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"Human Footprint" Gives Capitalism the Boot

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It’s that time of year — time for teachers to infuse some life into the curriculum with that reliable instructional tool: the educational video.

Those of us who rode woolly mammoths to school recall the evolutionary cousin of the educational video — the filmstrip. With fitting fanfare, the classroom lights were dimmed, the accompanying recording cued up, and the projection screen illuminated the room as well as the minds of the assembled students.

Today’s educational media is more than just instructional. It’s entertaining, informative and persuasive, not to mention — unfortunately — wildly political.

This month, my daughter’s eighth-grade science class watched “Human Footprint,” a 2008 production from National Geographic on the impact of consumption on the environment, specifically that of U.S. citizens.

According to National Geographic, the film uses “science and revelatory visual events” to deliver “an extraordinary personal audit of how much of the world’s resources each of us consumes, illustrating the average American’s human footprint.”

You’re probably wondering what a “revelatory visual event” is. Essentially it’s another way to say “images that are meant to shock and shame you” — such as, for example, a massive American flag created from the 4,476 loaves of bread each of us will consume in a lifetime, an assemblage of 28,443 rubber ducks to represent the showers we will take while using 700,000 gallons of water, and a forklift dropping 19,826 eggs to create a disgusting, yolk-soaked symbol for the omelets and deviled eggs we will eat before we die.

My daughter thinks “Human Footprint” is interesting, and who wouldn’t? We love knowing statistics about ourselves. Who knew each of us will use 156 toothbrushes and 389 tubes of toothpaste in a lifetime?

Of course, the purpose of “Human Footprint” isn’t just to create awareness of consumption. Its true aim is to convict Americans of the social sin of living in an affluent nation.

There’s even a teacher’s guide available online to help instructors convey this message that reads, “By their first birthday, the average American will be responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than a person in Tanzania generates in a lifetime.”

Ann McElhinney, co-creator of the documentary “Not Evil Just Wrong,” which challenges much of the “settled science” about global warming and climate change, says the message behind “educational” films such as “Human Footprint” is nothing more than propaganda.

“It is not only disingenuous, but also shabby education, not to point out that, according to the World Health Organization, average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.4 years and rising, while that number is as low as 48 years in Tanzania,” she says.

“It is unconscionable for anyone to fail to point out also that in Tanzania more than one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday, not from carbon dioxide emissions or climate change, but mostly from preventable conditions such as diarrhea (17 percent), malaria (23 percent), and pneumonia (21 percent). I think any self-respecting educator ought to point that out.”

Unfortunately, Mrs. McElhinney says, science in our classrooms is as politically slanted as it is everywhere else in our culture.

“All over the U.S., schools are using films produced by groups like the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club and the Tides Foundation that all tell essentially the same story: America is bad, consumerism is bad, capitalism bad and the human footprint is bad,” Mrs. McElhinney says. “This film also challenges children to come up with ways to counter all that bad behavior, including references to population control.”

Unfortunately, American children aren’t being educated on the whole issue.

“The implication from ‘The Human Footprint’ is that the U.S. more than any other country is responsible for this catastrophe,” Mrs. McElhinney says. “They’re completely ignoring the human achievements fueled by coal, gas and oil that have made our lives splendid, magnificent and free from the fear and drudgery that is such a part of everyday life in places like Tanzania.”

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