You Can't Smoke Just One: Exploring the Impact of Tobacco and Tobacco Advertising

My first memory of smoking is when I was hanging out with my much older brother and his friends, who found a pack of cigarettes and decided to give the forbidden sticks of mystery a try. To make sure I wouldn’t “tattle,” my brother backed me up against a wall and made me take a puff or two, thus, in his eyes, making me as “guilty” as the rest of them. I was about 8. (I wouldn’t have told anyway, Bob. But thanks for the early exposure to lung cancer.) Maybe I should thank my brother; I've never "smoked" since.

Back then, smoking wasn’t considered a big deal. Celebs did it. Parents did it in front of their kids. Respectable business owners and church-goers did it. Now that the jury has finally returned from that abominably long coffee break and rendered a “guilty” verdict to the link between smoking and health hazards, you’d think that people would catch on and refuse even one more puff. Some people have. And some of those who haven’t are at least more aware of issues like secondhand smoke. But, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):
  • There are more than 1 billion smokers in the world.
  • Almost half of the world’s children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke.
  • Tobacco kills about 1 person every 6 seconds.
  • Most people start smoking before the age of 18; a quarter of those start before the age of 10.
And where is most of this happening? In developing countries. Tobacco use is finally decreasing in “high-income” countries, like the U.S. But, globally, use is increasing. WHO says that “more than 80% of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.” Why is smoking increasing when information about the negative effects of tobacco use is more widely available (and known) than ever? Say it with me: advertising.

On May 31, the World Health Organization is sponsoring World No Tobacco Day. Cities all around the world are participating, bringing awareness to issues about tobacco and smoking. This year’s theme is “Tobacco-Free Youth,” and the focus is on “a total ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products.”

The American Lung Association is also running a contest to “expose big tobacco” by asking young people to find tobacco displays and ads in their neighborhoods, take photos of them, and share them on ALA’s “Healthy Lungs” Facebook application.

The smoking gun of tobacco use provides a great platform for exploring the influence of media and advertising on youth. For example, there are numerous websites that offer tobacco ads and spoofs of ads. Just search for “tobacco ads” or “tobacco advertising.” Two examples: Tobacco Free Kids has a gallery of tobacco ads from around the world, including from magazines, billboards, displays, etc. Ads can be searched by country, company, brand or ad type. If you want to compare those to earlier ads, Truth in Advertising has a collection of cigarette ads from the 1940s and 50s.

By exploring and thinking critically about such ads, young people can unravel the messages, tactics and strategies used to encourage people to adopt a lifelong, potentially-fatal habit.

In addition to thinking critically about the ads they’re exposed to, young people can explore how tobacco companies and their public relations divisions work. For example:
  • How much do tobacco companies spend on advertising/marketing each year. How has that changed over the years?
  • What countries do they target most heavily?
  • What age groups?
  • What means do they use to attract youth to smoking?
  • Who would a company whose product can cause death and disease for its consumers look to to find new customers?
  • Why is a company that markets products known to be harmful (even fatal) so successful at recruiting more customers?
And, tobacco use isn't just a health and human rights issue. In addition to all the animals in laboratories who are still subjected to testing to prove/disprove the benefits/harmfulness of tobacco, and in addition to all the animals in close proximity to humans who are exposed to secondhand smoke, plenty of wildlife inadvertently take up the smoking habit (and sometimes die) by eating butts that they mistake for food (and thus ingest all the toxic chemicals contained therein). And, in addition to being a giant eyesore, butts contain toxins that can wash into our waterways. Then there's the whole fire hazard thing.

World No Tobacco Day provides a great chance to help young people adopt a healthy habit: thinking critically and creatively.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Photo courtesy of said&done.
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Piercing the Bubble: Opening the Way for Positive Change

Several years ago I saw an episode of the WB television show Everwood, in which angsty Ephram had to write an essay on his tragic flaw. He wrote about his inability to change, and about the fact that humanity doesn’t like to change. He said:
“The more I get to know other people, the more I realize it’s kind of everyone’s flaw. Staying exactly the same for as long as possible, standing perfectly still…. It feels safer somehow. And if you are suffering, at least the pain is familiar. Because if you took that leap of faith, went outside the box, did something unexpected…. Who knows what other pain might be out there waiting for you. Chances are it could be even worse.”
Ephram goes on to write that when we finally do change, no one else really even notices it….”But you notice it. Inside you that change feels like a world of difference. And you hope this is it. This is the person you get to be forever…that you’ll never have to change again.”

I think Ephram’s insight explains why it’s so hard for people to open themselves to the difficult truths we humane educators feel compelled to share. It’s like we humans create a bubble around ourselves, and we can deal with whatever is in the bubble—bad as it may be—because it’s familiar: a bad marriage, difficult parents, money troubles, health problems. We’re focused on these issues that directly affect us and how to cope with them, how to survive day to day with them. We insulate ourselves from anything outside the bubble, because life feels difficult enough already. We feel enough suffering and inconvenience with our own problems. Opening up the bubble changes things. It could change us. It could cause more pain or suffering or discomfort or inconvenience. It’s so easy for people to say: “I’m doing enough. I’m not a bad person; just leave me alone with my problems—you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.” We want to curl in upon ourselves, protectively, defensively.

Poking pinpricks into those insular bubbles is what humane education does. It collapses the safe, familiar zone people build around themselves and exposes them to a wider world of suffering and exploitation and greed that is caused, in part, by their actions. Piercing the bubble lets in all kinds of feelings: anger, hate, despair, guilt, defensiveness, helplessness—all manner of negative energy. If humane education stopped there, at exposing people to all this cruelty and injustice and destruction, then we as humane educators would cause even more suffering and destruction ourselves.

Empowering people to choose compassionate action is the sugar that comes with the medicine. It is where we rejoice. It is where we say, “Yes, all these terrible things are happening, but look…here are some answers. Here is the power to change things. Here is the reason it’s important to know about the pain & suffering, so that you know the good that you do when you practice compassion. This destruction, this hatred, this sense of hopelessness that exists now—that’s what you prevent when you choose peace and justice and sustainability.”

Knowing about the suffering and despair is essential. Focusing on the suffering and despair is paralyzing and counterproductive. The focus must be on the power inherent in making compassionate choices. That’s what makes piercing the bubble and letting all that negative energy rush in worthwhile…. As Joan Baez says, “Action is the antidote to despair,” and we have enormous power to take positive action every day.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Photo courtesy of ryaninc.

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Some Days, You Just Need to KISS: 3 Sites With Simple Tips for Sustainable Living

“50 Simple Actions for Fixing the Planet,” “10 Easy Ways to Lower Your Carbon Footprint,” “5 Fast & Fun Things You Can Do to Help the Earth That Don’t Actually Require You to Make Any Changes in Your Life Whatsoever.” Our society – especially here in the U.S. – seems to want it quick, simple, painless, convenient, and cool. And, if it also makes money or washes your car, added bonus! So, there are tons of guides out there catering to our addiction to fun and easy – recommending ways we can take tiny steps that make a tiny difference for sustainable living and protecting the planet.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’re going to have to do a lot more than change to compact fluorescents and switch to canvas shopping bags to create a humane, sustainable, just world. But, sometimes thinking the deep thoughts and making the big changes can feel overwhelming, and we need to take a breather, focusing on baby steps and simple solutions.

So here are three resources for those times:


50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth

First published back in the early 90s, the book offered – as the title states – 50 simple actions that people could take to reduce their negative impact and increase their positive impact on the planet. This updated version is more than a book focused on “critical issues” rather than specific small actions; it also includes a companion website with expanded content and resources, such as a blog, a tip of the day, challenges, news, forums, success stories and more. The website also links to numerous other groups concerned about these same issues. When you need a quick fix, go right to the Tip of the Day.


Cool People Care

Got five minutes? Sign up to receive the free daily “5 Minutes of Caring” tip, which provides a quick suggestion for doing something positive. The whole Cool People Care site is focused on showing people “how to change the world in whatever time you have.” It includes a blog, articles, and other resources.


Ideal Bite

Looking for easy-peasy green tips & products? Sign up for Ideal Bite’s free daily “bite-sized ideas for light green living.” In addition to the daily tip delivered to your inbox, you can visit the IB website to cruise the blog, view the tip library, or submit your own tip.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane education issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

Nuclear Energy: Friend or Foe? - Plenty (5/08)
Gives a brief overview of the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

Overcoming rage and revenge to promote peace - Ode Magazine (5/08)
Profiles the stories of three people who have endured great hardship and tragedy, and have turned their loss into working for peace.

Choosy moms choose fruits and vegetables from farmers marketsPlenty (5/08)
A new study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health reports that low-income families who are given the opportunity to buy fresh produce from farmers markets, prefer to spend money on fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than more processed foods.


“Envirogees” predicted to rise significantly
Alternet (5/27/08)
“The rise of environmental disasters from climate change and destruction of ecosystems will create a surge of refugees across the planet.”

More colleges competing for “greenest”New York Times (5/26/08)
Profiles the sustainability efforts of colleges such as Oberlin College in Ohio (U.S.), where students are working to reduce the campus’s – and their own – carbon footprints.

A slave by any other name? - Green Left (AU) (5/24/08)
Examines the experiences of “guest workers” in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, and the call for “guest worker” programs in other countries, such as the U.S.

Save the language, save the cultureChristian Science Monitor (5/23/08)
Efforts to teach young people their native language are increasing in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, as about 40 indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing.

It’s a dam shame - Independent (UK) (5/23/08)
An alliance of indigenous leaders gathered in Altamira, Brazil, recently to try to stop plans for the construction of a hydroelectric dam. The dam would displace thousands of people and destroy their way of life.

One (hundred thousand) Tin Soldier(s)Common Dreams.org (5/21/08)
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers recently released a report stating that, although awareness about the issue of child soldiers has been raised, and efforts to stop the practice have increased, little has changed for the estimated 250,000 child soldiers worldwide.

Reading, writing and doing my floors - Carib World News (5/21/08)
A Miami, Florida, (U.S.) school teacher was sentenced to jail for enslaving a teenage Haitian girl.

Little girls gone wild” - Salon.com (5/20/08)
Interviews Gigi Durham, author of the new book The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It. The interview focuses on the sexualization of young girls through media marketing and product creation.
(Thanks Corporate Babysitter for the heads up.)

Kentuckians blowing their tops over mountaintop removal operationsIndependent (UK) (5/20/08)
Reports on the impact the mountaintop removal coal mining is having in Kentucky and in the Appalachian mountains.

Portland, Oregon students to get new history lessonKGW (5/18/08)
The Portland, Oregon, (U.S.) public school district has decided to adopt a new textbook that will help students “see history in a different way,” including discussing some of Oregon’s early racist laws.
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Farm Bill: Fab or Foul?

Every five years an issue comes around that affects not only every child, woman and man in the U.S., but also nonhuman animals, our environment, and people around the world. The Farm Bill. The subject of much controversy and debate, the U.S. Senate and House recently passed the $307 billion bipartisan Farm Bill, overriding President Bush’s veto.

Some call the bill a “fiscal nightmare” and a “bloatfest” because of funding for special interests and increased subsidies to wealthy farmers and for crops that are already seeing record profits. Others laud the bill because of significant increases in funding anti-hunger programs, in supporting fresh fruits and vegetables, in supporting conservation, and in making small strides for animal protection. And many say, well, "it's a step in the right direction."

The passage of the bill – and the subsequent cheers and jeers -- provide an excellent opportunity for teachers and humane educators to bring the Farm Bill (officially called the "Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008") to your high school, college and adult students and engage them in thinking critically about the ways in which the Farm Bill affects people, animals, the environment, and others around the globe.

The depth, complexity and scope of the Farm Bill provide numerous opportunities for exploring relevant issues with your students. Many people are surprised to discover that the Farm Bill involves legislation for more than just food. The bill also covers issues such as conservation, trade, nutrition, forestry, and even energy policy.

Getting students engaged in the issues could be as simple as having them read summaries of the Farm Bill and then discuss its strengths and weaknesses, or conducting a media browse and compiling a list of what are considered the pros and cons, and then weighing the strength of the arguments while critically exploring what those who express a strong opinion have to lose or gain by their position. You could also have them rewrite parts of the bill.

IHE also has several humane education activities in our Resources section that could serve as springboards for customizing your students' critical exploration of the Farm Bill. For example:

Be a C.R.I.T.I.C. - This activity helps students think critically as they examine information from different perspectives and sources.

Earth Court - Put the Farm Bill on trial and have students develop a solutions-based sentencing.

Executive Commission - Have students advise the President (or Congress) on how they should have acted on parts of (or the entire) the Farm Bill.

Greatest Impact - Have students explore the impact of different elements of the Farm Bill on people, animals and the environment (renewable energy, subsidies for different crops, etc.).

Many Colors - Have students explore a variety of possible solutions to a problem, challenge or conflict within the bill.

The USDA has basic information about what the farm bill contains, cost estimates, proposals and more.

The Farm Bill affects everyone in the U.S., and many beyond. Since food, energy and the health of our natural world are basic to our survival, it seems a worthy choice to critically explore and understand how such choices will be made for at least the next five years.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Mark Your Calendar, Conferences on Peak Oil, Sustainable Living and Going Carfree

Concerned about peak oil, climate change, sustainability and positive solutions? The group Local Future in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is hosting an International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability, May 30 – June 1, at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center. The conference is focusing on defining sustainability, understanding the problems (peak oil, climate change, etc.) and developing solutions (community and individual), and includes interactive break-out sessions and film viewings, as well as speakers.
Find out more.


If becoming less dependent on (or totally independent from) your car is more your mix, Portland, Oregon, is hosting the 8th international Towards Carfree Cities Conference, June 16-20 at Portland State University (among other locations). The purpose of the conference is to bring “together people from around the world who work to promote practical alternatives to car dependence.” This year’s theme is Rethinking Mobility, Rediscovering Proximity, which focuses on promoting “discussion of urban livability, mixed-use development, local agriculture, pedestrianization, strong neighborhoods, accessible public space, and sustainable transportation.”

Tuesday, June 17 is the conference’s “Public Day,” free and open to the public (registrations and small donations preferred).
Find out more.

Just after the conference, on Sunday, June 22, is Portland Sunday Parkways, a special six-hour event in which six miles of local streets in North Portland will be closed to most car traffic, so that people can bike, walk, rollerblade, skip, etc., in that area without having to worry about cars.
Find out more.

~ Marsha
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Report Round Up: Water, Waste, Welfare and Websites

A summary of recent reports about humane issues, from bottled water to industrial factory farming, to the impact of websites and their advertising on young children.

Take Back the Tap: Why Choosing Tap Water Over Bottled Water is Better for Your Health, Your Pocketbook, and the Environment (PDF) (2007)

“This is an industry that takes a free liquid that falls from the sky and sells it for as much as four times what we pay for gas.”
~ Richard Wilk, University of Indiana

Almost as omnipresent as plastic grocery bags here in the U.S. are plastic water bottles. You see them at gyms, at work, school, public events, and may even stock it in your fridge at home. In addition to the convenience of a “grab-n-go” splash of thirst-quenching H20, many people stick to bottled water for health and safety reasons. This report from Food and Water Watch explores issues surrounding the significant negative consequences of choosing bottled over tap and attempts to dispel the myths surrounding the quality and safety of the water that runs out our faucets. Read a quick summary.

Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America (PDF) (2008)

A 2 ½ year study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production confirms that “the current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves.” Among the findings reported include an increased risk in public health due to so many animals confined in such close quarters, as well as air and waste emissions; the large amounts of waste and emissions that contribute to pollution and greenhouse gases; the fact that animals are raised in conditions that cause them stress and harm; and the negative impact on rural communities. Read a quick summary.


Like Taking Candy From a Baby: How Young Children Interact with Online Environments
(PDF) (2008)

Are websites for young children fun and useful for their growth and development, or are they just giant commercials for products that kids can nag their parents to buy them? A recent study by Consumer Reports WebWatch and the Mediatech Foundation followed the experiences (through video journals) of 10 families with young children (ages 3-8) to provide insights into how young kids interact with and respond to certain websites and the advertising on them.

The study reports key findings and shares tips for what parents can do to help protect their kids while they’re online. Read a quick summary.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Do You Sea What I Sea? Ocean and Freshwater Conservation

What do cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bags and bottles and dinnerware have in common? They’re some of the top debris items collected on beaches around the world in 2007. The Ocean Conservancy recently released a report about trash found in or near our oceans. Volunteers (more than 378,000) from around the world picked up more than 6 million pounds of debris from over 33,000 miles of beaches; scuba divers even removed trash found underwater. Volunteers “record the trash found on land and underwater allowing Ocean Conservancy a global snapshot of the problem.”

According to the report:
“Trash in the ocean kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles each year through ingestion and entanglement. This year, 81 birds, 63 fish, 49 invertebrates, 30 mammals 11 reptiles and one amphibian were found entangled in debris by volunteers. Some of the debris they were entangled or had ingested include plastic bags, fishing line, fishing nets, six-pack holders, string from a balloon or kite, glass bottles and cans.”
You can download the complete report.

The next International Coastal Cleanup takes place September 20, 2008.

If you're interested in helping protect our oceans, the Ocean Conservancy has listed 10 actions that we can take:
  • Join their annual clean up campaign.
  • Clean up our trash. Throw it away in proper receptacles and clean up debris we see while we’re out.
  • Collect monofilament fishing line.
  • Contain and clean spills while boating.
  • Recycle things like used motor oil and oil filters and NEVER pour anything into an open sewer or storm drain.
  • Use organic or homemade cleaners.
  • Choose reusable items and reduce waste as much as we can (and try not to use disposable items).
  • Properly dispose of used batteries, electronics, etc.
  • Keep streets, sidewalks, parking lots & storm drains clear of debris. That ends up in our waterways.
  • Contact elected officials & speak out for clean and protected waterways.

In addition to cleaning up and protecting our oceans, more attention is now being given to freshwater systems. For example, The World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy recently announced the creation of the Freshwater Ecoregions of the World (FEOW) map, which provides “the first global biogeographic regionalization of the Earth's freshwater biodiversity, and synthesizing biodiversity and threat data for the resulting ecoregions.”

The map includes data about numbers for freshwater fish, amphibians, turtles and crocodiles, as well as ecoregion descriptions and information about climate, habitats, topography, etc. Other maps available include different “threat” analyses (such as the impact of human footprint, irrigation, urban areas, etc.) and major habitat types.

We've mentioned it before, but we have a great activity for grades 4 and up called Whale's Stomach that helps students learn about the impact of our "throwaway" society by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale's stomach.

Water may cover the majority of the earth, but its systems are fragile.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane education issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.


Are you gonna eat that? - New York Times (5/18/08)
Reports on the large amount of food wasted by Westerners (especially Americans), and how some organizations are taking action.

Small steps toward saving horses - New York Times (5/17/08)
Profiles organizations like LumberJack farm, which try to rescue and rehabilitate thoroughbreds to save them from being slaughtered.

Report reveals significant biodiversity loss - Common Dreams (5/16/08)
A report by the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London, and the Global Footprint Network reveals that “biodiversity has plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005.”

Water, water everywhere? Not so much anymore - New York Times (blog) (5/16/08)
Profiles the impact of water shortages on several world cities and outlines how some countries are handling shortages.

Canadians concerned about food supply turning to urban agricultureVancouver Sun (5/16/08)
Reports about food security issues and what some people are doing to improve theirs.

Singing for social change - Amherst Bulletin (5/16/08)
Profiles the Greenfield, Massachusetts (U.S.) choir, which has sung all over the world in celebration of social activism.

Students Bus-ting their school’s carbon footprint - GuelphMercury.com (5/16/08)
Students are planting trees to offset the carbon emissions of their school buses.
(Thanks Treehugger.com for the heads up.)

Interview with Vandana Shiva - Alternet.org (5/15/08)
Alternet interviews scientist and activist Vandana Shiva about why we face both food and water crises.

Concerns about drug ads increasing - Time (5/15/08)
Drug makers spend close to $5 billion per year to market their “products.” Now drug ads are being more closely scrutinized – and criticized – and a U.S. House subcommittee is calling for stricter standards.

A tale of Illegal immigrants and kosher slaughterhousesJewish Daily Forward (5/15/08)
After a large raid on illegal immigrant workers in a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa (U.S.), concerns have been raised about a shortage of meat…and about the ethics of current practices.
(Thanks Vegan.com for the heads up.)


90% of girls report being sexually harassed
- Eureka Alert.org (5/15/08)
A new study, published in the May/June issue of Child Development, reveals a significant percentage of teenage girls – of all ethnicities and backgrounds – report experiencing sexism and sexual harassment.

Right to the edge: 4th graders take a small step toward reducing global warmingBoston.com (5/15/08)
Fourth graders at a school in Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.), who were studying global warming developed an idea for reducing their carbon footprint: get people to narrow the margins in word-processing documents so that less paper is used (which saves more trees).

Peace charter school opening in Florida - WMNF Radio (5/13/08)
The Taylor Peace Academy, opening August 2008, is the first elementary school in Florida (U.S.) dedicated to nonviolence, conflict resolution and peace education.

Obama campaigners encountering racismWashington Post (5/12/08)
Reports on the shocking amount of racism Obama campaign workers are encountering.
(Pair this article with a later blog post and numerous comments about “Obama’s Candidacy & Racism”)
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Happiness

There have been lots of books published in recent years about happiness. Most recently, I've been reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. This one is a peripatetic look at happiness, from a visitor to the world’s “happiest” places.

I remember studying American History in school and being surprised that the pursuit of happiness was actually a right. My teacher said that happiness was a more like a code word for property, which was sort of a code word for money. It seemed odd to me that one of my rights was the right to pursue happiness, and that this was inextricably linked to something as dull sounding as property, but I tried to accept that I just might not be old enough to understand.

Years later, I’ve spent time writing about happiness myself, most recently in my upcoming book, Most Good, Least Harm. In the book I contrast joy with pleasure, and I explore – through an unscientific survey of a few hundred people – what brings people joy. No one told me property or money. In fact, the most common refrain was service – giving to others, taking part in doing good. Pleasure, it turns out, is fleeting and sometimes addictive, often decreasing real joy when we get stuck craving it.

Even Eric Weiner seems to question the whole premise of his book when he writes:
“A pedophile who reports high levels of happiness – say, a nine out of ten – counts exactly the same as a social worker who reports being a nine on the happiness scale. Likewise, a suicide bomber, firm in his belief in Allah, might very well score higher than either the pedophile or the social worker. He might be a ten, just before blowing himself up and taking a few dozen innocents with him. Aristotle would clear up this moral confusion in an Athenian minute. Happiness, he believed, meant not only feeling good but doing good. Thus the pedophile and the suicide bomber only thought they were happy. In fact, they were not happy at all.”
But saying someone isn’t happy doesn’t make it so, and when I came to this part of the book, I was struck by our obsessive pursuit of perceived happiness rather than with happy goodness. Given that goodness often translates directly into happiness, why don’t we see a plethora of books about goodness with its wonderful side effect of happiness? If we were good AND happy, then the world would be a better place in which everyone could more easily experience goodness and happiness, too.

~ Zoe Weil, IHE President
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We Have a Winner...New Grant/Award Opportunities

Here's a new batch of grant and award opportunities:

FOR YOUTH:

Know a young person with a fabulous, planet-saving idea? Tell them about the Lorax Challenge, sponsored by Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Youth Venture. Youth, ages 12-20, are eligible to submit their idea (for a team of two or more persons) for a project that benefits their community, is sustainable (rather than a one-shot event) and is youth-created and youth-led. Project winners will receive $1,000 to start up their project. These five grand prize winners also receive a free trip to Florida for an “Environmental Boot Camp” “for a weekend of activities, learning and fun.”

The deadline is May 31, 2008.

Find out more.



Know someone who really really really loves animals? Someone who has dedicate her life to helping them – to making a positive difference in their lives? Nominate him for Animal Planet’s “Hero of the Year” award. The winner will receive a $10,000 donation for her favorite animal welfare organization, and a trip for two. AP and Fresh Step are also sponsoring a “Cat Hero of the Year” award, for someone who has worked tirelessly and effectively for animals. The grand prize for that award is a $5,000 donation to the winner’s favorite animal welfare organization. The deadline for both entries is July 19, 2008.

Find out more.

FOR TEACHERS:

Know a teacher who educates youth about nature and the environment? Tell him about the 2008 Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award. The award, sponsored by the National Environmental Education Foundation, honors “an outstanding educator who has successfully integrated environmental education into his or her daily education programs. The award will be given to an educator who can serve as an inspiration and model for others.” Educators who teach 5th-12th graders in the U.S. are eligible to apply (or be nominated). The winner will receive a $5,000 cash award to help the recipient continue her work.

The deadline to apply is June 30, 2008.

Find out more.
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Vote Every Day for Human Rights

(Today is “Bloggers Unite for Human Rights” day – a day for bloggers to bring awareness to human rights issues and to inspire and encourage positive action.)

Domestic violence. Rape. Food insecurity. Genocide. Torture. Imprisonment. Slavery. Sweatshop labor. Consumer culture. Oppressions of all sorts. It seems there is no shortage of stories in the media each day about human atrocities upon other humans. Unless the horrors touch you personally, it can be easy to let thoughts of them slip away as we focus on the troubles and triumphs of our daily lives. And, if we’re fortunate enough to live in a country not widely ravaged by war or poverty or some other conflict or devastation, it can be simple to shrug our shoulders, insist that there’s nothing we can do, and go on with our lives. As one character in the film Hotel Rwanda said, “If people see this footage [of the genocide], they’ll say ‘Oh My God, that’s terrible!’ and they’ll go on eating their dinners.” And our culture certainly doesn’t support and nurture positive action. As a friend of mine once said, “To see it [an atrocity or example of exploitation] and not forget about it is tremendous….I think that’s really difficult for the average American who’s going to see Batman.”

The truth is this: what we do matters, we can have a positive effect, and if we don’t do something, who will? Every choice we make is a vote for a certain kind of world; we can “vote” for sustainability, peace, compassion, and justice, or we can “vote” for injustice, cruelty, violence, hatred and devastation. And, when we choose to do nothing, that’s a vote, too.

Through our actions, we can make a positive difference for those immediately around us…and those struggling thousands of miles away. We can buy used clothing and other items, instead of products made in sweatshops. We can buy fair-trade chocolate, tea, coffee, sugar and rice. We can volunteer to help others. We can invest only in just, compassionate, sustaining practices and businesses. We can write letters to editors and corporations and government officials and make sure that our voices are heard. We can educate ourselves and share what we’ve learned with others. We can work to make choices that do the most good and least harm for all. We can strive to live peacefully and justly in our every thought, word and action. We can support the work of others. We can try to love and accept everyone. We can remember that everything is interconnected and act accordingly.

As humane educators, we can inspire others to think critically about these important issues. IHE’s students, graduates and staff have created several humane education activities that explore issues related to the rights of all humans of all ages and types. Activity topics include everything from discrimination and genocide to oppression and sweatshops.

If you want to increase your own knowledge about human rights issues, or share such information with others, explore IHE’s always-growing list of sample resources, such as our suggested books, videos, and magazines. Our website also links to several organizations focused on human rights issues.

No one looks at a picture of a starving child, a victim of abuse, a casualty of war, or someone else who has endured suffering and injustice and says “Gee, I wish that were me.” or “We need more of that in the world.” Our choices every day help decide whether or not there is more or less suffering and atrocity in the world. Make your choices carefully, thoughtfully, critically. And focus on the world we DO want to create.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Flex Your Superpowers! Make Humane Choices

It's almost the summer movie season and already the capes, masks, cool tools and bursting muscles are on the scene. Iron Man was recently released. The Incredible Hulk comes out in June; Hellboy and Batman (as the Dark Knight) visit screens in July. There's something about superheroes and their powers that draws us close. Even Indiana Jones, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian (all out in May) could be considered a kind of superhero -- minus the fab outfits.

And, what was one of the most popular TV shows? Heroes. Those ordinary folks with extraordinary powers.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have superpowers? I bet most of us have played that game about what kind of superpower you’d choose if you could. I'll let you in on a little secret. I do have a special power: the power of choice. I make choices every day that affect lives. I make choices every day that help determine the kind of world we live in. We all have that power surrounding our choices. We all can make choices that nurture and support love and joy and peace and compassion and sustainability and justice. We all can make choices that condone and support suffering and destruction and hatred and fear and violence and cruelty. That’s a lot of power.

And the cool thing is that our choices can make a positive difference for the whole world. All those analogies you’ve heard—the butterfly effect, the domino effect, the it’s-like-the-ripples-in-the-pond effect, the whole web of life thing—they’re all true. We’re connected to everything, and though we often forget it—or like to pretend differently--we’re part of everything. So, it’s true: our actions—our choices—have a big impact on the world around us. As activist and author Frances Moore Lappe says, “Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.” So, if I choose to eat a fast food hamburger, then I’m saying “Yes!” to animal suffering and exploitation, rainforest destruction, low wages and poor benefits for workers. If I shop at a big box store, I’m saying “Yes!” to sweatshops and child slavery, urban sprawl and habitat destruction, worker discrimination and the forcing out of local businesses. If I choose to buy lots of stuff, then I’m saying “Yes!” to poverty and competition for resources, to more for me and less for everyone else, to exploitation and oppression. Does that sound like something to celebrate? Does that sound like the kind of world we all dream about?

It’s often not easy to see the impact—to see the connections. It would be great if we could all wear some sort of superhero x-ray vision goggles, so that when we looked at two t-shirts, for example, we could see that one is connected to pesticides and soil degradation and habitat destruction and pollution from long-distance transport and children and young women working in sweatshops with poor ventilation, miniscule bathroom breaks, no labor representation, and armed guards, for very little pay, and the other is connected to organic growing methods, soil and habitat conservation, workers paid a fair wage at factories running on renewable energy, and the local small business who sells them.

When most of us talk about the kind of world we want, we talk about the same things: happy, healthy families; a meaningful life & work; a home; connection to something larger than ourselves; a healthy, sustainable planet; to know that we’ve made a positive difference. The way we live our lives can never be as black and white as the good vs. evil struggle between movie superhero and villain. There are always challenges, circumstances, compromises. But, if we really believe, as Peter Sauer says, that “A just, peaceful, safe and healthy environment is everybody’s…right and the right of every future generation,” then we must expand our vision to encompass the needs and interests of the global community; we must extend our circle of concern to all living things; we must learn to give equal consideration to each of us: mouse and mountain, child and cheetah, woman and wetlands. We must work together so that everyone knows love, justice, peace, compassion, joy and beauty, and can enjoy the blessing of a healthy, sustainable, vibrant world.

Just as the Bat signal called Batman to use his powers to save the day, the world is calling us to use our superpowers. Let’s use the power of our choices. Let’s use the gift of our connection with everyone and everything. Let’s use them to help make the world a celebration of life, and a community that cares for all.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane education issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.

‘Kill the Indian…Save the man.’ - NPR (5/12/08)
An NPR report on the horrors of American Indian boarding schools.

Fetish for fish means an uncertain future for our seas - Guardian UK (5/11/08)
Decades of overfishing and lack of action by governments has brought oceans to the brink of collapse.

Food frenzy - Chicago Tribune (5/11/08)
With huge populations growing in size, income and demand for meat and processed food, countries like China and India are changing the landscape of food supply and demand.

“Project Citizen” encourages student engagement in their communities - Standard Journal (5/9/08)
"I want them to have the vision that an active citizen can make a tremendous impact on their communities.” A government teacher at a high school in Rexburg, Idaho (U.S.), has challenged his students to develop real-world solutions to local and global challenges.

College in war-torn town to include peace education - GMA News.tv (5/8/08)
Assumption College in the city of Davao, a Catholic college on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, has decided to combat the violence and instability there by introducing peace education into the curriculum.

Student social justice group works to make a difference
- MyKawartha.com (5/7/08)
Students at St. Anne’s Catholic Elementary School in Peterborough, Ontario, have formed a social justice group to help them help others, while “learning to become caring, compassionate adults.”

Would you like spies with that?New York Times (5/7/08)
An op-ed article about Burger King hiring a private security firm to spy on the Student/Farmworker Alliance, which works to improve the lives of migrant workers in Florida.

Kind kid wins for being kind to animalsKHNL (5/7/08)
A high school student in Aiea, Hawaii (U.S.), has won the top spot in the teen category for the American Humane Association’s “Be Kind to Animals” contest. Kristin Uyeoka created an interactive education program to help preschoolers learn about responsible companion animal care.

Teacher to students: change the world!KOAMTV.com (5/7/08)
A teacher in Joplin, Missouri (U.S.) gave his 5th grade students the assignment to find a unique way to change the world.

Saving a stream leads to saving the world11alive.com (5/6/08)
Reports on an environmental science class in Sandy Springs, Georgia (U.S.), who are studying and protecting a small stream and park in the midst of concrete and asphalt.

College cafeterias going greenWiretap (5/5/08)
Reports on a national trend of more college campuses choosing sustainable foods for their dining services.
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Food for Thought: 3 Great Resources for Info About Food Choices

Here’s a quick quiz:

To get calcium, you should consume....
To get omega-3 fatty acids, you should eat….
For protein, you need….

If you answered milk, fish and meat, then you've been conditioned -- through habit, tradition and culture -- to believe like most people in the U.S. do (and, increasingly, like other people around the world). Of course, the more specific answer to the first one is cow’s milk (or perhaps goat’s milk). Not cat’s milk. Not hyena’s milk. Not gorilla’s milk. And certainly not human’s milk (unless you’re a human infant). Why cows? 'Cause they were easier to domesticate. And, where do the cows get their calcium? Where do the animals people eat get their protein? Where do the fish get their omega-3 fatty acids? From plants. So, why do we still insist on consuming animal products (and thus condoning and supporting the horrible suffering the animals endure, the devastation of the environment that occurs, the poverty and hunger that prevail, etc.) instead of going directly to the source? These were two of the key points of the talk I heard Saturday from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, creator of Compassionate Cooks and a well-known cookbook author, lecturer, and podcaster. Colleen was one of several fabulous speakers at Portland, Oregon’s, recent 4th annual VegFest. As a member of Northwest VEG, the event’s sponsor, I was one of the organizers, and thus was able to sneak in on a few of the terrific lectures.

In addition to hearing Colleen debunk the myths of a veg diet, I was able to listen to Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farming Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, talk about some of the changes here in the U.S. in the policies and practices regarding farmed animals. Another terrific speaker at VegFest was Mia McDonald, public policy expert and executive director of Brighter Green. Mia talked about the connection between eating animals and the destruction of the environment (and rise of global climate change).

I mention these speakers not to brag about how fabulous our event was (though it was), but to let you know about these three great sources of information that can be useful to you, whether you’re a humane educator wanting to share information with students (or spark them to think critically), or someone wanting to increase your knowledge and learn additional ways to make MOGO (Most Good) choices in your life.

Colleen has a great podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, on her website. In addition to sharing tasty food info and interesting information and insights about veg issues, Colleen also reads excerpts from relevant literature and articles. So, there’s always great stuff there to explore and discuss.




HSUS’s Factory Farming site has information, news, research and multimedia resources about factory farmed animals and factory farming issues, as well as suggestions for taking action. You can also keep track of what changes corporations and governments are making and follow legislative actions. So, there’s plenty to research, discuss and debate.


Mia’s Brighter Green site is a public policy “action tank” that “aims to raise awareness and encourage dialogue on and attention to issues that span the environment, animals, and sustainable development both globally and locally.” At the site you’ll find a list of resources dealing with equity, sustainability and rights, as well as a blog. (Mia will be our featured changemaker for the August 2008 edition of our Humane Edge E-News.)



~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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"Your Tax Dollars at Work": Making Sense of the Federal Budget

With the economy hiding out underground like a cranky groundhog, and a majority of Americans (and the government) obsessing about how to spend their “economic stimulus” checks (or not), most people are firmly focused on their own pocketbooks. Even when the R word (recession) isn’t being bandied about, not many people pay much attention to the national piggy bank – unless what happens there affects them in a direct and tangible way.

Understanding how more than 3 trillion dollars is spent can cause most anyone a bit of brain paralysis (I still don’t know how people can afford to spend several hundred thousand dollars for a house!). And, even though we have little direct control over how current budgets are spent, our tax dollars still serve as “votes” for the kind of world we want. So, understanding how those “votes” are distributed is an important step in creating a more humane world. And, if we don’t like how our local, state and national governments are voting on our behalf, then we can take positive action.

Here are a few tools that might help you (or your students) make some sense of where our federal tax dollars go, and that can spark discussion about whether or not those dollars are being spent to do the most good and least harm:

The National Priorities Project is a “research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.” Graphic tools include an Income Tax Chart that shows how your federal taxes were spent in the last year; a “cost of war” counter; and, a database that shows how much money is spent on certain defense programs, and what that money might cover instead (such as health insurance, education, affordable housing, etc.). For example, in Oregon, where I live, taxpayers will pay $121.7 million for nuclear weapons in FY2008. For that same amount of money, we could provide 24,761 people with health care for one year, or 114,405 homes with renewable electricity for one year, or 753 affordable housing units, etc. The site also provides quick reports by state on poverty, energy and hunger.


If you want a really graphic look at how the U.S. federal discretionary budget divides up tax dollars, check out Death and Taxes, a “large representational graph and post of the federal budget.” The graph “contains over 500 programs and departments and almost every program that receives over $200 million dollars annually.” It’s a fascinating and visceral snapshot of how our money is divided. This poster includes the 2009 federal budget, and lists the percentages by which particular budgets have been increased or decreased. You can browse online (click on the poster to zoom in – give it a few seconds to focus – and then click and drag around the poster), or buy a copy.

One exploration of how federal dollars might be spent differently comes from True Majority, an education and advocacy group. Founder Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame) has an animated video of himself, using Oreo cookies to illustrate how a fraction of the 400 billion dollars spent per year by the Pentagon (One cookie = $10 billion dollars, so it would be 40 cookies) could be spent on challenges such as education, world hunger, alternative energy, and children’s health care. The True Majority site also has a section focused on the Priorities pie chart and the common sense budget act, as well as another video of Cohen using BBs to discuss nuclear proliferation.

And, if you want to get a handle on the 2009 proposed federal budget, you can get an overview online.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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The Films Seen 'Round the World: Pangea Day

“24 films. 4 hours. A new way to see the world.” No, it’s not a Planet of the Apes fan-film festival. It’s a chance for people from all over the world to connect and empathize and see beyond barriers and biases, fears and false assumptions. It’s Pangea Day. Organizers are hoping that on Saturday, May 10, at 18:00 GMT, more than 500 million people from around the planet will gather in homes, movie theaters and pubs, or via their computers and cell phones to watch “films made by the world, for the world.”

The worldwide event, created through filmmaker Jehane Noujaim’s vision of a “global campfire” around which we could tell each other our stories of love, hope, despair, anger, etc., offers a chance for viewers to see the world through the eyes and hearts of others, which can be difficult to do in the self-containing bubble of our daily lives. The 24 films were chosen from among more than 2,500 submitted by people from more than 100 countries.

In addition to the films, the event also features live music, short speeches and live audiences connected via satellite in seven locations about the globe.

There are more than 1,000 events planned, and anyone who has the appropriate computer and connection can sign up to host one. Or, you can watch a live stream right on Pangea’s website.

Find out more.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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MOGO Tip of the Month

The 6/7th grade at the Bay School -- where I taught a week-long MOGO class in December -- have started a monthly newsletter, which includes a column titled "MOGO Tip of the Month." When I wrote about this class and shared some of their commitments from their MOGO plans, at that time, none had written about starting a newsletter that included information on making MOGO choices, yet a few months later, this is just one way in which these young people are conjuring new ideas and efforts toward creating a more humane world.

We hear a lot about youth apathy, about the MySpace and Facebook culture of narcissism, but little about the dedication young people have toward creating a better world. Yet the 6/7th graders at the Bay School, along with many of their peers across the globe, are actually striving for goodness. In addition to the "MOGO Tip of the Month," this edition of the newsletter includes an essay about making homework a positive experience, an advice column about how best to apologize and about being oneself, and a welcome back to their teacher who was away (with a thank you to their substitute). Created and written entirely by the students, these are the subjects they’ve chosen to write about, and theirs is a brighter future because of their attitude, kindness, and wisdom.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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Whiter is Righter? Even More Onslaught From Unilever

Last week I posted about using the controversy over Unilever's Dove and Axe products and marketing to explore the impact of our choices. Here's a new piece to add to that exploration. I recently discovered from Sociological Images that Hindustan Unilever (owned by Unilever) sells Fair & Lovely, a series of skin lightening products targeted to dark-skinned people, especially in Asian countries. SI posted one of the ads for this product, in which a dark-skinned Indian woman can't get a job (and is considered ugly) until she uses the product. Suddenly, she's beautiful, desirable and successful. SI's post also includes a video clip of people of South Asian descent discussing the product and their feelings about the culture and racism surrounding skin lightening.

If you search "fair and lovely" on YouTube, you can find several other of their ads (and critiques thereof).

I also found a paper analyzing the negative impact of Fairy & Lovely, written by a University of Michigan business student.

In addition to exploring the impact of our choices, it would be interesting to pick a company and look at all the products they sell (and the ads they use to sell them) to see what kinds of messages and values and practices these companies support -- and whether or not those messages and values and practices are ones that promote a healthy, just, compassionate, sustainable world. Learning about the many facets of Unilever, for example, has certainly been eye-opening for me.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Humane Education Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about relevant humane education issues, ways that people all over the world are manifesting humane education, and items that provide excellent material for discussing humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media and culture.


Monsanto doing all it can to “milk” profits - Vanity Fair (5/08)
A feature on Monsanto and its search to maximize profits and corner the market, first on GMOs and now on milk.

How biased are you? - Scientific American (5/08)
Reports on research about the prevalence of unconscious stereotypes and beliefs that many people hold about other groups.

Racial injustice continues in “war on drugs” - New York Times (5/5/08)
Two recent reports reveal that blacks continue to be targeted much more than whites in drug arrests and convictions.

Are stereotypes just part of the game? - Boston.com (5/5/08)
Reports on the controversy over stereotypes of women and people of color in video games.

Climate change big factor in food production - Reuters (5/4/08)
Reports on some of the challenges farmers face in feeding the world while battling the impacts of global climate change.

Horse racing not such a winnerNew York Times (5/4/08)
An editorial about the cruelties of horse racing.

China rescues children from slave labor factories - New York Times (5/1/08)
Reports that China is investigating incidents of children being kidnapped or sold and used for cheap or slave labor.

A leg up on life - New York Times (5/1/08)
Reports on Albie the goat, who escaped from a slaughterhouse and now has a prosthetic leg – and on the animal advocate who cares for him.

Students meet challenge to help “change” the world - The Huron Reporter (4/30/08)
Reports on the efforts of students at St. James School in raising money to help build schools for poor students around the world as part of their “Change the World Challenge.”

A peak by any other name
USA Today (4/29/08)
Reports on pressure by some Native Americans to change the names of any geographic places that include the word “squaw,” which many find offensive.

Interview with a Greensburg green supporter Treehugger.com (4/29/08)
Interviews high schooler Taylor Schmitt, who talks about how his little town, Greensburg, Kansas, is rebuilding itself green – and the whole community is involved.

Pew report calls for changes in animal agriculture - Environment News Service (4/29/08)
A new report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production calls for major changes in animal agriculture.

Alaska teens taking on environmental challenges - Tuskaloosa News.com (4/29/08)
Profiles Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, a teen-led group whose mission is "to educate, inspire, and take action on environmental issues facing our communities," and who is having a significant impact.

Are you infected with biobigotry? - New York Times (4/29/08)
Discusses “biobigotry,” “the persistent and often irrational desire to be surrounded only by those species of which one approves, and to exclude any animals, plants and other life forms that one finds offensive.”

Youth in Zambia creating solutions to environmental challenges - All Africa.com (4/28/08)
Profiles the work of Chilanga Youth Awake (CYA), a group which is working to raise public awareness about environmental issues and to develop positive solutions for the people of Zambia and its natural world.

Blacks in Chicago get more amputations than whites, says reportMSNBC.com (4/28/08)
A recent study reported yet another example of racial disparity in U.S. health care – more African Americans in the Chicago area are subjected to limb amputations than are whites.

How much is that kiwi in the window? - New York Times (4/26/08)
A look at the environmental impact of shipping food around the world.

School’s cafeteria rates a big Zero - Noozhawk (4/25/08)
Reports on Harding School in Santa Barbara County, California (U.S.), which has become a zero-waste cafeteria, one of the first in the country.

Cut costs, reduce global warming: eat less meatReuters (4/24/08)
Reports from several sources that eating less meat can help reduce the impact of global warming and help people’s pocketbooks.

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Live on the Edge: Check Out Our Humane Edge E-News


In addition to our blog, IHE publishes our e-newsletter each month, Humane Edge, which is packed with ideas, interviews and information to inspire and inform you about humane education and humane living. Here's what's in our latest edition:

(Anything But) A Silent Spring - Though Rachel Carson was born 101 years ago this month, and her most famous book is more than 40 years old, Carson's work is still relevant today. Explore ideas for using Silent Spring in your teaching.

To TV, or Not to TV?: Exploring Media Influence - Last week was "Turnoff Week." Is television a useful and valuable tool (when used appropriately), or is it one of the banes of a healthy society?

Featured Activity: Envisioning a Humane World - What does a humane world look like? How different is it from the reality of our own world? How can we create the world we envision?

Featured Graduate: Gina Diamond - Gina loved her career, but wanted to do something that would really reveal the power of education and help the world. One day, a postcard came in the mail...

Featured Resource: The Teen Guide to Global Action - Point teens interested in social action and community service toward this helpful tool.

Be the Change: An Interview with Mary Pat Champeau - If some people are a ray of sunshine, Mary Pat Champeau is the entire sun. As director of the M.Ed. and HECP programs at IHE, and a member of the faculty, Mary Pat spends her days -- and nights -- nurturing and supporting students through their IHE journeys with wit, wisdom and wild tales.

Humane Education in Action: Digging Deeply for Transformative Change - IHE M.Ed. graduate Holly Clark is shifting from teaching students about social change in the classroom to creating and running a biodynamic outdoor learning cooperative that is already having a significant impact in her community.

We'll be adding even more content about MOGO (Most Good) living in future editions. If you'd like to receive our e-news each month, email Amy@HumaneEducation.org and ask her to sign you up! You'll be glad you did.

~ Marsha, Web Content & Community Manager
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No MOGO Experts

I was recently asked for my opinion on an ethical quandary facing a friend of a friend. I was asked because I was perceived as somewhat of an expert on ethical issues due to my role as a humane educator, president of the Institute for Humane Education, and a writer about MOGO choices. I was surprised that someone would consider my opinion on an ethical matter more valuable than someone else’s, though, and when I took the ethical issue in question to our staff, a group of people whose moral compasses I admire immensely, we were pretty much split on it. So much for expertise.

I’ve always been bemused when an ethical issue arises in our culture, and the media call in an ethicist to offer an expert opinion. I don’t generally find such opinions to be more valid than my own or others’ perspectives. People’s opinions on ethical matters differ not because someone has studied philosophy while another has not, but because ethical decisions are often highly complicated as well as steeped in personal values, experiences, and beliefs.

This does not mean that I don’t think ethics is an important subject to study, nor that I would do away with ethicists. My life was radically shifted in 1984 by philosopher-ethicist Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, in which he lays out not only the cruelties perpetrated on animals but also the philosophical reasons for desisting in such cruelty and exploitation. The MOGO principle stems from what I learned from Professor Singer almost 25 years ago, and my own career as a humane educator is ethically driven and ethically informed. I teach people to consider what is right and good, which is a large part of what it means to be a humane educator. But I believe that ethicists are not experts. Rather, they’re deeply engaged seekers of ethical truths for a better world. Instead of looking to ethicists, each of us must commit to becoming an ethicist for our own lives and choices. Of course we can and should ask people we respect for their opinions on ethical matters, but it’s ultimately up to us to make MOGO choices through our own commitment to inquiry, introspection, and integrity – the 3 I’s I refer to regularly in this blog.

Does this mean that MOGO is always relative, that there are no right and wrong answers to ethical questions, and that whatever you personally decide is right? No. Many ethical questions are pretty clear, and moral relativism is often simply a way of justifying harmful decisions. But many choices are complex, especially when taking into consideration not only yourself and your family but also all people, all species, and the earth itself, and these require our commitment to MOGO. We won’t be experts, and we won’t always make MOGO choices, but the more we hold MOGO as an ideal toward which to strive, the more we will slowly but surely choose MOGO as a matter of course.

~ Zoe, IHE President
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