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The Attempted Distortion Of Climate Change

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”

Free tuition article photo YCA

The Case For Free Tuition

The Case For Free Tuition

In response to the skyrocketing prices of higher education, calls for free tuition for low-income students are echoing through the American population.

WHAT YOU CAN DO...

  • Visit the Campaign for Free College Tuition to support free tuition for low and middle class income students at public colleges and universities https://www.freecollegenow.org

By Gillian Hand

In a fiercely competitive professional environment, the value of a college degree is undeniable yet concerningly unattainable for many lower-income families. A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics had only 16% of low-income students graduating from a college or university, a condition largely due to the towering expenses of higher education.[1] In response to these dropping rates of college enrollment and completion, the price of postsecondary education has grown into a heated debate, prompting concerns about the future of our education system and the state of the American workforce.[2] As frequent funding cuts force public colleges and universities to raise their fees and tuition, higher education has become unreachable for many low and middle-class students, prompting louder calls for a revolutionary change in educational opportunity: free tuition.

With student debt rising to a record $1.5 trillion, the concept of free tuition has proved itself to be a compelling American issue. Supporters of the movement highlight the escalating costs and inevitable debts that prevent many low-income students from attending college, emphasizing how the inaccessibility of higher education damages their futures as well as the state of American society as a whole.[3] Opponents argue that the programs will in fact cause more harm than benefit; with less money in public institutions, faculty and resource capacities would decrease and funding would be repealed from important need-based financial aid programs.[4] When paired with the prospect of higher taxes and the concern that free tuition will not solve the income inequalities at the heart of the issue, these arguments push back against the movement’s efforts to make higher education accessible for lower-income Americans.

The movement for free college tuition was launched in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the creation of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship. With funds from anonymous donors, this initiative pledged to send graduates of the Kalamazoo public school system to in-state colleges and universities for free.[5] The Kalamazoo Promise not only produced higher levels of college enrollment among high school graduates, but also inspired twelve other states to implement free tuition programs of their own, often with specific terms and conditions. Some initiatives require applicants to maintain a certain GPA, while others ask that eligible students present clean records or pursue a specific area of study. To combat economic concerns, some programs observe a “last dollar” policy that requires students to seek federal aid — scholarships and Pell Grants — before turning to state organizations to cover the remaining tuition gap.[6] 

Following the passage of the 2018 State Budget earlier this year, New York launched a free tuition plan of its own to offer qualifying students a new path to a college degree: the Excelsior Scholarship. In an effort that has been applauded across the nation, New York state residents below the $125,000 income line now qualify for free tuition at City University and State University of New York institutions, opening doors for individuals who cannot otherwise come close to affording the skyrocketing prices of higher education.[7] 

        Naturally, these state initiatives are not perfect. While the Kalamazoo Promise was certainly a breakthrough in the drive for free tuition, there is no evidence that the program made any progress in overcoming the social mobility imbalances and income and racial inequalities that make the program necessary.[8] The Excelsior Scholarship has also produced its fair share of flaws with enrollment and completion; the program requires a minimum of 30 academic credits per year, a condition perceived to disadvantage students who work for a living or take care of children.[9] One student remarked that, as she was not appropriately informed about this requirement, she was rejected from the program due to insufficient credits from previous college semesters.[10] In addition, many free tuition programs do not include various substantial expenses such as textbooks, housing, and transportation. With these considerable costs excluded, it can grow difficult for an individual to produce necessary payments while keeping up with academic deadlines, ultimately endangering their ability to complete a college degree. To achieve the goal of equal access to educational opportunities, these complications must be recognized and righted.

Despite these programs’ shortcomings, it is clear that the free tuition movement is gaining speed at the state level. As it stands, however, there exists no federal law that creates and supports free tuition programs at the national level, keeping higher education out of reach for lower-income students across the nation. Enter H.R. 1880/S. 806, the College for All Act of 2017, a federal bill introduced to the Senate in April 2017 by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and in the House of Representatives by Pramila Jayapal (D-WA7). The College for All Act proposes to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, making public institutions free for those below the $125,000 income level and community college costless for individuals of any income.[11] While the fear of raised  taxes has kept the Act from reviewal in the 115th Congress, the 37 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and seven Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate remain hopeful that it will be a starting point for future change and an inspiration for individual state action. These supporters plan to fund the bill with small taxes on Wall Street trades and bonds, a development that would keep the expenses off the shoulders of ordinary Americans.[12] With the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives following the 2018 election, it is more likely that the bill will gain traction during the upcoming congressional cycle despite its lack of attention since its introduction. The educational opportunities that the College for All Act offers to lower-income citizens nationwide might just be the spark that higher education needs.

        The drive for affordable education will not proceed without complications. Students who fall above the maximum income line will not be eligible for free tuition programs, and will have to continue to seek out federal grants and scholarships with problems of their own. However, the recent push for free tuition is a battle that seeks to reform higher education and shape our nation’s future; regardless of income status, every student deserves the chance to pursue a degree that will provide them with the skills necessary to enter the workforce and advance American economic interests. While states like Michigan and New York have laid the groundwork, affordable education is an American issue that should be viewed and corrected at the national level.

 

 


[1] Musto, Pete. “Low-Income Students See Low Graduation Rates.” VOA, Voice of America, 7 Nov. 2017, www.voanews.com/a/universities-focus-on-low-income-students-who-dont-graduate/4104493.html.

[2] Greenblatt, Alan. “Issues in Higher Education .” CQ Researcher , SAGE Publishing , library.cqpress.com.proxy.library.cornell.edu/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2018102600.

[3] Hill, Catharine. “Opinion | Free Tuition Is Not the Answer.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/opinion/free-tuition-is-not-the-answer.html.

[4] Page, Max, and Dan Clawson. “It's Time to Push for Free College.” National Education Association , www.nea.org/home/62740.htm.

[5] Miller-Adams, Michelle. “About the Kalamazoo Promise.” The Upjohn Institute for Employment Research , 2015, www.upjohn.org/about-kalamazoo-promise.

[6] Mercer, Marsha. “Why Free College Tuition Is Spreading From Cities to States.” The Pew Charitable Trusts, www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/01/05/why-free-college-tuition-is-spreading-from-cities-to-states

[7] “Tuition-Free Degree Program: The Excelsior Scholarship.” Welcome to the State of New York, 18 Jan. 2018, www.ny.gov/programs/tuition-free-degree-program-excelsior-scholarship.

[8] Ready, Timothy. “Free College Is Not Enough: The Unavoidable Limits of the Kalamazoo Promise.” Social Mobility Memos , The Brookings Institution , 29 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2015/06/24/free-college-is-not-enough-the-unavoidable-limits-of-the-kalamazoo-promise/.

[9] Hilliard, Thomas J. “New York State's Excelsior Scholarship Shortcomings.” Center for an Urban Future (CUF), nycfuture.org/research/new-york-state-excelsior-scholarship-shortcomings.

[10] Disare, Monica. “Among NY Students Seeking New Excelsior Scholarship, Potentially Many Who Aren't Qualified or Could Pay a Price Later.” Chalkbeat, 1 Aug. 2017, www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/08/01/among-ny-students-seeking-new-excelsior-scholarship-potentially-many-who-arent-qualified-or-could-pay-a-price-later/.

[11] Sanders, Bernard. “S.806 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): College for All Act of 2017.” Congress.gov, Library of Congress , 3 Apr. 2017, www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/806.

[12] “H.R. 1880: College for All Act of 2017.” GovTrack.us, Civic Impulse, LLC. , www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr1880/summar

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