Cli­mate de­niers turn heat on schools

Ad­vo­cacy groups want ‘both sides’ of set­tled is­sue taught

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Michael Elma

HART­FORD, Conn. — A Con­necti­cut law­maker wants to strike cli­mate change from state sci­ence stan­dards. A Vir­ginia leg­is­la­tor wor­ries teach­ers are in­doc­tri­nat­ing stu­dents with their per­sonal views on global warm­ing. And an Ok­la­homa state sen­a­tor wants ed­u­ca­tors to be able to in­tro­duce al­ter­na­tive view­points with­out fear of los­ing their jobs.

As cli­mate change be­comes a hot­ter topic in Amer­i­can class­rooms, politi­cians around the coun­try are push­ing back against the near-uni­ver­sal sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that global warm­ing is real, dire and man-made.

Of the more than a dozen such mea­sures pro­posed so far this year, some al­ready have failed. But they have emerged this year in grow­ing num­bers, many of them in­spired or di­rectly en­cour­aged by a pair of ad­vo­cacy groups, the Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute and the Heart­land In­sti­tute.

“You have to present two sides of the ar­gu­ment and al­low the kids to de­lib­er­ate,” said Repub­li­can state Sen. David Bullard of Ok­la­homa, a for­mer high school geog­ra­phy teacher whose bill, based on model leg­is­la­tion from the Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute, ran into op­po­si­tion from sci­ence teach­ers and went nowhere.

Sci­en­tists and sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions have blasted such pro­pos­als for sow­ing con­fu­sion and doubt on a topic of global ur­gency. They re­ject the no­tion that there are “two sides” to the is­sue.

“You can’t talk about two sides when the other side doesn’t have a foot in re­al­ity,” said Univer­sity of Illi­nois cli­mate sci­en­tist Don­ald Wueb­bles. Ris­ing seas are threat­en­ing light­houses world­wide, in­clud­ing the East Point Light­house in Mau­rice River Town­ship, N.J. Bullard Pis­copo

Michael Mann, di­rec­tor of the Earth Sys­tem Sci­ence Cen­ter at Penn State Univer­sity, said th­ese leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als are dan­ger­ous, bad-faith ef­forts to un­der­mine sci­en­tific find­ings that the fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try or fun­da­men­tal­ist re­li­gious groups don’t want to hear.

In the main­stream sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, there is lit­tle dis­agree­ment about the ba­sics that green­house gases from the burn­ing of coal, oil and gas are caus­ing the world to warm in a dan­ger­ous man­ner.

More than 90 per­cent of the peer-re­viewed stud­ies and sci­en­tists who write them say cli­mate change is a hu­man-caused prob­lem.

The bat­tle over global

warm­ing re­sem­bles the fight that be­gan decades ago over the teach­ing of evo­lu­tion, in which op­po­nents led by con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians have long called for schools to present what they con­sider both sides of the is­sue.

Some of those who re­ject main­stream cli­mate sci­ence have cast the de­bate as a mat­ter of aca­demic free­dom.

James Tay­lor, a se­nior fel­low at Heart­land, an Illi­nois-based group that dis­misses cli­mate change, said it is en­cour­ag­ing well­rounded class­room dis­cus­sions on the topic. The group, which in 2017 sent thou­sands of sci­ence teach­ers copies of a book ti­tled “Why Sci­en­tists Dis­agree About Global Warm­ing,” is now tak­ing its mes­sage di­rectly to stu­dents.

A ref­er­ence book it is plan­ning for pub­li­ca­tion this year will re­but ar­gu­ments link­ing cli­mate change to hur­ri­canes, tor­na­does and other ex­treme


“We’re very con­cerned the global warm­ing pro­pa­ganda ef­forts have en­cour­aged stu­dents to not en­gage in re­search and crit­i­cal think­ing,” Tay­lor said, re­fer­ring to news re­ports and sci­en­tific warn­ings.

Nei­ther Dis­cov­ery nor Heart­land dis­closes the iden­ti­ties of its donors.

In­struc­tion on the topic varies widely from place to place, but cli­mate change and how hu­mans are al­ter­ing the planet are core top­ics em­pha­sized in the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards, de­vel­oped by a group of states. Nine­teen states and the Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia have adopted the stan­dards, and 21 oth­ers have em­braced some of the ma­te­rial with mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Still, a sur­vey re­leased in 2016 found that of pub­lic mid­dle- and high-school sci­ence teach­ers who taught some­thing about cli­mate change, about a quar­ter gave equal time to per­spec­tives

that “raise doubt about the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus.”

By early Fe­bru­ary, the Oakland, Cal­i­for­nia-based non­profit Na­tional Cen­ter for Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion flagged over a dozen bills this year as threats to the in­tegrity of sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion, more than the or­ga­ni­za­tion typ­i­cally sees in an en­tire year.

Sev­eral of them — in­clud­ing pro­pos­als in Ok­la­homa, North Dakota and South Dakota — had lan­guage echo­ing model leg­is­la­tion of the Seat­tle-based Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute, which says teach­ers should not be pro­hib­ited from ad­dress­ing strengths and weak­nesses of con­cepts such as evo­lu­tion and global warm­ing.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures be­came law in Louisiana in

2008 and Ten­nessee in

2012. In states where they may not be fea­si­ble po­lit­i­cally, Dis­cov­ery has urged leg­is­la­tors to con­sider non­bind­ing res­o­lu­tions in sup­port of giv­ing teach­ers lat­i­tude to “show sup­port for crit­i­cal think­ing” on con­tro­ver­sial top­ics. Law­mak­ers in Alabama and In­di­ana passed such res­o­lu­tions in 2017.

Dis­cov­ery of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Florida state Sen. Den­nis Bax­ley is press­ing leg­is­la­tion that would al­low schools to teach al­ter­na­tives to con­tro­ver­sial the­o­ries.

“There is re­ally no es­tab­lished sci­ence on most things, you’ll find,” the GOP leg­is­la­tor said.

Else­where, law­mak­ers in Con­necti­cut and Iowa, which both adopted the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards, have pro­posed rolling them back. Con­necti­cut state Rep. John Pis­copo, a Repub­li­can who is a Heart­land In­sti­tute mem­ber, said he wants to elim­i­nate the sec­tion on cli­mate change, call­ing it “to­tally one-sided.”

Other bills in­tro­duced this year in such states as Vir­ginia, Ari­zona and Maine call for teach­ers to avoid po­lit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion of their stu­dents.

“If they’re teach­ing about a sub­ject, such as cli­mate change, and they present both sides, that’s fine. That’s as it should be. A teacher who presents a skewed ex­ten­sion of their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, that’s closer to in­doc­tri­nat­ing. That’s not good to kids,” said Vir­ginia state Rep. Dave LaRock, a Repub­li­can.

While there are many de­tails about cli­mate sci­ence hotly de­bated among sci­en­tists, it is well-es­tab­lished that global warm­ing is real, hu­man-caused and a prob­lem, said sci­en­tist Chris Field, di­rec­tor of the Stan­ford Woods In­sti­tute for the En­vi­ron­ment.

“When peo­ple say we ought to present two sides, they’re say­ing we ought to present a side that’s to­tally been dis­proven along with a side that has been fun­da­men­tally sup­ported by the ev­i­dence,” Field said.


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