Information Age Education
   Issue Number 215
August 15, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

Checks and Balances

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“The success or failure of any government in the final analysis must be measured by the well-being of its citizens.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt; 32nd President of the United States; 1882-1945.)

Two Environmental Disasters

Two inventions by Thomas Midgley, Jr., are described here. Each was hailed as a great discovery and was a huge commercial success. However, each produced very serious worldwide environmental problems (Pearce, 6/7/2017). Here are summaries of these noteworthy inventions.
  1. In the 1920’s, Midgley made the discovery that adding a small amount of the chemical tetraethyl lead to gasoline took the “knock” out of gasoline engines. This facilitated the development of higher performance cars that needed higher octane gasoline. The gas was marketed under the brand name ethylene beginning in the mid 1920’s, and came into routine, worldwide use.

  2. In the early 1930’s, he discovered that the chemical dichlorodifluoromethane was well suited for use as a refrigerant in refrigerators and air conditioners. The chemical was given the brand name Freon (Bellis, Updated April 17, 2017). It was non-flammable and non-toxic, and came into routine, worldwide use both as a refrigerant and as an aerosol in spray cans.
Unfortunately, these widely acclaimed inventions both proved to be environmental disasters.
  1. The chemical tetraethyl lead is very poisonous. So, breathing ethylene fumes could sicken and even kill a person. But worse, even when ethylene gas was being introduced, it was known that lead poisoning was a very serious health problem (Bliss, 2/12/2016). It took until the mid-1970s before the United States began phasing out the use of tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive, and a small number of countries still allow its use. However, the phase out was not because of lead poisoning. Quoting from Gmoke (1/26/2010):
Lead was phased out of gasoline beginning in 1975 and was largely gone from the market by 1986.  It was not eliminated because of its toxicity.  It was removed from gasoline because it fouled catalytic convertors.  [The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began requiring catalytic converters in 1975 in order to reduce air pollution caused by gasoline engines.] The Department of Health and Human Services reported that blood-lead levels in Americans aged 1-74 declined 78 percent between 1978 and 1991.  In children aged 1-5, who are most affected by lead, blood-lead levels decreased 76 percent, from 15.0 to 3.6 mcg/dl. The percentage of children with blood-lead levels greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter declined from 88 percent to 9 percent. 

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the average blood-lead levels for pre-Columbian inhabitants of North America was 625 times lower than the current "safe" level of 10 mcg/dl.

Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017a):

A catalytic converter is an emissions control device that converts toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas to less toxic pollutants by catalyzing a redox reaction (an oxidation and a reduction reaction). Catalytic converters are used with internal combustion engines fueled by either petrol (gasoline) or diesel—including lean-burn engines as well as kerosene heaters and stoves.

The first widespread introduction of catalytic converters was in the United States automobile market. To comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stricter regulation of exhaust emissions, most gasoline-powered vehicles starting with the 1975 model year must be equipped with catalytic converters.
  1. Freon is a Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), a class of chemical compounds made from the elements chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. In the mid-1970s, researchers proved that CFC compounds destroyed ozone and were seriously damaging the earth’s ozone layer (ACS, 4/18/2017). It took about 10 years until, in 1987, 56 countries agreed under what became known as the Montreal Protocol to cut CFC production and use in half. In subsequent years, the protocol was strengthened to require an eventual worldwide phase out of the production of CFC compounds and other ozone depleting chemicals.
Both tetraethyl lead and the CFC compounds had become major products in very large and powerful worldwide industries before a movement began to ban their use. These industries fought strongly against governmental efforts to decrease the production and use of tetraethyl lead and the CFC compounds.

This situation reminds me of the growing scientific research that tobacco use is bad for a person’s health.  My younger brother died of lung cancer, after many years of being an addicted heavy smoker.

Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017b):

In 1950, Richard Doll published research in the British Medical Journal showing a close link between smoking and lung cancer. Four years later, in 1954, the British Doctors Study, a study of some 40,000 doctors over 20 years, confirmed the suggestion, based on which the government issued advice that smoking and lung cancer rates were related.

Tobacco use is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. As many as half of people who use tobacco die from the results of this use. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year tobacco causes about 6 million deaths (about 10% of all deaths) with 600,000 of these occurring in non smokers due to second hand smoke. In the 20th century tobacco is estimated to have caused 100 million deaths.

The tobacco industry has fought fiercely against governmental efforts to decrease smoking. Both in the United States and throughout the rest of world, tobacco use remains both a very profitable business and a very serious health problem.
Checks and Balances

Humans have the ability to think about the consequences of actions that they are considering taking. They also have the ability to examine the consequences of actions that they and others have taken. These two abilities are important aspects of problem solving.

Tetraethyl lead, Freon, and tobacco provide examples in which there were unforeseen and very seriously bad consequences of human decision making. The resulting harmful actions led to major conflict between big business and government, and in each case the government eventually was able to help rectify the bad situations. Many other examples can be found in medicine, damage to our environment, and so on.

An important role of government at all levels is to help detect, prevent, and/or correct such unfortunate (ill conceived, bad) decisions and consequences. In the United States, for example, we have a form of government and laws with checks and balances. The U.S. Federal Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, followed by the actions of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft, are early demonstrations of the government’s efforts to protect the rights of individual people.

Our government has established the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Disease Control, and the Federal Drug Administration to help the health and welfare of its people. There are also non-governmental organizations playing somewhat similar roles. Examples include the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as many Watchdog and Fact Checking organizations. These all play major roles in the prevention, detection, and correction of unfortunate decisions and bad consequences.

Quality of Life

Right now, in the United States and many other countries, we are seeing major conflicts between the very wealthy citizens (and despots in some countries) and the systems of checks and balances designed to help to look out for the well-being and quality of life of individual citizens of the world (Moursund, 2/12/2017). With sufficient wealth, one can strongly affect the outcome of elections and make changes in our current balances of power.

You are probably aware of the growing gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in the United States and in many other countries.  You might want to read my IAE Blog entry, Hungry Children: America’s Shame (Moursund, 5/2/2014.) I am not able to understand why one of the richest nations in the world has so many children living in poverty.

In recent years, a major new factor has entered into this checks and balances situation. We now have the Web and the Internet that certainly empower individuals, regardless of their wealth or corporate affiliation. They also empower those who make up and disseminate fake news, statements not justified by the facts, racial hatred messages, and so on.

I make extensive use of the Web and Internet, and such use contributes to my quality of life.  However, businesses and others routinely use the Web and Internet to invade my privacy, attempt to defraud me, and in other ways decrease my quality of life. It seems obvious to me that such unforeseen consequences of the Web and Internet need to be strongly addressed by governments at a national and global level.

What You Can Do

I, personally, am a strong supporter of the underlying ideas in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statement at the beginning of this blog entry–working to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. I engage in this task every day, using the resources available to me.

You can consciously and actively be personally engaged in working to improve the quality of people’s lives, as many of you are already doing. Even a little thing like smiling at a person you encounter, and wishing this person a pleasant day can make a difference. You can keep yourself informed about what is going on in your neighborhood, city, state, country, and the world. In your daily communications with others, in person or online, you can support what you believe to be “right” behavior. Through your volunteer work and/or contributions of other resources, you can support activities that help others.

For the many teachers and other educators among my readers, I urge you incorporate some of the ideas from this IAE Newsletter into your teaching. As children mature, their brains gain increased capabilities to foresee and analyze possible consequences of their proposed and actual actions.

References and Resources

ACS (4/18/2017). Chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion: A national historic chemical landmark. American Chemical Society. Retrieved 6/12/2017 from

Bellis, M. (Updated April 17, 2017). Freon–The history of Freon. ThoughtCo. Retrieved 6/11/2017 from

Bliss, L. (2/12/2016). An American history of lead poisoning. The Atlantic. Retrieved 6/12/2017 from

Gmoke (1/26/2010). Three inventions of Thomas Midgley Jr, the first geoengineer. Retrieved 6/17/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2/12/2017). Improving worldwide quality of life. IAE Blog. Retrieved 6/15/2017 from

Moursund, D. (5/2/2014). Hungry children: America’s shame. IAE Blog. Retrieved 6/15/2017 from

Pearce, F. (6/7/2017)). Inventor hero was a one-man environmental disaster. New Scientist. Retrieved 6/11/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017a). Catalytic converter. Retrieved 6/17/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017b). Health effects of tobacco. Retrieved 6/17/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

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David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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