I love how writing a column, thanks to my readers, can be such an eye-opener. After my column about the propaganda project I did with my fourth-graders, a civil engineer from Lawrenceville responded with a sound rebuttal to how I allowed my kids to feature smokestacks as a source of pollution.
"Very good lessons for your (fourth-graders). Unfortunately, you seem to have also been the victim of propaganda yourself. How do you know that "smokestacks at a dog food plant" are polluting the air? I'll guess the answer is that you don't know at all," he wrote.
OK. I admit I did not consult a chemist to analyze the smoke before my kids made it look bad in their report.
My reader went on to say, "Uninformed environmentalists 'ALWAYS' show smokestacks and point toward pollution whether or not it is actually harmful emissions or not! What you see coming out of various manufacturing plants and power plants is harmless in most cases! I've spent my career as an engineer in which I was involved in the design and operation of power plants, water and wastewater treatment plants, and manufacturing industries. I paid very close attention to avoiding the accidental release of any hazardous substances. In fact most smokestacks in the USA today emit harmless water vapor. Trust me, there are NO hazardous substances in a dog food plant."
This made me think of a conversation I had with a forest ranger some years ago. He was telling me about a local conservation project that involved thinning out trees. I wanted to write about it for Earth Day, but he asked me not to.
"If the environmentalists read anything about anybody cutting down a tree anywhere for any reason whatsoever, they'd picket my office as soon as the paper came off the press."
He then told me about a time he spoke to an elementary class. He took slices of trees that he called "tree cookies" to let the kids count the rings and determine how old the trees were.
Without even raising his hand a kid spoke up and said, "You cut down a tree to get those, didn't you? Don't you know you should never cut down a tree?"
The teacher, smiling smugly, nodded in approval, apparently very proud that her student knew that you should never cut down a tree anywhere, for any reason whatsoever, and that her kids were smarter than this poor uninformed forest ranger.
I know on every issue, there's a lot of smoke being blown out there and it's hard to see the forest for the trees. I've been chagrined to spend hours researching and quoting directly off legitimate websites, only to get hate mail about how I "didn't do my homework."
I certainly don't have all the answers, but I thought I'd just give a couple of guys who know more than I do a chance to "air" their views and maybe keep some people from barking up the wrong tree.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.