Classic Humans are stupid Moments and the Environment

The Ever-Classic ‘Humans Are Stupid” Moments:

1 . Oil and Natural Gas Pollution:

Location: Prince William Sound, Alaska

Date: March 24, 1989

An oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, runs aground. 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil spill through the breach in the hull into the ocean. Oil immediately kills fish, plankton, crabs, plants, etc.. Anything in the water which comes into contact with the oil becomes very sick or dies. Animals which eat contaminated plants and animals also die. The oil moves onto the shore, killing shoreline plants and animals, and coating birds in oil. Seagulls and other raptors die as a result of the pollution. The oil slick spreads. Despite efforts to contain the damage, the slick eventually spreads up to 600 miles to the southwest, and the total area covered is approximately 15,835.5 square miles This is the largest oil spill in history. Clean-up crews labor around the clock to save the wildlife.

n 1992, three years after the accident, 21.4 miles of Alaska’s shoreline still shows surface


During the inquiry, it is rumored that the ship’s captain was drunk at the time of the accident. However, on the bright side, even though 11,000,000 gallons of oil were spilled, it could have been far worse, for still in the hold of the supertanker was another 42,000,000 gallons!

It was after this, that (Prepare yourself, “Humans Are Stupid” moment #1) people realized that maybe a ship’s captain shouldn’t be drunk when driving a supertanker! Gee! Aren’t we clever! Just had to wipe out 100’s of miles of shoreline before we figured that one out! Well, oily gee!

(Prince William Sound Update Website, 1997)

2. Organic and Inorganic Chemical Waste:

Location: The Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie, Ohio

Date: 1969

A river which leads into Lake Erie flows through major industrial areas. Pollution from many different sources is poured directly into the river. One observer of the river (pre-fire) describes it as “a rainbow of many colors”. The pollution is so bad, little or no life can survive in the deadly waters. 011, paint, metals, PCBs, pesticides, solid waste, organic pollution, raw sewage and inorganic chemicals (used in manufacturing) compose the chemical soup called the Cuyahoga. One day, in 1969, the Cuyahoga River, and the area where it flows into Lake Erie, catches on fire. The water literally burns. Everything in the river, all plants and animals that had managed to survive so far, die in the fire. The river bums for a long period of time. Parts of it for up to two weeks! What do you put on something that is burning? (Water) (Note: If they say chemical foam, ask if they really want to add chemicals to a chemical fire. The other popular answer is sand, however sand would simply sink to the bottom of the river.) What do you do when the water itself is burning? (Wait.) And they did. They waited until all the chemical crud had burned itself out of the river.

It was then, that (Brace yourself “Humans Are Stupid” moment #2) people realized that maybe dumping all that chemical crud into the river could actually hurt the environment. They realized that water doesn’t normally burn! And maybe, just maybe, that it was because of all the pollution they dumped into it that the river caught on fire! Well duh! We had to bum an entire river before we understood that what we do might have a profound impact on the environment!

(Cuyahoga Website 1997)

3. Sewage and other Organic Wastes:

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Date: April 1993

Milwaukee gets is water supply from a reservoir, a large lake, from which water is purified and pumped to the city. In 1993, there is a large number of geese seen landing on the reservoir. Nobody thinks anything of it until a few weeks later when at least 47 people are dead (other deaths may be attributable to secondary complications) and 370,000 people are sick. The cause is cryptosporidium (Latin: “hidden germ”) poisoning. Cryptosporidium causes flu-like symptoms which include vomiting and diarrhea. Does anyone know what vomiting and diarrhea do? (Dehydration.) What is the treatment for dehydration? (Drink water.) What do you do when the water, itself, is making you sick? (You have a problem!) People drank more and more of the poison, and became sicker and sicker. The primary victims of cryptosporidium poisoning are the elderly, children, and people who have immune-deficiency complications (ie AIDS patients).

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a town of over 1,200,000 people, shuts down! Bottled water in the city sells out in two hours! They imported water by bus, train, semi and plane just to meet the needs of the city.

When the city officials examined the filtering system, they discovered that public water source filter were too inefficient. They were designed to strain large objects, but cryptosporidium is tiny (3-7 microns). It was at this point, they decided to upgrade the filtering system because (“H.A.S. #3) people need clean water to drink! Gosh! We’re talking rocket scientists here! They had to kill off 47 people before they realized how important clean water is!

(Everpure, Inc., 1997)

P.S. Talking to the Marquette County Agricultural Agent, I found out that most contaminated wells are due to poor, faulty or unsealed caps, not due to contaminates (fertilizer, nitrates, nitrites, etc.) filtering down to the well. The earth filters too well! Contaminated water from arms usually only affects surface water.

4. Acid Rain and Air Pollution:

Location: Adirondack Mountains (Near New York City)

Date: 15 years ago to present

A scientist went to the Adirondack Mountains to study the diversity of plants and animals, and see if mankind (specifically New York City) was having an impact on the environment this far from the city. When he climbed over 2,000 feet up into the mountains, he discovered something very interesting: over 90% of the lakes over 2,000 feet up in the mountains were devoid of fish due to acidity levels. When he tested the water, he found that the lakes had a pH of 2! A pH of 2 is equal to the acidity of lemons. Imagine being a fish and swimming in lemon juice! Would you like it? How about being a plant and having to use that for drinking water? Imagine swimming in lemon juice!

They discovered that winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean were blowing through New York City, scooping up its pollution, and raining it down as acid rain in the Adirondack Mountains!

It was at this point, after killing off 90% of the lakes above 2,000 feet in the Adirondack Mountain chain, human beings realized something (“H A S.” #4): maybe polluting the air was a bad thing! Maybe, just maybe, the tons of crud they were pumping into the atmosphere could be hurting the environment! Whoa! What a thought! If we pollute, we hurt the environment! Had to kill off how many lakes before we figured that one out! Darn! We are intelligent!

On The Bright Side:

You’ve heard a lot of horror stories today about all the dumb things we’ve-done . Let me ask you something… Whose generation is it that burned the Cuyahoga, wrecked the Exxon Valdez, killed 47 people in Milwaukee and poisoned the lakes in the Adirondacks? (The teachers) My generation is just coming into power. Will we make mistakes? (Yes.) Then why are we teaching this to the students? (So they can learn from our mistakes.) Can they afford to bum a river to figure out they shouldn’t pollute? Can they afford to shut down a city before they learn how important fresh, clean water is? Can they wreck a bunch of supertankers before learning about how much damage these things do? Can they pollute the air so much that in Los Angeles, which has a fog with a pH of 3, they must warn those with weak lungs to wear a respirator or stay inside?

No. They have to learn now. And they can learn from all the dumb things we have done. Finally, in closing, I, want to point out that we are making progress. Our filtration systems are better for cities, and we are protecting our water supplies. We still lose two tankers (on average) each year, but we respond faster and have better methods of cleaning up the spills. According to the EPA, the worst lake currently in the Adirondacks has a pH of 4.2 (Little Echo Pond) We have managed to put a cap on pollution (sometimes literally).

Our air pollution comes from:

  • Electric Utilities 69.4%
  • Industry / Manufacturing 12.7%
  • Industrial Combustion 1.6%
  • Transportation 3.7%
  • Other 2.6%

(EPA 1996)

If we work together, we can correct the problems. How? (By cutting back on our use of electricity, for one thing! Look! The overwhelming figure is 69.4% for electric utilities! By conserving electricity, we can limit thermal pollution, prevent inorganic pollution, and make the world a cleaner place to live). This can include shutting off lights when leaving rooms, not leaving appliances on, and not doing refrigerator inventories (standing with the ‘fridge door open for fie minutes as you decide what you want.

The students can make a difference, here and now. How many of us leave the water on as we brush our teeth? How about taking extra-long showers? There is a bumper sticker on the wall in this room that will tell all of us the easiest way to have a positive impact on our environment: “Reduce, reuse, recycle”. By reducing (using less) materials, there is less to throw away, thereby saving us space in the landfill. (Thereby? Yeesh! I’ve been at this too long!) By reusing materials whenever possible, we also present waste from entering landfills. The best way, though, is to recycle! By products in recyclable containers, and then make sure you return them so that they can be remade! According to one source, to recycle an aluminum can takes enough energy to run a 60¬watt light bulb for one hour. Is that a lot of energy? (Yes.) To make a new can from scratch takes enough energy to run the city of Coldwater for one day. See a difference? We can recycle, pick up trash, etc.. We can make progress, but we must make it together and learn from our past.

Forest Study – Teaching Outline:

Lesson Plan:

Discussion Info (see above): Time: 30-40 minutes

1. Introduction.

2. The Scientific Method.

3. Comparing / Contrasting.

4. Habitats.

5. Communities.

6. Relationships w thin the community.

7. Limiting factors.

8. Runamok Pointe.

Petting Zoo: Time: 15-20 minutes

Be especially careful about forcing students to touch animals. This is “Challenge By Choice” for them. I would disapprove of anyone, including a teacher from the school, making a child handle a snake (as is the usual phobia) against their will.

Watch carefully how the animals are being treated. If students are not behaving, have them sit down and bring out the animals one by one. If a student cannot behave appropriately around the animals, they may wait outside for you, provided they sit in a place that can be viewed from within the Nature Den.

Remember: some of the animals in the Nature Den are not ours. Please treat animals with respect. Thanks!

Bathroom Break: Time: 5-10 minutes

Hike to Pointe: Time: 1 ½ hours

Activities include:
On the way to the Pointe:

1. As you walk to the Pointe, have students observe different p ants, animals and insects along the roadside. Ask them if they can name the different community areas. (Cornfield. forest, residential park, lake, gravel pit.)

2. Blind trust walk. Blindfold half of the students. The other half must now safely escort their blindfolded partner over to Runamok Pointe. Stress safety and concern for the ones not able to see for those who have sight; stress listening to nature for those who are blindfolded.

At the Pointe:

1. Apartment Houses. Have the students examine the dirt around a dead tree. What lives at this level of the apartment? How about further up the tree? What about the top?

2. Forest Communities. In your community, do you just have houses? (No.) What else do you have? (Stores.) Looking around the Pointe, I can see grocery stores (green plants), hardware stores (birds use twigs from the “lumber yard” to build with), factories (green plants are air factories), apartment buildings (rotten logs, trees, etc..) and playground equipment (for squirrels? Just about anything over at the Pointe is playground equipment). Have the students now wander around and try to find an example of the different items – you’ve mentioned. They must be able to explain why they think they’ve found a store.

3. Leaf Collection. Have students collect and identify three different plant leaves. You may want to assign plants for them to find so you can have a variety. Take them back to the camp and press them in wax paper. Make a display poser or have students mount them in their

journals. (If you do this, do not let the students rip a bunch of leaves off trees!)

4. Find a Plant. Assign each student a plant to find and give them a Plant Guide book. Send them out. The first person back with their plant wins!

5. Leaf Rubbings. (Highly recommended.) After letting the students wander about finding and identifying different plants, let them select their favorite leaf. Place it under a piece of paper and make a rubbing with a crayon. Have students label parts of the leaf and the type.

6. Location Comparison. Tell students to pick a plant growing in the swimming area and one found in the forest. As a group, describe the differences between the two.

7. Hug a Tree. Divide into partners and blindfold one person. The other person must then lead them to a tree. The blindfolded person explores the tree thoroughly, trying to become familiar with the tree by using their other senses. When they are done, their partner leads them back to the starting point. The blindfolded person removes the blindfold and then goes search of their tree!

8. Plant Identification. Hand out the plant identification books. The following is a list of the most common plants found at Runamok Pointe. See if the group can, by working together and using the book, find examples of these plants:


  • Violets
  • Trillium
  • May Apple
  • Spring Beauty
  • Marsh Marigold
  • Marsh Buttercup
  • Skunk Cabbage
  • Dutchman’s Britches
  • Goldenrod


  • Black Cherry
  • White Pine
  • Red Pine
  • Sugar Maple
  • American Beech
  • Red Oak
  • White Oak
  • Paper Birch
  • Sassafras
  • Tulip Tree
  • Box Elder


  • Moss
  • Clover
  • Staghorn Sumac
  • Fungi
  • Mushrooms
  • Leaverites

Water Plants:

  • Duck Weed
  • Pickerel Weeds
  • Duck Potato
  • Arrow Arum
  • Cattails
  • Marsh Fern
  • Yellow Water Lily
  • Purple Loosestrife
  • Grass
  • Rushes