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(iStockphoto / February 18, 2014)

Maya Angelou may have said "there is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic," but in today's world, it is difficult to grow up as anything otherwise.

At school, we learn about ecosystems and the fragile interaction of species; how the greenhouse effect allows our planet to stay warm while neighboring worlds remain cold and lifeless; how evolution has become the basis of all modern biology; how humans have destroyed our environment, feasting on unsustainable resources while lesser creatures have suffered. Science is like any other class, and we tend to accept what we learn, to a reasonable extent. We have been raised to trust what our teachers and our textbooks tell us.

Yet, if we venture outside of the state-approved curriculum onto the Internet, we find uncertainty where there was conviction and denial, where there was truth.

No surprise there — the Internet is the ultimate equal-opportunity platform for propagating opinions. But the confusion is not limited to obscure forums and talk pages. Reputable news organizations from CNN to The New York Times host their own brand of online opinions and, more important, the news. There are stories of developing oil reserves and political debates about seemingly basic scientific topics and endless tales of destruction, of new housing complexes, new McMansions, new this and new that, all at the expense of the environment.

There are pages of articles describing scientists' dire warnings about climate change, only to be countered by a lack of governmental action; pages of articles describing how you can save your trim waistline and youthful glow, but not how you can save the forest in your backyard.

Ultimately, it is all quite confusing. Who do we believe? Religion? Industry advocates? Political parties? Tradition? Or do we gullibly accept what our teachers tell us? Numbers are just numbers; there is no telling where they come from or whether the story they tell is valid.

Recently, kids' favorite science guy, Bill Nye, debated creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Nye was attempting to persuade a very religious man, Ham, that evolution is actually a legitimate aspect of science. The primary take-away was that while science remains science, the Bible remains the Bible.

More disturbing was the implication that science is to be debated, that mere morals can claim to uproot the bedrock of science. In class, we learn that science is a method. Outside, we perceive that science is a matter of belief. Religion, political affiliation, temporary whims — all of these things can dictate what is science and what is a lie, a hoax.

In ecology, students read about the endless complexities of natural ecosystems and how they can be upended by the smallest of environmental variations or the slightest change in speciation. Remove one species, and the entire system collapses. Some species, of course, hold more importance than others — such as keystone species, which have, according to Wikipedia, "a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance." Within the vast and largely unexplained natural world, there is no telling what creature could be the vital link in a food chain or what species could be fulfilling unique duties in a habitat.

Yet these creatures, some say, can be sacrificed for jobs. Coal miners are people too, they might say. Logging is profitable. Oil is the future of America.

We learned in school that the environment is delicate and priceless. In the world outside, we learn that humans' short-term interests take precedence. Environmentalists are ridiculed and pro-business advocates are lauded for their noble job-securing efforts. But, I wonder, do adults know just how fragile the ecosystems around us are? Do they know just how devastating global warming will be if we do not take action? Why do they not trust scientists?

With all of these conflicting signals, it is difficult not to grow up a cynic.

Jennifer Lee, 14, of Manchester is an eighth-grader at Two Rivers Magnet Middle School.