this blog. Since I had to return to the states to give a final exam and finish my semester grading, I am behind in my writing.  Week 2 brought the 3rd annual Gender Day, a day focused on Human Rights, and visits from Al Gore and John Kerry (see note at the end of this post). U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, several high-level ministers, and even a few presidents and prime ministers showed up as well -- all imploring the negotiators to commit to ambitious agreements to reduce the threats of climate change (For example, see Kaitlyn Teppert's post on the blog entitled "Ticket for One, Please".

While I was away, I had assigned some final essay questions for my Introduction to Environmental Science course -- a 100-level course for non-science majors, many of whom are interested in going into K-12 teaching.  One of the questions was as follows:

a) Why is "Do you believe in evolution?" an inappropriate question?
b) Is “Do you believe in climate change?” an inappropriate question?  Explain. 
c) What factors determine whether a species will either adapt to environmental change or end up in decline or extinct?  Many believe that we are facing the 6th mass extinction and climate change may be a major contributor to this.  Why can’t species simply adapt to the new climate conditions?

Below, I share (with permission) the response by Ms. Kayla Marinelli (a first year student) because a) I like what she had to say, b) it is relevant to the theme of this blog, and c) I want to keep the momentum up on this blog while I have time to collect my thoughts and analyze the outcomes of COP20.

            “Do you believe in evolution?” is a simple, common question asked so often, yet extremely inappropriate.  Evolution is not something that can be believed in; evolution is a fact.  Asking if someone believes in evolution is the equivalent of asking if someone believes in gravity.  Everyone believes in gravity; gravity is a concept that everyone understands and knows is relative.  Gravity is taught in sixth grade science classes across the country because it is a fact, yet evolution is still in question after all of the proof that has been stated and all the information found.  Asking if someone believes in evolution is putting evolution on the same level as religion.  Religion is a touchy subject for some people and means different things to different individuals.  Religion is something that cannot be tested nor proven; God cannot be proven to exist.  There is solid, concrete proof of evolution.  So why is it put on the same playing field as something that has nothing more than spiritual proof?  “Do you believe in evolution” is an inappropriate question because of the countless pieces of evidence found to prove it.  Evolution is a widely accepted theory in the scientific community but not commonly accepted by the general public.  Evolution is not about how life began but how life evolved after it began, which not much of the public understands.  The public believes that evolution means that God does not exist and that it is how the world was created.  In America today, 78.4% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, 4.7% as other religions, and 16.1% as unaffiliated (Pew Forum, 2007).  These statistics explain a lot about why evolution is not accepted.  83.1% of America believes in a God, which most of the public thinks evolution says cannot exist.  That is false though since evolution, as previously stated, does not describe how life began but instead how it changed since evolution means ‘change.’  Many people in the public do not understand this distinction hence why they do not believe in evolution.  Therefore, asking whether someone believes in evolution or not is not an appropriate question since evolution is not a belief, but a fact.

            Talk about climate change is all the rage at this moment.  Climate change is another proven fact, same as evolution, that people simply do not believe in.  Studies have shown the steady increase in temperatures for years.  Studies have also shown the rise in sea level, which is due to the increase in temperatures.  Global warming, a cause of climate change, is carbon dioxide and other pollutants gathering in the atmosphere like a thick blanket that traps the sun’s heat, causing the planet’s temperature to rise (NRDC, 2011).  Temperatures in an area may not seem like they are any different than previous years, but the average global temperature has increased the fastest ever recorded.  The levels of emissions being produced need to be decreased in order to save the world.  Just this past November, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases down to 2005 levels by the year 2020 (CBS News, 2014).  The agreement is exciting news to see considering the fact that it may get more countries involved in helping to lower emissions.  The only problem is that the agreement is only a promise until some actions are made to move the project forward.  Climate change is like evolution in the way that people do not believe in it without any proof against it.  Climate change is a big problem to biodiversity, which is the diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment.

            There are many factors that determine whether or not a species will adapt to a situation and survive or die off to the point of extinction.  Climate change is a cause of the decrease of biodiversity, the increase in the extinction or decline of species all over the world.  Natural selection is a determinant of a species being in decline.  Some species can survive certain variations of weather and if one variation is too extreme, the other variation of species may have more survivors.  The robin is a perfect example.  The robin, a very common bird in Pennsylvania, has two migrating patterns.  Some robins migrate to the South while others stay north for the winter.  The robins that stay north stay down at the creeks and eat berries all winter while the Southern robins have plenty to eat since they are in a warmer climate.  The North robins could have problems by running out of food, such as berries, and the South robins could have problems with their journey down south.  Depending on if either group had any problems, one group of robins may come out on top of the others.  If there is an especially difficult winter, the robins that stayed home will have died, then getting selected out of the population.  This happens with a lot of species and can cause variation within a species. Variations also occur naturally, such as DNA mutations.  The organisms can also share their genes when they migrate, causing even more variations.  In general, variation in genes is truly the main factor on whether a species will survive; there are just many types of variations that can occur.  Species cannot simply adapt to every climate though.

Many scientists believe that the 6th mass extinction is coming upon us and it is all at fault of humans, essentially.  Studies have shown that the rate of extinction used to be one species per ten million species annually while today the rate is between one hundred to one thousand species per a million species (Pappas, 2014).  That is quite a leap, especially considering the fact that only 0.05 to 0.2 new species per a million begin their existence each year (Pappas, 2014).  The rate of extinction is much higher than the rate of production of new species, which means that biodiversity is becoming smaller and smaller every single year.  The climate change is a large factor contributing to the extinction of so many species.  As previously stated, species cannot just adapt to every climate condition thrown their way.  It takes generations and generations of a species to have adapted to a certain climate, but the climate is changing far to quickly for these species to keep up, causing them to become extinct instead of adapting.  Humans are ultimately at blame, though, since the human species is the cause of so of the much pollution that is causing the climate change.  The human population needs to make serious changes in order to slow down extinction rates of species.

An Introduction to Climate Change. (2011, November 8). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Kunkle, D. (Director) (2014, December 2). Evolution. Lecture conducted from Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA.

Obama: U.S.-China climate change accord "historic" (2014, November 12). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Pappas, S. (2014, September 8). 6th Mass Extinction? Humans Kill Species Faster Than They're Created. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Report 1: Religious Findings. (2007, May 8). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Note: See the accountings of these visits from the students representing the American Chemical Society: and

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