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Three Documents That Every Educator Should Read

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There are three documents that every educator – guardians of humanity – should read as the United States prepares to “govern” the world in 2018.

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1. When did the Anthropocene Begin? A Mid-Twentieth Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically Optima l (8 pages)

1.人新世は何時始まったか?二十世紀中葉限界水準が地層上最適 (8頁)

2. It is Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight (18 pages)

2.真夜中まで2分半 (18頁)

3. National Security Strategy of the United States of America DECEMBER 2017 (68 pages).


The first document was authored by a panel of 26 international scientists “charged with assembling evidence on whether the Anthropocene should be formally designated as a new geological epoch and, if so, where to place its beginning.” As we know, earth’s 4.6 billon year existence is broken up into units of geologic markers that describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during Earth’s history. For example, Paleocene (dinosaurs), Miocene (ice), P leistocene (humans), and our current epoch H olocene (civilization). The newly proposed Anthropocene epoch is categorized as “the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities.” Some argue that the “Capitalocene” is more accurate than “”Anthropocene” because, in fact, humans lived on earth for 200,000 years with only minor disruption to the global ecology until capitalism combined with technology to create major havoc in the 20th Century.

While the document lists eleven criteria for the Anthropocene, global events such as man-made pollutants to large dams (such as our celebrated critical exploration of Aswan), what is most remarkable is the date proposed for its start point, 1945. The panel explains:

[A] boundary placed at the time instant of the Alamogordo test (Trinity) would mark a historic turning point of global significance associated with the Great Acceleration, while in practical stratigraphic terms it would include all primary stratigraphic signals of bomb-related radionuclides, including those of the geologically simultaneous Hiroshima – August 6, 1945 – and Nagasaki – August 9, 1945 – bombs. Moreover, placing the boundary at an exact point in time, related to the appearance of a chemostratigraphic marker, is consistent with the International and North American Stratigraphic Codes and with the definition of the Pleistocene – Holocene boundary at a deuterium excursion dated at high precision in the NGRIP Ice Core.

Not an easy read, but readily accessible to trained intellectuals (paid to think deeply and train others to do the same), the mark of our privileged position as a class of worker within human society. The document makes clear that human-made bombs coupled with habitat encroachment, collapse of biodiversity, and climate change mark the Anthropocene as possibly being the last epoch in human history.

It is Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight was published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, a nuclear watchdog group formed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the very makers of those bombs. Seeking to educate the public regarding the “Pandora’s box of modern science” opened by the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin’s scientists created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 as a graphic prediction of how close the planet is to a nuclear war. Set at seven minutes to midnight 70 years ago — midnight being Armageddon — the closest the clock has gotten toward the witching hour was 1953 when it was set at two minutes to midnight after both the U.S. and the Soviet Union detonated the first hydrogen bombs, a destructive force up to 1,000 times more powerful than an atomic bomb. Since 1953, the Doomsday Clock has fluctuated between 17 to 3 minutes to midnight and currently not only marks a nuclear threat, but “takes a broad and international view of existential threats to humanity, focusing on long term trends.”

A mere six days into the Trump presidency, the Bulletin’s scientists moved the clock forward by 30 seconds – the first time they have ever split the minute — reflecting the second highest threat level since the inception of the macabre time device. While the election of Trump in itself was not the only reason for the creep toward annihilation, the Bulletin noted Trump’s “disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.” These concerns were confirmed eleven months later with the publication of third document this article addresses, Trump’s first National Security Strategy.

Congress mandates that the President of the United States make public his/her administration’s approach to the national security of the United States. It can be argued that the most radical change in the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the U.S. was a simple 21-word statement in George W. Bush’s 2002 document:

And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.

For the first time in America’s post WWII history, Bush moved U.S. military policy away from a defensive posture to one of offense, which led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq and other human tragedies. This military “preemption” became known as the Bush Doctrine. While Trump’s National Security Strategy keeps the Bush Doctrine in play (“We must ” deter, disrupt, and defeat potential threats before they reach the United States” [emphasis mine]), his first draft will be known for its own twenty-word radical shift in U.S. policy:

U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.

In other words, Trump has removed climate change as a national security threat despite that fact that the Department of Defense identified it as such in 2015, an act that prompted Obama’s last NSS to state:

Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.

Trump’s NSS also reflects his desire for “military overmatch, full-spectrum force “and “the modernization of land, sea, and air nuclear weapons,” which means exactly as it sounds, “[W]eapon systems that clearly overmatch theirs in lethality.” Due to the fact that it’s written at an elementary school level, and devoid of any specifics or techno -jargon, the NSS’s 68 pages are a frighteningly simple read.

Many of our own mothers and fathers were born at a time when it was inconceivable that human beings could possess the means to extinguish their own species, a mid-twentieth century reality that we can no longer innocently ignore. Whether you are a guardian who works in the mines of science, history, math, or English, these three documents, or at least the logic expressed within, can easily be added to your curricular canon. Of course, if the role of guardian is too scary or onerous, like Nero, one can just fiddle.

When did the Anthropocene Begin?: click here

It is Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight: click here

National Security Strategy: click here


Michael Galli is the Dean of Students at Rivendell Academy, a small 7-12 interstate public school on the New Hampshire / Vermont border, where he teaches classes on media and U.S. foreign policy.

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