The Attempted Distortion Of Climate Change

The Urgent Need For Comprehensive Education In Local Schools To Address A Global Crisis

WHAT YOU CAN DO...

  • Challenge climate change deniers and promote environmental education through informative resources such as http://climatetruth.org/

By Gillian Hand

        In 2017, 350,000 American teachers received a publication from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Illinois. Titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” Heartland’s booklet and DVD package bombarded educators with an attempt to challenge the prevailing scientific stance on climate change.[1] Although 97% of scientists agree that climate change is happening now, unwarranted skepticism surrounding the evidence has prompted continued debates on this global crisis.[2] Calling younger generations to action, believers are fighting desperately to convince American citizens of the urgency of climate change before it is too late. Proper education will be fundamental in the fight for research and reform in a debate that will ultimately decide the fate of a world on the brink of a climate catastrophe.

        The recent climate report from the United Nations issued an ultimatum to humanity, naming climate change as the defining issue of this era and initiating a countdown of 12 years before the destruction is irreversible. Due to increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrialization, deforestation, and agriculture, the atmosphere has been filled with unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide, dangerously warming the Earth and threatening widespread environmental devastation.[3] Yet while accomplished scientists stress the urgency and sheer necessity of change in industry, land, and energy systems, far too many Americans continue to deny the existence and gravity of this international situation. The statistics are frightening: although 71% of Americans believe in global warming, only 50% think that they will be personally harmed by these changing environmental conditions.[4] Beyond this, only six in ten Americans accept that humans are the cause of climate change, while four in ten believe that the media exaggerates its seriousness.[5] To change America’s narrative on climate change, citizens must be exposed to hard evidence and potential solutions—developments that will require stronger educational programs at all levels of society.

        Currently, 19 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, an educational guide for science content in K-12 curriculums that incorporates factual climate change instruction. These states, representing over 36% of Americans, provide students with evidence-based education on current environmental events and conditions, thereby helping them understand the stakes and consequences of a rapidly changing climate.[6] However, some states, such as Texas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Florida, have fought against the Next Generation Science Standards, electing to instead implement their own curriculums; these programs permit teachers to challenge school textbooks and dispute theories of topics like climate change and evolution.[7] While widespread teaching of climate change denial is certainly an issue that demands attention, other concerns point to the fact that many teachers lack essential comprehension of these subjects, compelling them to shy away from climate discussion in the classroom.[8] In light of the United Nations’ harsh climate report, the need for a stronger and more comprehensive education policy in relation to climate change is undeniable.

In April 2018, the Climate Change Education Act (HR 5606/S. 2740) was introduced in the Senate by Edward Markey (D-MA) and in the House of Representatives by Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH1). On the grounds that “the evidence for human-induced climate change is overwhelming and undeniable,” this Act seeks to form a new system of environmental education, altering America’s perspective on climate change in the process. In a proposed program courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Climate Change Education Act would provide learning opportunities for students along with the public at large, thereby increasing climate literacy and promoting more sustainable practices. Objectives focus on a thorough understanding of the consequences of human action as well as the implementation and explanation of new technologies and initiatives with climate-friendly benefits. With eight co-sponsors in the Senate and 23 co-sponsors in the House, the bill currently awaits reviewal.[9] Through efforts such as the proposed “Green New Deal”, an economic program that would address climate concerns, climate change is gradually gaining a stronger presence on the political stage, making it more likely that the Act will garner attention in the 116th Congress.  

In practice, the Climate Change Education Act would promote evidence-based learning in American schools and across the general population. With younger generations being hailed as the key advocates behind increased climate regulation, logical and accurate school-level education is needed to stamp out opposing and regressive arguments. Consider Texas-based teacher Eric Madrid, an educator with firsthand experience countering climate change denial in the classroom. Madrid explained that most of his students who once denounced the climate crisis as “fake news” were persuaded after viewing evidence of environmental responses to human activities, contrary to certain persistent adults who refused to stray from long-held beliefs. In response to the concern that many teachers feel uncomfortable or unprepared when teaching climate science, Madrid expressed hope that educators will soon receive more background information and resources that can make these lessons easier to teach.[10] Thankfully, the Climate Change Education Act speaks directly to these uncertainties. Using modern technologies, the program would make environmental education easily accessible for citizens of all ages by promoting initiatives in renewable energy, greenhouse gas reduction, and energy conservation. Beyond this, the Act would also aim to train teachers in climate science and help them incorporate these topics into K-12 curriculums, making educators more comfortable addressing climate issues in the classroom.[11] 

        Among the 350,000 teachers who received the Heartland Institute booklet, many chose to reject the provided materials and corresponding belief system. One called Heartland’s work “disingenuous,” while others condemned the Institute’s efforts to undermine the urgency of a global crisis. Some even chose to use the information as an example of climate change denial, highlighting the ways in which non-believers can obstruct scientific evidence in their favor.[12] Yet while these disapproving responses are certainly a sign of hope, it is concerning that teachers and schools were targeted at all; while the need for enhanced education is indisputable, it is clear that American schools have become a political battleground for climate change believers and deniers. With persisting doubt, confusion, and fear of climate change dominating the modern political landscape, it has never been more important to teach the truth. With efforts such as the Climate Change Education Act, Americans will be one step closer to halting human-caused environmental destruction, thereby providing future generations with hope of a safer and more sustainable planet.

 

 


[1] Banerjee, Neela. “Science Teachers Respond to Climate Materials Sent by Heartland Institute.” InsideClimate News, InsideClimate News, 22 Dec. 2017, insideclimatenews.org/news/22122017/science-teachers-heartland-institute-anti-climate-booklet-survey

[2] “Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate Is Warming.” Global Climate Change, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory , 18 Sept. 2018, climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/.

[3] “Climate Change.” United Nations, United Nations, 2018, www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/

[4] Winerman, Lea. “By the Numbers: Our Increasing Climate Concerns.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Feb. 2018, www.apa.org/monitor/2018/02/numbers.aspx.

[5] “Americans On Climate Change.” Climate Chat, ClimateAdvocacyLab.org, www.theclimatechat.org/americans-on-climate-change/.

[6] “About the Next Generation Science Standards.” NGSS@NSTA, Nation Science Teachers Association , ngss.nsta.org/About.aspx.

[7] Day, Adrienne. “Climate Change in Schools Where It's 'Fake News'.” CNN, Turner Broadcasting System, 14 June 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/health/climat

[8] Kirk, Karin. “Teachers Dig in to Teach Climate Change.” Yale Climate Connections, The Yale Center for Environmental Communications, 9 Sept. 2017, www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2017/09/returning-teachers-dig-in-to-teach-climate-change/.

[9] “Climate Change Education Act (S. 2740).” GovTrack.us, Civic Impulse, LLC. , www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s2740.

[10] Day, “Climate Change in Schools Where It’s ‘Fake News’”

[11] “Climate Change Education Act.” Environmental Education and the 115th Congress, North American Association for Environmental Education, 27 Apr. 2018, cdn.naaee.org/sites/default/files/climate_change_education_act_-_115th_congress_-_background.pdf.

[12] Banerjee, “Science Teachers Respond to Climate Materials Sent by Heartland Institute”