An argument is a series of statements designed to convince you of something. When you evaluate an author’s argument, you act somewhat like a juror serving on a trial. Like a juror, you need to analyze the evidence presented to you and decide whether the argument is sound. The following tips and the chart on the next page will help you determine whether an author’s argument is credible, or believable:
Understand the claim, or opinion. First, read through the argument to make sure that you understand the matter being discussed. Identity what the author is trying to prove, which is called the claim, or opinion. Often the author’s opinion is stated in the form of a generalization, or a broad statement that covers many situations. For example, the following statement is a generalization that expresses an opinion: all jurors should be allowed to take notes during a trial. Try to restate the author’s opinion in your own words.
Identify the support. An author must provide support for a claim in order to create a persuasive argument. Here are some common types of support that authors use:
Logical appeals. To show that their opinions are valid, authors present reasons, statements that explain why the author holds an opinion. For example, the following statement provides a reason for the author’s opinion: All jurors should be allowed to take notes during a trial because notes can help them remember important information for reaching a verdict.
Evidence is the information that authors use to support their reasons. Every generalization, to be believable, should be backed up by evidence. There are several types of evidence:
Statistics (number facts)
Quotations from or opinions of experts
Sometimes writers use analogies, another type of logical appeal to help them explain a point. An analogy is a type of comparison in which writers usually explain something complex or unfamiliar in terms of something familiar.
Emotional appeals. To win readers over to their opinions, authors sometimes appeal to readers’ emotions rather than their reason. Writers, for instance, might want their readers to feel outrage over an injustice or to feel sympathy for a victim. Emotional appeals can be effective tools, but watch out for arguments that rely heavily on emotion at the expense of logic. It’s usually a sign that an argument is weak. Emotional appeals include
Loaded words (words with strong emotional connotations)
Anecdotes (brief stories)
Evaluate the evidence. An argument is only as strong as its evidence. Ask yourself: “does the evidence directly support the author’s reasons? Does the author present sufficient evidence to back up generalizations and to prove the claim? Has the author loaded the argument with emotional appeals instead of proving valid evidence?
Identify the author’s intent. Finally, think about why the author is making this argument. As far as you can tell, has the author carefully weight all the evidence before arriving at an opinion? Does the author instead seem to be biased or prejudiced? Note how the author’s intent, or purpose, influences the tone of the argument. For example, if the author wants to urge readers to take action, the tone might be strongly emotional.
Evaluating an Author’s Argument
Claim, or opinion:
Create a chart. To help you evaluate an argument, make a chart like the one shown here. Such a chart will help you see the strengths and weaknesses of an argument.
Ignoring the burden of proof: failing to support one’s claim (ua: unsupported assertion)
Ex: certain music should be banned (thesis) because it makes kids kill themselves (claim): What’s the evidence?(refutation)
Begging the question: to assume as true precisely what needs to be proven
Ex: those arrested shouldn’t have lawyers present during questioning (thesis) because criminals don’t deserve such rights (premise). Assumes everyone that’s arrested is guilty (refutation)
Can lead to a circular argument:
Ex: I agree with weintraub that parents are to blame for childhood obesity because I really believe he’s right.
Argumentum ad hominem: attacking your opponent instead of your opponent’s ideas
Ex: why would anyone accept Obama’s plans for job growth? (thesis) he never had any business experience before he took office (claim)
Extension: exaggerating/distorting a person’s argument to make them look bad
Ex: do you like carne asada? No? What do you have against Mexicans?
Leads to so-called “straw man” (see #15): a person who can’t win an argument any other way might attempt to paint his opponent as a racist
Red herring: intentionally trying to change the subject
Ex: "why should I study math? I don't want to be a math teacher. Teachers don’t make any money and have to babysit kids all day.
Daughter: "I'm so hurt that Todd broke up with me, Mom." Mother: "Just think of all the starving children in Africa, honey. Your problems will seem pretty insignificant then."
Appeal to pity: used to avoid having to defend a logical appeal
Ex: "ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at this miserable man, in a wheelchair, unable to use his legs. Could such a man really be guilty of embezzlement?"
Ex: Teacher: “Did you do the homework?”
Student: Well, you see it’s difficult…”
Hasty generalization: making a conclusion about a group based on one’s experience with a few individuals one associates with that group
Ex: assuming all Chinese people are disgusting and rude after once sitting next to a few such individuals on a bus bench in Chinatown
Stereotype: judging individuals according to one’s opinion of the group you associate them with
Automatically assuming the Chinese person one meets is going to be rude and disgusting because of perceptions about the Chinese in general
Either-or fallacy: failure to consider other alternatives (a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional possibilities)
Ex: "it wasn't medicine that cured Mrs. X, so it must have been a miracle."
Ex: Either you believe in God, or you go to hell.
Oversimplified cause: mistaking a possibly contributory cause for a sufficient one
Ex: so-called “suicide rock” should be banned so teens stop taking their own lives. (it’s possible that listening to certain types of music might make a particular person commit suicide, but it’s obvious that it doesn’t have that effect on everyone)
Ex: School violence has gone up and academic performance has gone down ever since organized prayer was banned at public schools. Therefore, prayer should be reintroduced, resulting in school improvement.
Unexamined analogy (false analogy): saying two things are similar when in fact they have significant differences
ex: we ought to install metal detectors at schools because they work in prisons
False authority: relying on the opinion of a non-expert.
Ex: buying a Toyota because Kobe recommends it
Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this” (you assume x caused y just because x happened first)
Ex: "I can't help but think that you are the cause of this problem; we never had any problem with the furnace until you moved into the apartment."
Ex: “I prayed for rain then it rained, therefore prayer works” Think about superstitions
Non-sequitur: one’s conclusion does not follow logically from one’s evidence
Ex: "o. J. Simpson is in the pro football hall of fame. He couldn't have murdered his wife.
Ex: Buddy Burger has the greatest food in town. Buddy Burger was voted #1 by the local paper. Therefore, Phil, the owner of Buddy Burger, should run for President of the United States.
Straw man: what’s created when an argument is grossly (extremely) distorted or misrepresented
Bill and Jill are arguing about cleaning out their closets:
Jill: "We should clean out the closets. They are getting a bit messy."
Bill: "Why, we just went through those closets last year. Do we have to clean them out everyday?"
Jill: "I never said anything about cleaning them out every day. You just want too keep all your junk forever, which is just ridiculous."
Logical Fallacies Exercise The following statements are faulty because they are based on one or more logical fallacies. Your job is to identify which one(s) underlies each.
“Of course he’s guilty. If he were innocent, he would have disproved those charges long ago.”
“Careful research shows that many of the most successful people have large vocabularies. This proves that the way to be successful is to develop a large vocabulary.”
“Frank and Jenny aren’t mature enough to get married since they’re just teenagers, and teenagers have the highest divorce rate of any age group. If teen were more mature, they would be able to make their marriages work.”
The president of a university says to professors at a faculty meeting: “we must give student athletes special consideration in our grading system, or our athletic program will suffer since everyone will be declared ineligible to play because of their bad grades.”
"I think that we should make the academic requirements stricter for students. I recommend that you support this because we are in a budget crisis and we do not want our salaries affected."
“Bill, you’re a superb mechanic; you seem to have a natural talent for detecting anything that’s wrong with a car and fixing it. Surely, then, you can analyze the rough drafts of your papers and turn them into quality essays.”
“Students here are rude. Last night some guys in the room next to mine played their stereo at full blast until two in the morning, and as I was on my way to class this morning a bicyclist almost ran me down.”
(from two people talking about sushi – a Japanese dish consisting of raw fish)
“You know, I’ve never really been too crazy about sushi. I don’t like to eat any meat unless it’s cooked.”
“You have no appreciation of Japanese culture. I bet you think chopsticks are stupid and that Japanese music sounds terrible. What do you have against Japan?”
“I went to a feminist meeting last night. The speakers were about as ugly a group of women as I’ve ever seen. No wonder they hate men. A man would have to be pretty desperate to want to have anything to do with them.”
“Oh come on, I've been sick. That's why I missed the deadline.”
“It comes down to this: either the U.S. should take control of Iraq in order to get rid of terrorists there or it should bomb that country to smithereens.”
(from a conversation between two business owners) “I don’t know what the colleges are teaching nowadays. I just received a letter of application from a young man who graduated from the state university last June. It was a terrible letter – badly written, with basic mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. If that is the kind of product the university is turning out, it does not deserve the tax support it’s getting.”
“The argument that football is a dangerous sport is disproved very simply by showing that the death rate – not total deaths, but deaths per thousand – among high school, college, and professional players combined is much less than the death of the total population.”
“I dined in a London restaurant last summer, and the fish was so bad I couldn’t eat it. What’s more, a friend of mine traveled on a British ocean liner, and she said the menus were boring – practically everything was boiled beef and potatoes. The English seem to have no talent for cooking.”
“When the fuel light goes on in my car, I soon run out of gas. Therefore, the fuel light causes my car to run out of gas.”
“Bingo should be made illegal since so many elderly people like to play it.”
“I decided to buy an Apple computer because Kobe Bryant said in a TV commercial that it has the best graphic interface hardware.”
“He’s obviously lazy. Why else would he be living in such a dump?”
“Al Gore warns everybody about global warming, but he lives in a huge house and owns a lot of stock in a big oil company. In short, he’s a hypocrite. I guess we don’t need to be that concerned about the planet heating up.”
“I saw a local band last night that was supposedly old-school ska, but it didn’t even have a horn section – and everybody was moshin’ instead of skankin’. I guess people around here are pretty clueless about what ska really is.”
“I am a good worker because Frank says so. How can we trust Frank? Simple: I will vouch for him.”
“When the rooster crows, the sun rises. Therefore, the rooster causes the sun to rise.”
Writing an Essay that Evaluates
the Strengths and Weaknesses of Competing Arguments Steps in the Process
Look for the thesis (may be included in the title)
Look for supporting arguments
It helps if you can recognize different types of appeals
Logos (Logical): based on facts (including statistics) and other things that
can be proven
based on the credibility of the author (or the experts he/she cites)
1) Crowds of students once streamed toward Smith High School just before the first bell, headed for their lockers to deposit their bulging backpacks crammed with text books, three-ring binders, library books, paper, pens, calculators, and perhaps track shoes, lunches, and extra sweat shirts. However, now they are out of luck. Now there is no rest for the weary and heavy-laden at Smith High School, where lockers have been removed by school administrators because of their concerns about crowded hallways and tardiness. As a result, Smith High School students carry their heavy backpacks all day—an unfortunate situation that will cause other serious problems for students and should be changed.
2) According to a school announcement, the decision to remove the lockers was prompted primarily by congested hallways. During every passing period between classes, clumps of students filled the halls so that other students could not get to class on time. Tardiness had become a real issue for the administration and teachers. In addition, Dr. Jones, principal of Smith High School, believed that locker maintenance had become an enormous effort. He explained in a school bulletin, “Keeping the lockers in good shape has been an ongoing problem. . . . Besides, when students go off to college, they will not have lockers, so they might as well learn to be organized now, instead of later.” The school administration’s answer for the congested hallways, tardiness, and Dr. Jones’s opinions was to remove the lockers from the high school.
3) Without lockers, students have been forced to carry heavy backpacks all day. This situation creates not only an inconvenience, but also a health risk. Two recent studies show that carrying an overloaded backpack can result in serious muscle strain in a student’s back and shoulders. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced last year that 5,900 students were treated at various health care sites, emergency rooms, clinics, and doctors’ offices for injuries caused by backpacks. In addition, 58 percent of the doctors surveyed by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reported that they had treated students for pain caused by carrying heavy backpacks.
4) Alexa Nuñez, a local chiropractor, confirms the findings of the two studies by reporting an increase in the number of high school students who suffer from back and neck pain caused by carrying heavy backpacks. She says, “Students are carrying heavy backpacks slung over one shoulder and increasing their risk of injury.” Nuñez also says that the American Chiropractic Association recommends that a backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of the student’s body weight, or no more than 15 pounds. A backpack full of textbooks and supplies, however, weighs 25 or 30 pounds. Asking students to carry this weight all day means ignoring basic health guidelines.
5) What happens physically to a student carrying a heavy backpack? First affected is the spinal column, made up of thirty-three vertebrae, each cushioned by a disk to prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against one another. If a student carries a backpack loaded with five or six 1,000-page books, the force of the weight pulls him backward, forcing the spine into awkward positions and prohibiting the disks from doing an adequate job of cushioning the vertebrae. Even if the backpack is carried on both shoulders, the student compensates for the backpack’s weight by leaning forward to keep from falling backward. To see where he is going and to stay balanced as he walks, the student lifts his head in an unnatural position. His front neck muscles tighten, also contributing to muscle strain in his neck and shoulders.
6) In addition, constantly carrying a heavy backpack “flattens the natural curve in the lower back,” says Jan Richardson, president of the American Physical Therapy Association. Such flattening of the lower back results in chronic poor posture and leads to back and neck pain. Even worse, if the student carries a backpack over only one shoulder, the backpack’s strap digs into his shoulder, cutting off proper circulation and causing a tingling in his hands and a weakness in his arms. It may also contribute to a temporary curvature of the spine. Straps that are not adjusted properly may cause nerve damage in the collarbone area. If students suffer the effects of a heavy backpack at this young age, consider what happens when they move into the work force. Currently, working Americans suffer most from back pain, “costing the U. S. economy as much as $50 billion annually in lost wages and productivity,” according to one study. Evidence: Expert opinion
Effect 3: Ethical appeal
7) To help students manage the restrictions of a lockerless school and a heavy backpack school day, Mrs. Yablonsky, Smithville’s physical education instructor, has taken time out of all her classes this semester to teach students exercises, specifically designed to help them correct their postures and to counteract the effects of carrying heavy backpacks. In the class I attended last week, she asked each student to stand before a mirror at home and check to see if one shoulder is higher than the other. She requested that the students check their postures, their head positions, and their knees and to look for any slouching or slumping positions. The students have to do 10 or 15 minutes of daily exercises at home—stomach crunches and pushups held for 10 seconds—in order to develop stronger muscles.
8) She also provided a checklist for choosing a kind of backpack that would best serve each student’s needs. Backpacks should have two, well-padded straps and a belt strap. Students should use all three kinds of straps, not just sling their backpacks over their shoulders. Backpacks should have several compartments to distribute the load, and students should load their backpacks with the heavier items closer to their backs, not stuffed at the bottom, as students usually do. Loading backpacks in this manner means that the students’ legs are carrying most of their weight, not their backs.
9) Mrs. Yablonski demonstrated the correct way to pick up a backpack and then had all of us in the class practice with our own normally loaded backpacks. We had to face our backpack before lifting it, bend our knees, and using both hands, check the weight of our backpack by picking up our backpack a little from the floor to see if it was too heavy. If it felt heavy, we had to take at least one book from our backpacks. Then from a bent-knee position, we lifted our backpacks with our legs, not our backs, carefully putting on both straps and attaching the waist strap. After we had all put on our backpacks the correct way, she encouraged us students to use this procedure at all times—even in the rush to get from one class to another.
10) As part of the classroom exercises, Mrs. Yablonski instructed the students to first lie flat on the floor, face up, and push their lower backs to the floor several times in a passive stretch. Standing, the students shrugged their shoulders, counted ten, released, and repeated the shrug for several times. Still standing, the students reached up as high as they could, one arm at a time, for several times. Finally, the students extended their arms in front, palms up, stretching outward, and repeating for several times. Performing all of these exercises made me aware of the importance of good posture, of the importance of carrying my backpack correctly, and of the dangers associated with carrying heavy backpacks, as all students at Smithville High School now have to do. Evidence: Anecdote
Effect 4: Emotional appeal
Conclusion Call to action
Another call to action
Commonly held belief
Restatement of opinion
11) Besides the harm caused by carrying these backpacks, there is an additional danger once students get to class. Because a stuffed backpack cannot fit under a desk, it ends up jamming the aisle. As a result, students and teachers cannot move freely around the classroom, and they may trip and fall. In case of a fire or even a fire drill, what if a student stumbles on a backpack, falls, and smashes her head? In the rush to escape, what if no one notices her? Is this a risk that Smith High administrators are willing to take?
12) Because of the hardships imposed on students by the school administration’s decision, I ask for one of the following actions. First, I urge the school administration to reconsider its decision and restore the lockers for student use at least before school, during lunch, and after school. If students used their lockers at these times, they would not fill the halls during the passing periods, risk being tardy, or jam the aisles. The students would have to carry only half of their day’s required books and perhaps cut the weight of their backpacks in half.
13) Second, if the school cannot reinstall the lockers for some reason, I request that the school remedy the situation with a widely discussed and widely used method: Issue two sets of textbooks—one for the classroom and one for home. Many principals in other areas strongly support the dual textbook method. By having several classes share the classroom’s set of books, Dr. Valdez, of Coronado High School in nearby Granger, estimates that the cost of providing the class set of books is only 10 or 15 percent higher than if the district did not purchase the class set.
14) Everyone is concerned about student health, but the school should not expose students to real health risks in order to prevent possible, but highly unlikely, risks. Removing the lockers was a mistake because of the problems it has created for the students. To correct its mistake, Smith High School should reinstall the lockers or issue another set of textbooks for each student.
from Expanded Writer’s Model: Persuading with Cause and Effect
1) Garbage! It smells bad and looks disgusting. Most people think about trash only when they take it out. People in the United States should be thinking about garbage more, however, because they throw away 40 percent of all the garbage in the world. The solution to this problem is recycling. Recycling is the best way to preserve natural resources and to reduce the costs of processing garbage.
2) By recycling, we can prevent our country from being buried in trash. Much of the garbage that is now tossed out could be recycled. Of the 200 million tons of garbage that U.S. citizens produce yearly, about 42 percent is paper (from trees), 8 percent is glass, 9 percent is metal (from ore, a natural resource), 7 percent is plastic (from petroleum, a natural resource), 8 percent is food waste, and 18 percent is yard waste. Government officials estimate that 60 percent of all this trash could be recycled. Environmentalists suggest a much higher figure—as much as 70 to 90 percent.
3) Recycling more of our garbage can also save precious resources. My grandfather says the thick forests that once surrounded my hometown have nearly vanished. By recycling newspapers, we can rescue trees from destruction. For example, recycling could help save some of the fifty thousand trees that are sacrificed every week to produce Sunday newspapers in the United States. We can also save water and energy by recycling. Recycling paper instead of making it from trees reduces the amount of water used to make the paper by 60 percent and the amount of energy by 70 percent. Aluminum cans show the biggest savings from recycling. To produce a can from recycled aluminum takes 95 percent less energy than from ore.
4) Recycling more can reduce the mountains of garbage we produce—and reduce the costs associated with all the landfills where the garbage is dumped. Garbage does not just disappear after it is hauled away. It usually goes into landfills—many of which have created toxic pollution problems and enormous cleanup costs. People often object to recycling by saying that it costs too much. Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says, “Studies have concluded that recycling costs less than traditional trash collection and disposal when communities achieve high levels of recycling.” Therefore, people should understand that recycling actually saves money by reducing waste and by eliminating the costs that go along with solid-waste disposal and landfill cleanup.
5) Much of what is thrown away now can be recycled. Anyone who loves the earth can help make it a better place by recycling. Garbage makes our shared home, this planet, less livable for the people of today and for the children of tomorrow. People have caused this garbage crisis, and only people can solve it. Do you care enough to do your part by recycling?
from A Writer’s Model
Make an outline for “Do Something Good for the Earth”
Identify the topic (thesis)
Identify the main categories
Before You Read
Rising Tides and An Arctic Floe of Climate Questions
Pro and Con
When you read or listen to opposing views on an important issue, how can you decide which side to believe?
Understand the arguments. Begin by making sure that you understand the issue and the opinion, or claim, presented in each argument. It helps to paraphrase the arguments, using your own words.
Identify the support start by identifying the logical appeals- the reasons why the writer holds that opinion- and the evidence given to back up each reason. The evidence may consist of the following items:
Facts (statements that can be verified objectively)
Statistics (numerical facts)
Comments from experts
To what extent has the author also used the emotional appeals, such as loaded words and anecdotes (colorful or emotional stories)?
Who is more persuasive?
You can create a chart like the one on the next page to help you evaluate the credibility of each argument. To decide which argument is stronger and why, consider these questions:
Is the argument logical? Do the reasons make sense, and are they relevant to the issue? Learn to recognize these common fallacies, or errors in logical thinking:
Circular reasoning. Watch out for statements that look like reasons or conclusions but simply restate an author’s opinion.
“After-school sports are essential because they’re a necessary part of school activities.”
False cause and effect. Just because one event happens after another event, the first event did not necessarily cause the second event. The two events may be (and often are) totally unrelated.
“When after-school sports were dropped at Adams High School, the dropout rate increased.”
Hasty Generalization. A generalization is a broad statement. An author can’t generalize about everyone or everything based on one or two cases. An author must examine many cases before he or she can make a valid (true) generalization.
“Everyone agrees that dropping after-school sports is a bad idea. I know because I asked my friend Chad, and he agrees with me.”
Attacking the person. A good argument stays focused on an issue and on an opponent’s argument- not on an opponent’s character or judgment.
“Mr. McAloo, who proposed cutting after-school sports, is a mean, stingy person.”
How comprehensive is the support?
Does the writer provide reasons and sufficient evidence to support every generalization? An unsupported generalization seriously weakens an argument.
Does the writer deal with opposing evidence? To strengthen his or her argument, does the writer discuss opposing evidence to anticipate objections? Dealing with the opponent’s viewpoint is important when an issue is a controversial one about which many people have clear pro (for) or con (against) views.
Is the structure effective? A good writer carefully structures an argument to be most persuasive. Readers generally remember the beginning and the end of a piece most clearly, so an effective technique is to put the strongest reasons in those positions. (Writers also commonly structure arguments using comparison and contrast and cause and effect.)
What is the author’s intent? Is the writer’s purpose clear throughout? Often the writer’s goal is just to change your thinking, but sometimes it is a call to action, asking you to go out and do something. Are you being asked to change your behavior in any way? To write a letter? To offer your help? Do there seem to be hidden agendas in the writer’s argument?
What is the tone? An author’s intent directly affects a work’s tone, a writer’s attitude toward his or her subject or audience. If the intent is to persuade, look for a tone that is serious, calm, and reasonable. You should question the credibility of the argument if the author uses a humorous, angry, or highly emotional tone or if the author exaggerates or ties to make light of various issues.
Answering all of these questions will help you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of opposing argument.
Piece 1 Pro
Piece 2 Con
By Bob Herbert Published on Thursday, February 22, 2001
in the New York Times The easiest approach for the time being is to pretend it's not happening. It's better for the nerves in the short run to remain riveted by the Clinton follies or the latest shenanigans on "Temptation Island" than to acknowledge that the majestic ice cap atop Mount Kilimanjaro,1 which seemed for so long to be an almost permanent feature of the planet, will vanish in less than 15 years. Vocabulary
Receding: moving back; becoming less
Implications: possible connections or consequences.
It's February and it's cold in New York, which can help us maintain the fiction that the planet is not warming at a scary rate. But the snows are disappearing from Kilimanjaro, and a few years ago scientists were astonished when a mammoth2 fragment of the Larsen Ice Shelf at the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula 3collapsed like a window shattered by a rock. The fragment had measured 48 miles by 22 miles and was hundreds of feet thick. It eventually disappeared.
Many strange things are happening. The seasons are changing, rainstorms are becoming more intense, sea levels are rising, mighty glaciers are receding, the permafrost (by definition, the permanently frozen subsoil in the polar regions) is thawing, trees are flowering earlier, insects are emerging sooner, and so on.
Global warming is not coming, it's here.
There are likely to be some beneficial results in some areas from the warming, such as longer growing seasons and increased crop yields in certain mid-latitude4 regions, and a decline in deaths related to extreme cold. But over all, the effects of this sharp and accelerating and largely artificial warming of the planet including the consequences of such extreme events as droughts, floods, heat waves, avalanches and tropical storms are potentially catastrophic.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a report released Tuesday in Geneva5, said, "More people are projected to be harmed than benefited by climate change, even for global mean temperature increases 6of less than a few degrees centigrade."
The report also discussed an issue that has profound policy and ethical7implications. The worst effects of global warming will probably not be felt by those most responsible for the pollution of the atmosphere by heat- trapping greenhouse gases. The great industrial societies, which have benefited so long from the rapacious devouring of resources8 and the indiscriminate release of pollutants, are also the societies best positioned to cope with the treacherous forces of global warming.
As the panel noted in its report, "The ability of human systems to adapt to and cope with climate change depends on such factors as wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure9, access to resources, and management capabilities."
Equitable: fair; just
Developing countries, deficient in those areas, are doomed to suffer disproportionately10 from the warming of the planet. "The effects of climate change," the panel said, "are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy."
Despite the powerful and increasing evidence of the role of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the warming of the earth, the concentrations of those gases in the atmosphere are expected to increase, not decrease, over the next several decades. Government leaders are not responding to the problem with the sense of urgency that is called for.
Carbon dioxide doesn't just float away in a day or two. It remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. The consequences of our failure to act will last for centuries.
Americans have a special responsibility here. The United States is the mightiest nation on the planet and the greatest contributor to the industrial component of global warming11. The nation is wealthy and at peace. A mature approach would require certain sacrifices designed to provide a better environment for future generations of Americans and a more equitable relationship with neighbors around the world.
But that's only one approach. Another is to just ignore the problem and continue to feast like gluttons12 at the table of the world's resources. That will work for awhile. Why not? All you have to do is convince yourself that damaging the planet is somebody else's problem.
After reading ‘Rising Tides’ for the first time, write and answer the following questions on your group work paper:
1. What is the text about?
2. What are three important points or ideas in the text?
3. What is the purpose or intent of the text by Bob Herbert?
An Arctic Floe of Climate Questions
from Newsday, April 18, 2001
Demise: death; end
Impending: about to happen
Ignorance: lack of knowledge
Recent reports of the North Pole’s demise are, to borrow from Mark Twain, “exaggerated.”13
Although the blanket of floating ice that usually covers the North Pole was found last summer to be gone—there was just open water—climate specialists say that's not such a big deal. As the ice shifts, leads, or channels of water, open up, and ice-free areas called polynyas form.
Eventually, the ice moves and such gaps close.
But some alarm bells did ring, because there is growing concern that we humans are fouling things up through our burning of gas, oil, and coal, which releases so-called greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the air. These gases, which trap heat, may be causing the whole World's temperature to steadily creep higher and higher. And an absence of ice at the North Pole seemed like one more ominous sign of impending trouble.
Temperature records also show, clearly, that globally temperatures have gone up by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 150 years, or since temperatures have been recorded. And, perhaps coincidentally, the last few years have been the warmest on record, accentuating14 concerns. One scenario15 suggests that the greatest impact from warming will be apparent at high latitudes near the poles16.
A recent University of Wisconsin study has shown that in the Northern Hemisphere 17many of the rivers an lakes that freeze are doing so later- by 8.7 days- than they did more than a century ago. Also, “ice-out,” or breakup, is occurring about 9.8 days sooner. This suggests that winters are now a bit shorter.
What people need to know, however, is that the global weather equation is enormously complex, and no one knows exactly how to work it out. A few years with extra-hot summers or an episode of ice shrinking at the poles does not make a disaster. Such things could be normal fluctuations18 in a very changeable system.
The reason it’s so hard to find answers is, in part, a matter of ignorance. Only in the past half-century have instruments begun to be set out at sea and on land to monitor19 what’s actually happening. And only since about 1972 have orbiting satellites20 been able to even roughly track what’s happening to ice at the poles. Because there is no reliable, long-term history of climate variability21, we can’t know whether what seems usual now is actually unusual in global climate. Tests in sediments 22and ice cores show that the world’s temperature has been higher in the past and, of course, sometimes lower during ice ages.
What recent data have suggested is that ice in the Arctic has been thinning, and the extent or area of sea ice has shrunk by a measurable degree. On the other hand, there’s substantial disagreement among scientists there too. Measurements taken by submarines under the ice are being debated; some experts think the ice has thinned, others think it hasn’t. In any case, the submarines have been cruising beneath the ice cap for less than 50 years.
Still, “if you look at the records, it seems that since 1972, when satellite observations began, there has definitely been a significant decrease in sea ice. It’s statistically significant decrease and that is pretty well accepted,” said climatologist23 Mark Serreze, at the University of Colorado.
But, he added, “the problem is that when you look at what the sea ice is doing, it’s no just temperature that governs what the ice is doing. The winds are involved in blowing it around.” So a large storm is capable of moving the ice, breaking it up and opening a polynya, an open sea area, at the North Pole.
“These are known to exist, even at the pole,” said George Kukla, a paleoclimatologist24 at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.
From what I understand, in the past 20 years we’ve been observing a trend in the thinning of ice and a decrease in the area covered by ice,” Kukla said.
“But according to comparisons, it doesn’t seem to be reaching the situation [seen] in the 1940s and 1950s, when there are relatively little ice in the area,” Kukla said. So we can’t say it is something that was unprecedented.”25
Name six effects of global warming mentioned in “Rising Tides.”
What two opposing approaches to global warming does Herbert say Americans can take?
According to Cooke’s article, what do temperature records show for the “last few years”?
According to Cooke, what do people need to know about the “global weather equation"?
Write a brief essay in which you evaluate the credibility of the two arguments. What is the author’s intent in each case? What is each Writer’s opinion, or claim? Is each argument logical and convincing? How strong and comprehensive are the evidence and other support each writer presents in his argument? Whose view- Herbert’s or Cooke’s- do you find more credible and persuasive? (A chart like the one below will help you organize your ideas.)
Writer’s opinion, or claim
Evidence and other support
Credibility of argument
Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It
By Andrew J. Rotherham Thursday, May 19, 2011
1) Lately it's become fashionable — especially among the highly credentialed — to question whether it's really "worth it" to go to college. A recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education proposeddeemphasizing college as the primary goal of our education system in favor of "multiple pathways" for students. Earlier this month, New York Magazine devoted almost 4,000 words to profilingventure capitalists (and college graduates) James Altucher and Peter Thiel and their efforts convince Americans that they'd be better off skipping college. Thiel is even creating a $100,000 fellowship for young people who agree to delay going to college in favor of an internship.
2) Make no mistake, there is widespreaddissatisfaction with higher education. According to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Americans felt that colleges provided an "excellent" or "good" value for the money. At the same time, 86 percent of college graduates still felt the investment was a good one for them.
3) To understand these competing views, you have to juggle a few different ideas at once. First, there are plenty of problems with higher education — poor quality, even at brand-name schools, and out-of-control costs are two of the biggest. College presidents themselves shared some of these concerns and others with the Pew researchers. Second, it's true: College isn't for everyone. There are plenty of rewarding and important jobs and careers that do not require college. And due to the sluggish economy, there may in fact be more graduates than the current job market needs, or a temporary "college bubble." Jobs for recent grads are harder to find, and salaries are lower, but that won't last forever. And in spite of all of this, the data make clear that getting a college education is still a good idea — college graduates earn more, and are more likely to have a job in the first place — and is especially important for some Americans.
4) Anti-college sentiment is nothing new. Mark Twainadmonished us not to let schooling interfere with education, and we've always celebrated the maverick who blazes their own path. These days, it's Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft's Bill Gates, or Apple's Steve Jobs — all college dropouts — who are held up as evidence of why all that time sitting in class is better spent elsewhere. Perhaps, but it's also worth remembering that their companies are bursting with college graduates. And what about all the people who didn't finish college and are not at the helm of a wildly successful venture?
5) Nobody spends a lot of time highlighting their stories, but let's not lose sight of what happens to them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the median weekly earnings for someone with some college but no degree were $712, compared to $1038 for a college graduate. That's almost $17,000 over the course of a year and there is an even bigger divide for those with less education. College graduates are also more likely to be in jobs with better benefits, further widening the divide. Meanwhile, in 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent for those with only some college and more than 10 percent for those with just a high school degree, but it was 5.4 percent for college graduates. The economic gaps between college completers and those with less education are getting larger, too.
6) It's also odd to talk down college — which is the most effective social mobility strategy we have — at the very time Americans are becoming concerned about income inequality. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution found that without a college degree, only 14 percent of Americans from the bottom fifth of parental income reach the top two-fifths. But if they complete college, 41 percent of this same group can then expect to make it to the top two-fifths. Haskins' data also shows the extent to which debates like this are a luxury of the privileged, because their children enjoy much more of a safety net and the risks are different for them. In other words, children from low-income families gain more by going to college than children of the wealthy lose by not going.
7) So here's the key takeaway: Education gives you choices. Assuming you don't pile up mountains of debt that constrain your career options (and that outcome is avoidable) or go to a school where just fogging a mirror is good enough to get a diploma, there are not a lot of downsides to going to college. The stories of entrepreneurs who bootstrapped themselves are exciting but most of us are not a Gates or Zuckerberg. So before heeding the advice of the college naysayers, make sure you understand the stakes and the odds. Or, here's a good rule of thumb instead: When people who worked hard to achieve something that has benefitted them start telling you that it's really not all that important or useful — beware.
Disclosure: I'm a member of the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Andrew J. Rotherham, who writes the blog Eduwonk, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. School of Thought, his education column for TIME.com, appears every Thursday.