The Value of Science Education
With New York City hitting 72 degrees Fahrenheit in late December, part of one of the most extreme month-long temperature deviations ever recorded, people seem to be starting to understand that the climate getting hotter can affect them in their lifetimes.
It won’t affect them as much as the temperature hitting thirty degrees too hot in August, though I’d expect people would just turn their air conditioners on higher and not go outside if the temperature hit 110 or 120. India faces those temperatures and people have learned to handle it for tens of thousands of years without air conditioning.
I still often find people don’t understand that their behavior affects the climate. Grown adults I know with college educations from prestigious schools ask me, “how does my using an air conditioner affect global warming?”. When I tell them it leads to burning coal, they ask how that works.
High school students commonly ask about math and science, “Will I use this in life?” or “What does this matter?”. I consider them fair questions, implying their teachers aren’t engaging them, probably just lecturing facts at them. Everyone I know who knows math and science knows the value of math and science education, in being able to think and reason clearly, to see more beauty in the world around them, to solve problems, and to get jobs. Most people who claim some expertise only focus on the job part, which I consider important, but nothing like the earlier reasons.
In any case, people without science backgrounds don’t understand how they are trashing the environment, how they could do something about it, and that their actions hurt other people.
Ignorance being bliss helps them but hurts others. Or alternatively, generations of people being blissfully ignorant hurts them. We live in a polluted world, with 70% of the U.S. population overweight, rising sea levels, dwindling forests, and so on, and people don’t know how to stop themselves from accelerating all of these trends.
That’s the value of a science education: a chance at keeping the planet more hospitable for human life and ourselves more healthy.