Climate change education is ground zero in the battle between scientific truth and the lies told by politicians and industry. The forces conspiring to prevent children from having access to the facts are being countered by concerned parents, teachers and scientists. A Yale study indicates that the vast majority of Americans want schools to teach their children about climate science. According to research from the Yale Forum on Climate Change Communication, three-quarters of Americans want to see climate change taught in schools. More than two-thirds of those polled said they would welcome a national education program on climate change. The study also suggested that there are significant gaps in what many North Americans know about climate change. However, the poll shows that people want to know more.
Americans trust in science has been waning for years and it has been further eroded by the Trump administration. Efforts to undermine science are particularly prevalent in our schools. Republicans have removed climate science from some school curricula and a fossil fuel-funded conservative organization known as the Heartland Institute is behind disinformation campaigns that include factually inaccurate pseudo-scientific textbooks. The efforts to undermine science have confused many Americans and buoyed climate denial.
Industry plays a major role in fomenting climate confusion. The most notable deceit comes from the fossil fuel industry which has used its considerable financial clout to confuse the public about humanity’s role in climate change. Republicans are the leading purveyors of climate disinformation. The lies they tell serve a political or corporate agenda, sometimes the two coalesce as with the GOP and the fossil fuel industry. These lies are all the more vile when they target our children.
Students have very little access to climate information and their teachers are not well versed in basic climate science. According to a 2016 study students only get a total of between one and two hours of climate education. Less than half of science teachers know that 97 percent of climate scientists agree the earth is warming due to human activity. Almost one-third of teachers are telling their students that science is not settled, more than 30 percent teach that global warming is a natural phenomenon and ten percent are saying that humans have no impact on climate change.
A number of science textbooks used to teach kids in public schools are do not contain factual information about climate change. According to a review of 16 leading undergraduate science textbooks published between 2013 and 2015 only 4 percent of the content dealt with climate change, global warming and renewable energy. Only 2 percent of biology textbooks referenced climate change and physics textbooks were even worse containing less than 0.5 percent climate information.
Campaigns to subvert the facts further undermine this already limited and tenuous grasp on the climate reality. Republicans have been at war with the facts long before Donald Trump took control of the party. His anti-science stance has merely capitalized on an existing trend.
As reviewed in a Scientific American article, these efforts have been very effective at eroding trust in science and academia. In 2006, 41 percent of respondents in a nationwide poll expressed “a lot of confidence” in higher education. In 2014, only 14 percent of those surveyed showed “a great deal of confidence” in academia. Another poll showed that between 2009 and 2015 there was a 50 percent increase in the number of people who believe science has, “made life more difficult”. Another survey revealed that last year only 35 percent of respondents have “a lot” of trust in scientists and the number of people who do not trust science “at all” increased by over 50 percent between 2013 and 2017.
In what can only be described as a patently irrational cultural phenomenon a growing number of people claim their personal opinions hold equal weight to the opinions of experts.
In some places, lawmakers are embedding climate denial in school curricula and depriving students of the right to a fact-based education. In both 2016 and 2017 Idaho lawmakers rejected school science standards that referenced the anthropogenic origins of climate change. House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, a Democrat, criticized the committee’s decision to remove climate information from the curriculum.
“Not only do we owe it to our children to teach them 21st Century science, but we owe it to the farmers, foresters and citizens of Idaho to take this issue seriously and not bury our heads in the sand,” Thinkprogress quotes Rubel as saying.
As reported by the Boise Weekly, the K-12 science standards were discussed at a contentious February 2018 public hearing at the Idaho Statehouse. At this hearing, Idaho House Education Committee Chairwoman Rep. Julie VanOrden (R-Pingree) chastised anyone who dared to use the phrase “climate change” during public testimony.
The Republican majority of the committee voted 12-4 to omit a section of the proposed standards that referenced the impact of fossil fuels on the environment. However, this was overturned two weeks later when an Idaho Senate Committee overrode the House, approving the new standards with climate change references left intact. Four GOP senators joined two Democrats to vote 6-2 to push through the science standards.
A similar change of course occurred in Wyoming which initially banned schools from teaching the facts about climate change, only to subsequently repeal the motion.
Many states are teaching the facts by adopting what is called Next Generation Science Standards. More than 40 states have shown interest in the standards, and as of November 2017, 19 states, along with the District of Columbia (D.C.), have adopted the standards: This includes Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey,
Providing our children with facts about climate change is a critical preparation. This is an important part of their preparedness to effectively participate in the economy and society at large.
According to a 2018 poll more Americans than ever think that there is evidence that the planet is warming, and a record high level also believe human activity is at least partially responsible.
The annual survey was conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College’s annual survey. It found that 73 percent of Americans think there is “solid evidence” of climate change, while 60 percent of the population now think that human beings have an influence on how the climate is changing.
Given Republican efforts to confuse the public about climate change, it should come as no surprise that while 90 percent of Democrats say climate change is occurring, only 50 percent of Republicans say the same.
* This article was updated on September 20, 2018
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