In schools all over the US children are now being forced to watch The Human Footprint in science class. The film produced by the National Geographic tells the story of how humans impact the "natural" world. The subtext, and its not at all subtle, is that the impact (footprint) is bad and the worst offenders are of course Americans.
The film contains the following statement.
By their first birthday, the average American will be responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than a person in Tanzania generates in a lifetime.
This creates a clear impression that Americans are doing something bad. Children have been weaned on an unproven theory that man-made CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are warming the planet at an alarming rate which will bring about an apocalypse. The implication from The Human Footprint is that the US more than any other country is responsible for this catastrophe.
A number of troubling facts get in the way of this horrific scenario, many scientists believe heightened CO2 emissions follow a rise in temperature not the other way around and the warming of the past decades is minuscule when looked at over millennia.
Then there is the inconvenient fact that the temperature changes we are seeing have been seen before. They did occur prior to the Industrial Revolution, when they could not be related to any CO2 emissions from SUVs and coal fired power plants.
Despite this The Human Footprint goes on to point out, in all kinds of clever and emotionally charged ways, how awful Americans are for consuming and simply for being here and breeding. It also challenges children to come up with ways to counter all that bad behavior including references to population control and cutting consumption.
But lets travel back to Tanzania and examine what it means to have a small human footprint that is so praised by the National Geographic. I think it is not only disingenuous, is it also simply shabby education, not to point out that in the US people get to live average 78.4 years (and rising), while that number is as low as 48 years in Tanzania (source: World Health Organization).
Most of all, the teachers ought to point out that the reason Americans live so long and so healthily is because of those very CO2 emissions and because of their large human footprint. Energy is life, it is as simple as that and the abundant and low-cost energy enjoyed in the US allows people to live long and healthy lives.