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Wind turbines are seen at Pincher Creek, Alta. (Shutterstock)

The importance of teaching youth to guard against energy ‘fake news’

Robert Frost’s brilliant poetry in “The Road Not Taken” describes the divergence of two roads and the profound difference it made for the writer to pursue the less travelled one.

Canada has reached a point in its efforts to address climate change where the paths before it have diverged.

One leads in the new exciting direction of energy production using renewables, with creative ideas to harness what nature has provided us. The other well-trodden path is full of the pitfalls that got our planet into the mess it’s in now.

The students of today who will inherit this crisis are previewing the newest and brightest ideas on the internet with a feeling of hope; change is coming and they can see it.

Advances in conservation, batteries and plummeting costs of wind and solar generators have provided a sense of optimism.

Tesla, Elon Musk’s company, has developed a battery that is storing electricity and is now powering Adelaide, Australia. Tesla insists “a sustainable, effective energy solution is possible.”

Students are being educated in the lexicon of the future. They have been introduced to environmentally significant terms such as sustainable, renewable and stewardship. These concepts become the keywords for any internet search pertaining to solutions for global warming.

As a longtime teacher and education scholar, I know that teaching critical thinking is of paramount importance, especially as it applies to research on the internet.

Corporate PR can mislead our youth

In terms of energy, public relations ploys by the oil, coal and nuclear industries can be convincing, and can lead our youth down the proverbial garden path. Being able to critically evaluate such claims is part of scientific literacy.

A project investigating the use of internet resources found that teachers who established a criteria for judging websites and devised key search terms sharpened pupils’ understanding.

Michael Engle of Cornell University has created a guide of 10 things to look for when analyzing sources and providing a critical appraisal. The most difficult area to teach is content analysis, where audience, objective reasoning, coverage, writing style and evaluative reviews are scrutinized.

Educators too must be critical of content — including from sources we tend to trust unreservedly.

Our federal government, for example, has traditionally been accepted as a reliable source, and we have sent students to government websites to obtain honest and legitimate facts and figures.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an educator by trade, enthusiastically promised Canadians at the April 2016 meeting on the Paris climate accord that his government would harness renewable energy resources.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signs the Paris Agreement on climate change during a ceremony at the United Nations headquarters in New York in April 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Yet his natural resources minister is promoting a “clean” energy campaign that is allocating precious research dollars —$76 million over 10 years — for nuclear energy, a source that is not renewable or sustainable.

Nuclear research facilities across Canada have been pawned off to an international private consortium that is attempting to quickly remove long-lived radionuclides from the public consciousness and build more reactors on site.

There appears to be a disconnect within government, on their websites and in their funding, which also includes $5.8 million for the development of a mini-reactor from Sustainable Development Canada.

As educators, we rely on respected, legitimate sources to obtain information for our students. Uncovering them from the plethora fake news sites is a skill that takes time to develop in our youth, using a clear research framework such as that from Cornell University.

The path the government of Canada has chosen, however, for our students’ energy future is sprinkled with the clickbait of hopeful language, but leads to the hackneyed route of the past.

Providing students with the critical framework to pursue the road less travelled will lead to a future of energy possibilities.

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