“Future Conditional” explores how toxic pollutants affect environmental
and human health. Viewers discover that pollutants travel great distances,
affecting human and natural communities hundreds and even thousands of miles
away. Case studies illustrate how Arctic food chains and the Inuit people are
being poisoned by toxins being created in North and Central America, Europe
and Asia; how poor factory workers in Mexico are being exposed to dangerous
pollutants brought about by the new global economy, and why once-thriving fishing
villages around the Aral Sea are now ghost towns, a situation that is a powerful
wake-up call about the future of California’s Salton Sea.
The program also introduces a Barrio neighborhood in San Diego that, by successfully
confronting political and business interests polluting their neighborhood,
demonstrates the power that ordinary citizens have to bring about positive
change in their communities.
(Note: The teacher will need to introduce and discuss the concepts and vocabulary with the
students before proceeding with the rest of the lesson.)
Introduce the following key terms to students:
- Inuit – A people who live in the Arctic from northeastern
Russia across Alaska and Canada to Greenland. Formerly referred to as Eskimos.
- The grasshopper effect – A description of how air-borne toxins
can infect localities distant from their sources of origin. Toxins can evaporate,
travel by wind for hundreds and even thousands of miles, and then return
to earth in rain and snow.
- Plankton – Organisms that float in fresh and salt water. The
term includes animals as large as jellyfish, but usually refers to microscopic
creatures. Phytoplankton refers to photosynthetic organisms, such
as floating algae; zooplankton refers to animals and other creatures
that eat other organisms for sustenance.
- North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA – A treaty passed
in the United States in 1993 that promotes free trade between the United
States, Canada, and Mexico.
- Barrio – A Spanish term meaning neighborhood.
- Asthma– A condition characterized by difficulty in breathing
that often includes wheezing, gasping, and coughing. Causes include allergies
and air pollution.
- Marco Polo (1254-1324 A.D.) – A Venetian merchant who traveled
to China and spent 17 years with the emperor, Kublai Khan, the grandson of
Genghis Khan (see below). His written account of his travels and time in
the Chinese court achieved widespread readership in Europe.
- Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) – King of Macedonia when
he was 18, Alexander the Great embarked on a campaign of conquest that, at
its completion, extended through the Middle East to Central Asia and India
and south to Egypt. He died when he was 32 years old.
- Genghis Khan (Died 1227 A.D.) – Leader of the Mongols, a nomadic
people from present day Mongolia. Genghis Khan, through armed conquest, formed
the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known, stretching from China
through Central Asia to Eastern Europe. His armies were known for their ruthlessness
and cruelty as well as their effectiveness.
- Karakalpak People – A Turkic people living near the Aral Sea.
- Silk Road – An ancient trade route that caravans would travel
transporting goods from China to Europe.
The topics in these activities could be covered in one lesson or extended
into several lessons. The following viewing activities offer opportunities
for student discussion of how their lives are inescapably tied to the environment.
Toxic Pollution in the Arctic (Canada):
1. In what ways is hunting important
to the Inuit? (Answer: Over 65% of their protein comes from wild animals. In
addition, it is essential to preserving cultural identity and to developing
the character of Inuit young people.)
2. What might happen to the
Inuit if hunting were to disappear, either because the animals have disappeared
or because they are so laden with toxins that they cannot be eaten? (Possible
answers: Inuit would have to depend upon different store-purchased food. Such
a shift in diet often leads to health problems, such as diabetes and heart
problems, in people who are not accustomed to the new foods. Their cultural
identity might weaken, and, since age-old traditions of raising children might
be threatened, social problems might afflict Inuit young people.)
3. The skills and knowledge
Inuit possess to thrive in their difficult environment and to successfully
hunt the animals found there have been passed down generation by generation
for millennia. If Inuit were to lose this knowledge, would this be important
to those of us who are not Inuit? How important do you think it is to preserve
such age-old skills and knowledge in the modern world?
4. The program states that “The
discovery of toxic pollutants in the food supply has put 155,000 Inuit on the
brink of a public health disaster.” To avoid being poisoned, they
must either change their dietary customs, or the United States and other
countries must spend huge amounts of money cleaning up the pollution they
are creating. What do you think should be done? What do you think will be done?
5. If toxins are showing up
in the bodies of people living in the Arctic, do you think they are showing
up in yours? (Answer: What is happening in the Arctic may not be happening
in your neighborhood, even though it is probably closer to pollution sites
than the Arctic is. First, the climate and weather patterns seem to concentrate
toxins in the Arctic environment. Secondly, Inuit eat seals that are farther
along the food chain than plant-eating animals like cattle and chickens. The
farther you move along the food chain, the more concentrated toxins become.
Nonetheless, there is no reason to suppose that we are not taking in and accumulating
toxins in our air, water, and food.)
Toxic Pollution in Tijuana (Mexico):
1. What is the trade-off that
Mexico made regarding jobs and environment (Answer: Mexico encouraged U.S.
factories to settle in Mexico because they provide employment for Mexicans.
The factories, however, increase toxic pollution.) Looking at this situation,
do you think the trade-off was worth it?
2. What is the United States’ responsibility
in this situation? Should the U.S. help clean up this site, treat people who
are sick because of it, and even compensate families financially for the suffering
they have undergone? Or, is this the Mexican government’s problem?
3. As a follow-up to Question
#2, if a United States company establishes a factory in a developing country,
is it responsible for pollution problems it creates even if the developing
country’s environmental regulations are so weak or poorly enforced
that the pollution is allowed to continue?
Citizen Action In Barrio Logan (San Diego):
1. Barrio Logan is in a congested,
polluted part of San Diego. Why do you think residents fight so hard to stay
in the neighborhood and preserve it?
2. Do you know of any instances
where people have tried to unite to achieve a common cause in your neighborhood?
If so, what happened?
3. What did the people try to
do, what strategies did they use, and how much success did they enjoy?
The Plight of the Salton Sea (California):
1. Why might Palm Springs appear
to be an unlikely place for public health problems brought about by environmental
pollution? (Answer: It is an affluent community, whose residents can afford
to live away from areas with polluting industries.)
2. What are two ways in which
the lake is being threatened? (Answer: Agricultural runoff carries huge amounts
of chemicals into the lake that are killing fish, birds, and other life. Secondly,
water is being diverted from agriculture to San Diego and other Southern California
municipalities, thus reducing the flow of water into the lake and causing it
to shrink. This scenario is similar to what has happened to the Aral Sea.)
3. Considering the Aral Sea
predicament, what should people do about the Salton Sea? Should agricultural
pollution be reduced? Should water be taken away from cities and returned to
the farmers? What might be the consequences if nothing is done?
The Bizarre Case of the Aral Sea (Uzbekistan):
1. What is the connection between
wind-borne toxins and the drying up of the Aral Sea? (Answer: The toxins entered
the sea from agricultural runoff. When the sea evaporates, it leaves the toxins
behind. The wind blows the new-dry land, now containing the toxins, throughout
2. How has the drying up of
the sea increased poverty? (Answer: The sea used to support a vibrant fishing
industry, which is now deteriorating along with the environment that supported
it. It’s hard to fish when you live 90 miles from the water!)
3. What is threatening cotton
farming in the region? (Answer: The quality of the river water being used for
irrigation is itself deteriorating, due to increasing concentrations of salt
and agricultural chemicals. In addition, salt left behind by the evaporating
sea is blowing through the fields, greatly increasing their salinity. Crop
yields are decreasing significantly as a result. In addition, because of wind-borne
toxins, the farmers and their families are less healthy than before.)
4. Do you think we can use the
Aral Sea as a realistic example of what could happen with the Salton Sea and
Southern California, or do you think that is too far-fetched? Why or why not?