It’s that time of the year again, when wide-eyed kids are heading back to school, ready to build on what they learned last year and eager to take on the challenges of a new grade.
But what if something changed over the summer?
What if, instead of being taught the truth of the climate crisis, they’re taught that it’s driven by natural factors as much as our use of fossil fuels? Climate deniers like to frame this as teaching them “both sides” of the issue, so they can think objectively and form their own conclusions about our warming planet.
But of course, there aren’t two sides to climate change. We know this, and have known it for a long time. Science tells us that the climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time – and that we’re causing it. Which also means we can fix it.
In order to adequately prepare our kids to do just that, we need to be teaching them the truth about the crisis early and often. We can’t let deniers fill their heads with anything but the facts. This is so important.
And it starts with blocking deniers’ repeated attempts to shape climate science education in the United States. Because not only is there a battle being fought against global warming, but there’s also one between climate deniers and advocates for rigorous, standards-based climate science education – and our kids’ future is at the heart of it.
New Efforts to Block Climate Education
What we should be teaching kids about climate change — that it’s man-made, for example — has been hotly contested, especially of late. In many places, climate deniers and lawmakers are teaming up to keep climate science out of the classroom.
And just as you’d expect, there often seems to be an ulterior motive at play.
For example, a resolution proposed by Virginia legislators earlier this year would seek to derail instruction on the scientific facts of climate change by claiming that teachers are abusing taxpayer dollars to “speak to captive audiences of students in an attempt to indoctrinate or influence students to adopt specific political and ideological positions on issues of social and political controversy … under the guise of ‘teaching for social justice’ and other sectarian doctrines.”
Similar bills have also recently been introduced across the country in states like South Dakota, Arizona, Maine, Connecticut, Iowa, and Montana. And these aren’t the only ones — more than a dozen of these bills have popped up in the last year alone.
While some of them have luckily already failed, these bills and resolutions just keep on coming, owing at least in part to interests from outside of schools and even statehouses.
Two major groups that have been behind efforts to scrap climate change education are the Discovery Institute and the Heartland Institute. Heartland, for example, sent science teachers across the country a book called Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming in 2017.
(Scientists do not disagree about global warming. More than 97 percent of them agree it is happening and human-caused. That’s scientific consensus, folks.)
But the war on climate literacy includes bigger players, too, such as the Koch network and fossil fuel corporations. In 2017, for example, ExxonMobil gave $1.5 million to 11 organizations that reject established climate science. Regardless of the particulars of their agendas, these groups, have one thing in common: An alleged interest in “presenting both sides” of the climate crisis in a “fair-minded, nonpartisan manner” (this language was taken from Maine's bill).
As we know, and to be completely clear, there aren’t two sides of the climate crisis. There’s only one — that the Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate because of greenhouse gas emissions from our use of fossil fuels, and it will have dire consequences for all of us unless we act now to stop it.
So, what, then, should educators teach their students if they can’t teach them about climate change, according to these groups? The answer amounts to misinformation that seeks to purposefully mislead.
Montana's bill states that “reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment.” It also says that “science shows human emissions do not change atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions enough to cause climate change” and that “nature, not human activity, causes climate change.”
This should truly shock you. These are empirical falsehoods, and in pursuing this path, legislators like these are putting the very future of the planet at stake.
Teachers Are Pushing Back
For climate deniers, the notion of “teaching both sides of climate change” is a familiar refrain. It’s used to control what’s being taught in school and put doubt in students’ minds about whether the facts they are being presented both in school and outside of it are real, often so Big Polluters can go about their business of making huge profits at the expense of the planet.
This fall — just like in recent years — more and more teachers will face pressure to not only eliminate or de-emphasize climate change science, but also introduce non-scientific ideas in the classroom. And many are pushing back.
As just one example of many, an AP environmental science teacher in Idaho happened to find out that her students were being given contradictory climate change information by one of the other teachers at her school. According to Undark Magazine, she “had to use her class time to methodically refute the challenges her colleague had cited to cast doubt on her climate science lessons. After making copies of [her colleague’s] selection of blog posts and conservative websites, [she] was able to teach her students about the hallmarks of science propaganda — which increasingly passes for factual information on the internet.”
Other teachers have, no doubt, found themselves in a similar situation.
Many concerned teachers, seeing that climate change wasn’t part of the curriculum, have had to be proactive. They’re doing things like taking online courses to learn more about climate change themselves, then incorporating those lessons into their classes.
According to one teacher, “[Now] we look at proxy data. Student groups work with data from ice cores, tree rings, corals, and sediment cores, all of which reveal geologic clues about past climates. The natural cycles that should be going on are not matching up, unless you put the human factor into play.”
This all happened because she felt compelled to learn the facts about climate change and relay them to her students. She even went a step further and organized the Western NY Youth Climate Action Summit, which brought 95 students from 25 schools together to collaboratively organize actions they could take in their communities.
Because of her singular efforts, this community is now more accepting of climate science. Even if teachers need to take it upon themselves to do so, extracurricular learning about climate change offers a blueprint to ensure that more students get the climate change education they need.
The Need for Standards
But the point is: Teachers having to go above and beyond shouldn’t be the norm. Rigorous, fact-based climate science instruction should be. Presently, there’s neither national consistency nor core competencies for K-12 teachers to teach things like climate modeling or about greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why we need consistent and comprehensive climate change curriculums to be taught in schools so that kids know the truth about our warming planet and can be well-prepared for their future. Climate change education should be part of every unbiased, fact-based science curriculum. It’s crucial to our children’s development and learning. We can’t let climate deniers change it or take it entirely away.
What You Can Do
We all know the Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate because of greenhouse gas emissions from our use of fossil fuels, and it will have dire consequences for all of us, especially for future generations, unless we act now to stop it.
We can’t let powerful interests deprive our children of the knowledge and skills they need to navigate a warming world and help build a better, more sustainable future. Join us and tell your state’s department of education that rigorous, fact-based climate science instruction should be the norm in every K–12 classroom.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time and a challenge that will shape the lives of future generations. We should teach young people everything we now know about this crisis – beginning with the fact that it’s manmade, serious, and very solvable.
Before You Go
At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.
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