the guilt of green

Undeniably, argument essays have become the centerpiece of every university’s freshman composition course. It can be tough, however, to engage our apolitical, sometimes downright apathetic, students into caring enough about an issue to stake much on a passionate argument.

Here’s a topic that may do the trick: Americans have long enjoyed growth and prosperity as they’ve developed into an economic superpower. China and India, two nations with huge populations and enormous productive potential, are ready to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Just at this time of unprecedented progress for developing nations, developed countries are recognizing the costs of overdevelopment and coming scarcity of resources. We want to go green. Is it fair to ask developing nations to curb their hard-won progress in favor of environmental restraint?

I think students will respond to this topic because it is their future they’re writing about. Yes, they love their SUV’s, they love driving, period. And they’ve grown up in a culture of waste. But they also have a conscience about the effects such waste have on the environment. In a sense, they are like the developing countries, just about to spread their own wings. How do they assess their own responsibilities?

Big Think has a set of six videos featuring viewpoints from various influential thinkers on this very issue. You’ll need to add some written articles to the syllabus, but hearing a mix of ideas can get the ball rolling. Have students summarize and respond to each speaker’s position to help them define their own stand. Here is the link to the videos at Big Think: Is it fair to ask developing countries to go green?

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