Can Baby Steps Really Save the World?

There have always been resources advocating “simple things you can do to save the world” actions. But, I’ve been noticing lately, that the number and type of sources plugging the you-can-save-the-world-without-
changing-your-habits-much mantra seem to have become implanted into mainstream consciousness.

Green is definitely in (the new black, some call it – as if it were a fashion, rather than a necessity), but it’s an easy, convenient, fun, non-threatening green. There are books and blogs like The Lazy Environmentalist; e-news like Ideal Bite; buttons to click to save the species – or help the cause -- of your choice; games like Free Rice in which knowing your vocabulary words gives rice to the hungry. On the one hand, any step toward a more sustainable, compassionate world is a positive step, but I wonder if such fanfare for such small steps is encouraging people to feel completely content with hanging out on the surface – as if “earning” grains of rice is really going to solve problems of hunger.

Of course, the message can’t be all about doom and gloom. “Wear only sackcloth, eat only fruit fallen from the tree and walk everywhere, uphill, both ways” isn’t an image that inspires much emulation. Life should be meaningful and joyful. But does that mean we screw in our compact fluorescents, buy our local, organic produce and stop there?

I think the breadth and fluidity of the “green” continuum makes an excellent discussion topic for those exploring humane issues. Are baby steps enough? If we focus on small steps, are we hurting ourselves – and others – in the longer term? Are the easy, convenient choices the only and/or best way to draw people into making deeper, more compassionate, sustainable choices? With global warming, peak oil, water shortages, etc., do we have time to start with the easy choices? Is there a third side (or fourth, or fifth)?

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Fear and the MOGO Principle

My husband and I were hiking up a mountain in Acadia National Park this morning. The last half mile to the peak was very icy. I slipped numerous times, whereas my husband slipped only once. Initially, I found this perplexing. I was much more fearful of the ice, and therefore more cautious, slower. We’re equally coordinated and fit, and our eyesight is equally bad without corrective lenses, so I couldn’t chalk up my instability to greater clumsiness or poorer vision.

Then suddenly I understood. My fear actually interfered with my clear judgment and ability to accurately perceive the ice. It made me less steady and balanced. It made me fall. I realized that a bit of realistic caution (enough to avoid recklessness) is helpful; too much becomes irrational, debilitating, and counterproductive.

What does this have to do with MOGO living? Fear may inhibit many of us from making MOGO choices. We may fear we won’t have enough if we’re too generous. We may fear ostracism if we make choices that depart from the mainstream. We may fear inconvenience. But because the MOGO principle asks us to make choices that do the most good for ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment, it requires that we maintain a healthy, realistic awareness, so that we balance the MOGO principle in the most positive manner for all. MOGO need never be frightening, but rather exciting and inviting because it opens us up to the good we can achieve in our own lives and for all those whose lives we affect. With MOGO as a guiding principle, we won’t slip or fall, but instead will take more conscious and deliberate steps on our path.

~ Zoe, IHE President

Photo courtesy of mad paul.
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Should Companies With Mixed Messages Get the Axe?

Marketers are well-known for pushing boundaries and inciting controversy, and thus they provide great opportunities for humane educators to use them for discussion and exploration of important issues. One of the latest companies on the chopping block of public opinion is Unilever.

Unilever owns Dove, who's viral video "Onslaught" -- which is part of Dove's "campaign for real beauty" and supposedly exemplifies Dove's social awareness about the impact of beauty marketing on young women -- shows a young girl being lambasted by beauty ads and images and tells parents to "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does." The video has been incredibly popular and well-received...until bloggers, news reporters and others discovered that Dove and Axe -- which has the ads of lusty, sexy young beauties slobbering all over young men who use their body spray -- are both owned by Unilever. One marketing exec was so intrigued by that fact that he created his own mashup viral video, inserting Axe commercial clips and ads into the "Onslaught" video and ending the video with the tag "Talk to your daughter before Unilever does."

This controversy provides great opportunities for students to explore issues surrounding marketing, products and more, such as:
  • Unilever says that the Axe ads are all in good fun. True or not? Does it matter?
  • Should a company like Unilever be able to send mixed messages with its different products?
  • Does it make sense for Dove to campaign for "real beauty" and "against" the beauty industry while still selling beauty products?
  • How much impact do beauty products ads really have on young people?
  • How much responsibility do companies hold for the impact of the messages their ads send?

You can read more about the Dove/Axe controversy in this Ad Age article.

(Thanks to Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog for the heads up about this article.)

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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IHE Student in the News: Social Justice Class Educates About Homelessness

Students of IHE M.Ed. student and La Costa Canyon High School (CA) teacher Christopher Greenslate recently spent time educating their fellow students about the issue of homelessness. Students in Christopher's Social Justice class choose to learn about and take action on an issue that sparks a passion for them, whether it's related to human rights, animal protection, environmental preservation or media and culture.

A couple of students in Greenslate's class chose to learn more about homelessness, and several members of the class decided to use street theater to educate their fellow classmates.

Read the full story and see a short video.

You can find out more about Christopher's Social Justice class from their website.
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Campaigns Bring Attention to Violence Against Women

"Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned." — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, 8 March 2007

At least in the Western world, many people believe that the “battle” for equal rights for women has been won. More women in the work place, in “traditional” male roles, in positions of power. Mark that one off the list and move on to the next task. Not so. Violence against women all over the world is, as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) states, “a problem of pandemic proportions.” According to a UN General Assembly 2006 study, “at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.”

In order to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue and to empower others to take positive action in ending violence against women several groups have come together to promote the 16 Days campaign. From November 25 – December 10 (International Human Rights Day), 16 Days is promoting a variety of activities and resources.

The 16 Days website offers a few sample resources, but the real gem of information comes from UNIFEM. UNIFEM's site includes facts and figures about violence against women all over the world, as well as reports, first-hand accounts and other resources. The site also has a link to their “Say No to Violence Against Women” campaign, which offers a chance to add your signature to those opposed to violence. It also includes a brief video about “one of the biggest reasons for suffering violence in the world today.”

Humane Educators looking for resources and ideas to address issues related to human rights and violence against women will want to explore these.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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This past week, Marketplace Morning Report, an NPR radio program that airs during Morning Edition, presented a program called “Consumed” on the impact and sustainability of our consumer culture. I had numerous reactions when I began hearing the program, which had segment additions each day. I was excited, eager to hear the segments, and glad to have Marketplace address this issue. Only after the entire program aired did I realize that a critical issue - about which I’ve been teaching for two decades, and which has remained on the fringe of society, relegated to alternative media and nonprofit organizations all these years - had just become mainstream. MAINSTREAM!

Part of me sighs cynically, “Well, it’s about time.” Another part of me wants to do a jig because, as the most critical issues of our time become part of daily discourse, we have a far greater opportunity to change systems that are destructive into ones that are restorative. I think I’ll do a jig.

~Zoe, IHE President
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Sink Your Teeth Into Two New Documentaries

Corn on the cob. Cornbread. Veggie corn dogs. All pretty tasty, right? What about high-fructose corn syrup? Maltodextrin? Sorbitol? Um. Not so tasty-sounding. As one of the "most productive, most subsidized grains" in the U.S., corn's presence is everywhere. So is its impact. In order to learn more about where their food comes from, two friends decided to conduct an experiment: to farm an acre of corn and follow it into the food system. And then they made a film about their experiences.

King Corn can serve as a great tool for discussing and exploring a variety of topics. As the filmmakers mention, growing and processing corn affects "soil, water, energy, history, genetic modification, and of course, food." There are additional issues, such as hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, worker health and animal suffering that can also be explored.

King Corn was first released in theaters about a month ago (mid-October), and it's making its way around the country. It has already won several documentary awards. DVDs will be available soon. The website includes a trailer.

Another new film out in theaters that provides excellent opportunities for exploring humane issues is Sharkwater. In this documentary, filmmaker Robert Stewart "debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas" and works to save sharks worldwide.

Aside from the obvious important issues of animal protection and environmental preservation, the fact that the Stewart teams up with controversial conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society can also make an excellent discussion springboard (e.g., How far is it ethical to go to protect another being?)

The Sharkwater website includes photos and a trailer, a Special Features section with video clips (interviews, the "making of"the film, etc.), as well as a Shark Education section. This latter page includes facts and resources about shark finning, as well as a Sharkwater Study Guide for teachers of elementary and secondary students.

Sharkwater has already won several documentary awards.

Both films provide great opportunities for discussion of humane issues, critical thinking, and social action.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Help Stop the Stuffing Epidemic!

Jack Frost nipping at our noses. Silver bells ringing. Chestnuts roasting. Credit cards groaning. Retailers giggling with glee. It must be the holiday season again. Every year many North Americans shop until they drop in order to shower all their friends and family with material goodwill that their F&F will likely then stuff in a closet or spend the first half of the new year standing in lines to return for something they really want.

This year the National Retail Federation estimates (i.e., really really hopes, with fingers and toes crossed and sugar on top) that the average U.S. citizen will spend more than $900 on holiday-related shopping this year (presents, food, decorations, anti-depressants, anti-stress spas).

Fortunately, more North Americans each year are catching on and giddily turning away from the lemming-like rush toward the precipice of consumer destruction. ("You mean I don't actually have to put myself or my family through this? We can actually choose to celebrate without being surrounded by stress and stuff?").

As a humane educator, any time of year is a great time to analyze issues surrounding consumerism, but the uber-consumptive holiday season can make such explorations more meaningful.

One great resource for exploring hyper-materialism and its impacts is the book Stuff, by John C. Ryan and Alan Durning. Stuff explores the impact of some of our choices by making connections between our daily habits and the various impacts of those habits and allowing us to uncover the hidden story of “everyday consumer goods” like shoes and fast food. Stuff also offers a curriculum guide for teacher use.

You could also have your high school or adult students explore Buy Nothing Day, a worldwide, annual "24 hour moratorium on consumer spending," observed on the day after Thanksgiving each year (usually the biggest shopping day of the year). There's also a Buy Nothing Christmas campaign. These campaigns provide great fodder for discussion.

The Resources section of our website also has several useful humane education activities related to the impact of our consumption and waste-generation. Here are a sampling: (Note: You'll need to sign up for a free account with us in order to download these.)

Leave Only Footprints
Everyone has an ecological footprint. Participants use paper footprints to simulate the impact of their choices on the earth. Extension activities allow students to explore their ecological footprints and what choices can be made to reduce them.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 45 minutes

Trash Investigators
What’s in our trash that doesn’t need to be there? Participants investigate a trash source and analyze which items can be removed from the waste stream.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 30 minutes

True Price
Help participants become more conscious in their consuming by analyzing the “true price” of the products we use.
Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Time: 20-60 minutes, or several days

Whale’s Stomach
Students learn about the impact of our “throwaway society” by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale’s stomach.
Recommended for grades 4 and up.
Time: 15-45 minutes

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager

Image courtesy of ToddNeville.
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Mark Your Calendar: Help Create Solutions to Global Warming

"According to a new U.N. report, the global warming outlook is much worse than originally predicted. Which is pretty bad when they originally predicted it would destroy the planet." --Jay Leno

Those who don’t know about global warming are either on the world’s longest and most comprehensive media fast, or live on an entirely different planet. But knowing something and doing something about it aren’t always the close-knit twins we’d like them to be. A lot of people, companies, organizations and educators are taking action to decrease the negative impact of global warming, and some, such as Focus the Nation, are organizing major initiatives. Focus the Nation has the goal of helping educators and others engage millions of students and citizens in “helping shift the national conversation about global warming towards a determination to face this civilizational challenge.”

Toward that goal, FTN is organizing several events and projects for its "Global Warming Solutions for America," including a national teach-in on January 31, 2008, in order to encourage schools, universities and other groups to focus on discussion and developing positive solutions. FTN is also facilitating dialogues between students, citizens and decision-makers, streaming 2% Solution, a free, live webcast; and encouraging participants to vote on five priority actions to promote to political leaders in the U.S.

Schools, companies and organizations all over the U.S. are signing up and getting involved. Consider adding yours to this effort.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Use Your Words....and Win

Words have power. They can influence, change minds, and thus, change actions. Lantern Books, publisher of titles on a variety of humane topics, wants to encourage people to share the power of their words by entering its annual essay contest.

According to their website: "The aim of our essay competition is to allow new thinking to emerge on the key subjects of Lantern's publishing program and to encourage new voices to step forward to shape the debate of the future."

Contestants can write an essay (up to 1,500 words) on one of the following topics:
  • How far does personal responsibility extend when it comes to the environment or other issues affecting the planet?
  • Where do you find peace, and how can that space be extended?
  • What "bad" experience has turned out to be "good" for you?
The deadline for entries is December 31, 2007.

First prize is $1,000.

This is a great opportunity for humane educators to use the power of your words to inspire positive change!

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Students Put Their School on a Low-Carb(on) Diet

Using recycled paper. Carpooling. Reducing energy use. Reusable coffee mugs. Those are just some of the changes that a group of high school students from Redmond, Washington have been successfully challenging their teachers to make in order to reduce their school's carbon footprint. Yes Magazine Online! reported about this school's "Cool School Campaign." Read the full story. (The story includes audio clips from some of the students, sharing about their efforts.)

Image courtesy of ButterflySha.
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WebSpotlight: Be the Change

Most people are familiar with worldchangers such as Gandhi, MLK, Jr., Mother Teresa, Wangari Maathai. But there are people in all areas of the world making a positive difference. A new website, Be the Change: Upstanders for Human Rights, spotlights 5 such people in order to help middle and high school students learn about positive actions for human rights and to inspire them to take action themselves. The 5 featured activists, whose profiles include video clips, photos & other information, include:

Arn Chorn Pond, a Cambodian peace activist.
Ernest Guevarra, a doctor from the Philippines who promotes health care and human rights.
Martin O'Brien, a peace activist from Northern Ireland.
Vanita Gupta, a lawyer who fights racism.
Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, a Nigerian AIDS and women's rights activist.

The site also offers resources for teachers, links to similar organizations, and sample student activist spotlights.

The site is sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, an organization whose goal is to help "students make the essential connection between history and the choices they confront in their own lives." FHO serves teachers and students through curricula and resources focused on topics such as the Holocaust, civil rights and genocide.

Reebok, founder of the Reebok Human Rights Award, is a co-sponsor of this site (all the featured activists are former winners, so bear in mind this site is a bit of self-promotion on Reebok's part).

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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Help Ensure No Child is Left Inside

Environmental education may see a little light after a long spate of darkness. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 made no provisions for environmental or outdoor education, and with the increased push for more testing, many valuable programs have been dropped. Several Congressional Senators and Representatives are now coming together to support the No Child Left Inside Act of 2007 (NCLI), an initiative to provide federal funding for environmental education.

According to the NCLI website, if the Act were passed, it would:
  • Provide federal funding to states to train teachers in environmental education and to operate model environmental education programs, which include outdoor learning.
  • Provide funding to states that create environmental literacy plans to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate.
  • Provide funding through an environmental education grant program to build state and national capacity.
  • Re-establish the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
Such provisions might serve as an excellent tool to bring humane education to more children nationwide.

Find out more.

~ Marsha, Web Content/Community Manager
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