First, some background. I just got back from a conference involving marine educators and one panel was a round table discussion about the oil spill. Although it mostly focused on where to find legitimate information, I felt one obvious way for people to get involved was being overlooked so I brought it up at the end. Now I'm kinda on the hook for following through with my suggestion, so I thought this would be a great place to start.
Basically, some of us on the marine science end of things would like to get together with civics/social studies/PoliSci teachers (our powers combined!!) and activists to target civic responsibility and putting political pressure on politicians who vote against their states' best interests when it comes to the environment. Although Gulf coast states are obviously a good place to start, this also needs to be targeted at "upstream" areas who can have just as much of am impact but often don't realize it. As a way to start, I was asked if I knew ways to contact such teachers and get some input on that, and to put together some information on how students and their families can get involved politically. Sadly, this is something for which the marine education world has pretty much no current outreach efforts (at least not to my knowledge), so we may be starting from scratch here.
Right now there are a lot of people contacting marine institutions and asking us what they can do about the spill - most want to help clean up, but for many reasons that's just not feasible, especially when it comes to young students. So you end up telling them to volunteer locally at wildlife habitats, donating to organizations that will actually benefit the affected areas, etc, and so far the civics side of things is being ignored. Seriously, not a single other person in the panel mentioned it as something their organizations were doing, wanted to do, or even thought of doing. Unfortunately, scientific organizations often end up being connected with certain donors that makes it difficult for employees to get involved politically in any outspoken way: eg, government scientists pressured to alter or suppress their anti-corporation/business/industry research results, non-profit employees risking their jobs if they speak out politically against politicians who are/were large donors or founders of their organizations, general ignorance of the system because of the stigma of "politics", etc. It's a mess, and many scientists and marine educators end up completely disdaining the world of politics even though they need to be active if conservation agendas are to succeed.
However, I think I can get some big institutions on board if there's enough interest in a project - one panelist who was very interested is based out of the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center at the Uni of Southern Mississippi, and has ties to COSEE (Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence) and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and she asked me to send her some more ideas. Ideally it would be great to put together some resources that could lead to classroom activities about the oil spill that would be useful to both science and social studies/civics teachers, plus information on how people who care about the environment and conservation can get involved in local and national politics. COSEE and the GoMA especially have the resources to incorporate these issues into existing outreach programs, not only in coastal regions but in landlocked areas as well.
I feel it's important not only to help these organizations get their messages about conservation and oil spills out, but also to add this extra component of civic responsibility. If anyone here is in a position to be involved in such outreach in any way - be it as a classroom teacher, scientist, activist, community organizer, etc - I'd love your feedback. Even just existing resource or educational materials suggestions, known political organizations who could get in on this, or even other online venues to post this and signal boost would be great. I try to keep my online identity separate from my RL one, but if necessary I can contact people individually with my professional contact information. I'd like to have some concrete ideas to send my contact at COSEE, who will know better than I the way to really get the ball rolling on something like this.
For those wanting trusted information on the oil spill that hasn't been filtered through the media, please visit the The Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant oil spill website.