First They Came After Science Teachers for Evolution. Now Let's Defend Them on Climate Change
In state after state, school boards for various reasons (ideological, political, religious, etc.) have objected to science being taught. We are all well aware of the struggles of biology teachers regarding their ability to properly teach their students about evolution. However, the science of climate change is also under attack from many of the same school boards, political ideologues, religious zealots and also from propaganda funded my major fossil fuel companies.
"Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation's classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools," reported The New York Times (March 3, 2010). "Wherever there is a battle over evolution now," Lawrence M. Krauss told the Times, "there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. [...]
NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the Times that he began to notice the linkage after the 2005 decision in Selman v. Cobb County. At issue was a disclaimer about evolution affixed to textbooks; although the text of the disclaimer was not religious, it was held to be unconstitutional because it endorsed the creationist view that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation. "By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general."
Science teachers are increasingly under attack for teaching the overwhelming consensus view that (1) climate change is occurring due to global warming, and (2) Human activity, especially the burning of carbon based fuels such as coal, gas and oil which emit greenhouse gases, is the primary basis for that change. And once again, a subject that should be apolitical has become a political controversy because of the Republican party's whole-hearted embrace of anyone who attacks the science of climate research, whether for economic or religious purposes.
Where once Newt Gingrich, John McCain and Mitt Romney were willing to acknowledge global warming the importance of addressing the issues we face that are a direct cause of our reliance on fossil fuels for energy, now it is next to impossible (outside of the state of Maine perhaps) to find a Republican politician who will publicly state that climate science researchers are not liberal dogmatic money grubbing conspirators out to destroy our economy, our nation and our very way of life. Local Republicans and fundamentalists feel emboldened to challenge climate science instruction in our schools and attack teachers:
“It’s very difficult when we, as science teachers, are just trying to present scientific facts,”says Kathryn Currie, head of the [Los Alamitos High School’s] science department. And science educators around the country say such attacks are becoming all too familiar. They see climate science now joining evolution as an inviting target for those who accuse “liberal” teachers of forcing their “beliefs” upon a captive audience of impressionable children. [...]
... An informal survey this spring of 800 NESTA members found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. One teacher reported being told by school administrators not to teach climate change after a parent threatened to come to class and make a scene. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales …
“There seems to be a lynch-mob hate against any teacher trying to teach climate change,”says Andrew Milbauer, an environmental sciences teacher at Conserve School, a private boarding school in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin.
These teachers simply want to present the objective factual basis for human-made climate change. Yet they are being painted as the "bad guys" by the energy industry and local politicos who see benefits from ad hominum assaults on teachers and on the researchers who discovered the link between human activity and global warming. And the result is that our children are lagging behind the rest of the world in science education:
[National Math and Science Initiative] RESPONSE [to declining science achievement among U.S. Students]: In a world that is increasingly dependent on science, we are failing to educate our kids in science. That ís putting them at risk and putting our country at risk, said Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. "We need to do much more to engage our students in the sciences. It can be done if we make science and math a priority -- NMSI is already proving students can meet this challenge by using programs that have hard data showing they work.
The problem we face is that powerful and influential economic, political and religious forces do not want our children to be properly educated in science. Each of them have their reasons, but the end result is the same: Science teachers are being forced to navigate a minefield of ginned up phony controversies and put the very careers as educators at risk in order to simply teach the facts. Fortunately, at long last, The National Center for Science Education has stepped up to proved aid and assistance to our nation's science teachers, with a program dedicated to helping teachers confront the objections of right wing attacks on their profession and their ability to teach their students about climate issues.
The Oakland-based National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has announced that it will now offer support to teachers facing resistance to climate science in the classroom, similar to their long-standing work to keep the instruction of evolution in schools. “We’ve already had a couple of calls along the lines of, ‘I know you guys do evolution, but I’ve got this problem with [teaching] climate change and do you have any suggestions for me,’” said Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of NSCE.
Scott says parents often argue that schools should teach both sides of a controversial scientific issue. But she doesn’t consider the fundamental conclusions of climate science to be controversial. “The idea that scientific topics that are well grounded in basic science, like evolution or climate change, should be balanced, or that all views should be taught, is not one that is very scientifically or pedagogically supportable,” said Scott. [...]
The Center’s approach to dealing with these issues has always been local. “We provide information to people in communities,” Scott emphasized. “We get local people to appear at school board meetings because all politics is local and this is politics.” The Center’s staff isn’t nearly big enough to fly around the country defending climate science in 1,500 school districts. So it provides support to teachers who ask for it. “Teachers in general are conflict-averse; they just want to do their jobs,” explained Scott. Unfortunately that means that it is often easier for a teacher to avoid the issue completely than to stand up for the climate science.
Unfortunately, NCSE is a small non-profit organization that lacks the resources or media access of the Climate denial industry. An industry heavily financed by -- guess who -- the Koch brothers, among others.
Who’s behind a multi-million dollar campaign to seed doubt about climate change? It’s not just Exxon and Chevron—it’s also Koch Industries, an oil and gas giant that most people have never heard of, according to a new report from Greenpeace. Koch's extensive funding of anti-climate work makes it the "financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition," says Greenpeace.
The Kansas-based company and its affiliates and foundations spent almost $25 million on "organizations of the 'climate denial machine'" between 2005 and 2008, according to the report. Koch Industries and the Koch family also spent $37.9 million between 2006 and 2009. "Although Koch intentionally stays out of the public eye, it is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming," the report concludes.
So, Executive Director of the NCSE has made a direct appeal for our help at Real Climate, the leading climate science bog on the internet. Here is the text of the appeal that Eugenie Scott, speaking on behalf of the NCSE climate change initiative:
Long a defender of the teaching of evolution, the National Center for Science Education has recently launche
d an initiative to support and defend the teaching of climate change science. The “support” part has challenges all its own. Unlike evolution, which easily fits into biology and other life science courses, climate science spans multiple disciplines and can fall through disciplinary cracks in biology, chemistry and physics, or appear briefly in more specialized disciplines like ecology or Earth sciences. Moreover, climate science is complex and often non-intuitive, and students (and all too often teachers) stumble over misinformation and misconceptions that are hard to overcome. Many educational institutions are wrestling with how to support climate science in the K-12 curriculum.
But the “defend” part is where NCSE will make a unique contribution. Our experience over the decades helping teachers and school boards resolve the problems that have arisen over the teaching of evolution should stand us in good stead in helping them deal with this newer “controversial science”. Of course, there are many perspectives affecting the objections to climate science education, and each requires its own response.
Some of the denial is literal (It’s not happening! The science is bad!), some of it may be interpretive (it’s maybe happening but people aren’t to blame), and some of it stems more from the implications of climate change (it’s happening and maybe humans are responsible, but someone else is to blame and/or there’s nothing I can do about it). We’re going to help teachers understand where pressure against climate science education comes from, as the first step in helping them construct a response. From the evolution education controversy we learned long ago that one does not solve these problems merely by piling on more or better science: the underlying, motivating issues must be addressed. The science is essential, but not sufficient.
Climate change education should be an integral part of science education. Students should graduate from high school and certainly college with at least a basic understanding of the foundational concepts of climate science so they can understand human activities and how they are impacting climate and other aspects of the earth system.
This is no small task, and obviously NCSE as a relatively small non-profit can only do so much. We need your help.
We have been successful because we marshal allies, like scientists, teachers, parents, and other citizens, at the grassroots. NCSE’s success over recent decades in defending the teaching of evolution has been due in large measure to scientists and others who are willing to support good science education locally and at the state level. We also need scientists to provide us with their scientific expertise.
If you are a climate scientist, please give us your contact information so we can consult with you. Also, your contact information will be helpful to us if something occurs in your region or state where we need a scientist to write a letter, testify before a committee, support a teacher, or help in some other way.
Of course, an obvious way you can help is to join NCSE, but even if you don’t, your expertise will be helpful to us.
Visit our website, and contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey, who will be helping spearhead the new initiative, to let us know you support our effort. Teachers will thank you.
Even if you are not a climate scientist you can help with your donations. I know there are many worthy causes that cry out for our attention and our money, but to my mind it is hard to imagine a cause for which support is more critical. The future of our children is at stake as well as the future of our planet. If we allow the Luddites ion the right to prevent science teachers from doing their jobs, we will surely ultimately end up with a poorer economy, a more polluted environment, a more ignorant electorate and a tragic loss for future generations of Americans who will need all the knowledge we can give them so that they can work to prevent or at least ameliorate the climate catastrophes to come.
We have all seen the beginning of such disasters in the extreme floods, droughts, storms, tornadoes, heat wave, drought and famine that stalks our planet in this second decade of the 21st Century. And by beginning I mean just that. The effects of future increases in greenhouse gas emissions will result in catastrophes far worse than any to which we have borne witness to date. Wars, famines, massive migrations and disruptions, deaths from disease and lack of clean water, or lack of water at all, storms so immense that they will make today's seem insignificant in comparison, coastal erosion and ocean acidification -- all of these things are in our future. We need our children prepared, and the way to do that is let our science teachers teach the truth about climate change without fear of losing their jobs.
So please, if you can help the National Center for Science Education in every way you can. Thank you.