Chevron and the Religious Right: The Assault on Eco-Education

Another mother tells how sad her 6-year-old daughter seemed one night as she settled into her new bed. Why? her mother asked. "They killed trees to make my bed," was the reply. - from Facts Not Fear by Michael Sanera and Jane S. ShawThis anecdote, reprinted in a recent editorial-page piece in the Wall Street Journal, is one that every environmentalist may soon come to know all too well. It is part of a nationally coordinated media campaign run by a small but powerful interest group that is trying to cripple environmental education by overturning or changing teaching requirements at the state level. Their message: Environmental education has gone too far, is full of one-sided arguments and outright lies, and asks students to become activists. The real agenda behind this "reform" campaign, however, is to build enough key media coverage to derail reauthorization of the National Environmental Education Act ["Denaturing Education," Summer '96 EIJ]. The NEEA, which passed in the Senate with bipartisan support last year, is slated for action in the House - possibly as early as this month. A look at the connections between these individuals and their respective organizational affiliations reveals ties to big industry, rightwing think tanks, conservative foundations and the religious right. This coordinated attack is conducted by groups financed by Chevron, Shell, Dow Chemical and other industrial polluters with a vested interest in undermining environmental education. While attempting to portray themselves as concerned about the peace of mind of America's children, the true goal of the environmental education reformers is more insidious. They want to strike at the heart of the environmental movement to ensure that the next generation of passive over-consumers does not become a group of informed, active citizens. Michael Sanera, Jane S. Shaw, Jonathan Adler and Jo Kwong are the key figures most frequently quoted in media articles citing a "trend" of criticism against environmental education. Sanera and Shaw co-authored the campaign's bible -- Facts Not Fear: A Parent's Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment (with a foreword by Marilyn Quayle).Hype, not HysteriaFacts Not Fear is a credible-looking organizing manual that raises questions about environmental issues, environmental textbooks and environmental groups. Each chapter is reviewed by "experts" and is detailed in its approach, attacking issues statistic by statistic. Common beliefs about rainforests, endangered species, population, water and air quality issues all are rewritten. An advertisement claims that Facts Not Fear offers parents a balanced, sound-science alternative to the "exaggerated claims about the environmental crises" that kids hear in school. Yet the authors resort to the same one-sided arguments for which they criticize environmental education as a whole. For example, the book contends that rainforests are not really being deforested by forces commonly identified in textbooks (i.e., agriculture, commercial logging and cattle ranching) but by "countries bringing on the problems themselves." A World Bank adviser backs up this claim by explaining how policies of the Brazilian government encourage deforestation, but he fails to place the Brazilian government's policies in the context of the world economic system. Facts Not Fear carries the copyright of the Alabama Family Alliance, which is part of the Focus on the Family network -- a large, grassroots, religious right coalition based in Colorado. The book attempts to bridge the gap between national conservative policy organizations and the grassroots -- a gap the religious right has bridged successfully in the past. "This is similar to what the religious right did in the 1980s when they focused locally on school board elections," said Dan Barry of the Clearinghouse for Environmental Advocacy and Research. Moreover, Sanera and Shaw maintain deep ties with rightwing foundations and dirty industry."We Are the NRA"Sanera directs the Center for Environmental Education Research at the Claremont Institute, a highly conservative think tank founded in 1979. Sanera is also president of the Arizona Institute for Public Policy Research (AIPPR). Both organizations are members of Alliance for America, a nationwide network of more than 500 Wise Use groups. Alliance for America's funders include the National Rifle Association and numerous industry groups, including the American Mining Congress, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Pulpwood Association and the Chemical Manufacturers Association. The Claremont Institute and AIPPR are also network members of the Heritage Foundation, one of the most influential - and well-funded - rightwing advocacy and public relations organizations in the country. According to Buying a Movement, a report by People for the American Way, the Heritage Foundation "had substantial input into the writing of the Republican Contract with America." Alan Crawford, author of Thunder on the Right: A Study of Rightwing Organizations, found that the Heritage Foundation's supposedly objective studies "invariably confirm the notions to which its conservative colleagues and trustees are already committed." A look at Heritage's funding reveals significant support from rightwing foundations, including John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Carthage and Sarah Scaife. The organization's funders also include many of the corporate giants that have the most to gain from hurting environmental education, such as the Amoco Foundation, Boeing, Chevron, Coors Foundation, Dow Chemical, Exxon Corp., Ford Motor Co. Fund, General Motors, IBM, Mobil Oil, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Shell. Many of these corporations are notorious for their environmental misdeeds. An Exxon tanker caused a catastrophic oil spill in Prince William Sound, while Shell's operations in Nigeria (a major source of global warming gases) have left the native Ogoni people socially oppressed and environmentally devastated.Corporate Lesson PlansWhile supporting the claim that environmental education is biased, some of these same corporations simultaneously are sending out anti-environmental propaganda disguised as lesson plans. Shell distributes a classroom video that espouses the joys of driving and the virtues of oil and gasoline as energy sources. Dow Chemical has created "Chemapalooza," a music video program promoting the idea that everything is "made up of chemicals" (thereby implying that all chemicals are natural and safe). Environmental education critics stepped up their activity just as the NEEA came up for reauthorization. The 1990 law created the Environmental Education Division of the EPA. The NEEA's primary initiatives are an environmental education grant program, the Environmental Teacher Training Program and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF). Sanera's Claremont Institute appears to be one of the primary organizers against NEEA reauthorization. A briefing from NEETF's Kevin Coyle states that Wise Use groups were holding conference calls to discuss steps to defeat the act's reauthorization. Last August, Sanera circulated a Claremont Institute briefing paper to legislators and the press crying that even current federal policies on the environment have gone too far: "Evidently the EPA does not want to educate students, but rather indoctrinate them to blind obedience to federal policies." Profiles of the other three key figures and their organizational and funding links look remarkably similar. Shaw is a senior associate at the Political Economy Research Center (PERC), also a member of the Alliance for America and the Heritage Foundation. In fact, Adam Meyerson, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, is on PERC's board of directors. A list of PERC's funders reveals that many are also Heritage funders: Amoco Foundation, Lilly Endowment, Carthage Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation. Finally, Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Jo Kwong of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (AERF) similarly are connected to big business and rightwing groups. CEI and AERF are members of the Heritage Foundation's network. Earth Day '96, a newspaper published and distributed by rightwing organizations, listed AERF as a resource. Kwong's 1995 article, "Environmental Education: Getting Beyond Advocacy," (part of the Contemporary Issues Series published by the Center for the Study of American Business) quotes both Sanera and Adler and makes the apparently shocking claim that "the environmental education campaign is aimed at turning our nation's school children into environmentalists." "The environmental movement has to understand that this is a media fight," said Makani Themba of the Praxis Project, a grassroots media and policy center. "Environmental education is too critical to our future as a nation to trust it to corporations that pollute. If confronted by who is funding the small group of people making this attack, the public will respond."Marianne Manilov and Tamara Schwarz are with the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, 360 Grand Ave., No. 385, Oakland, CA 94610, (510) 268-1100, fax: -- 1277,, known for its UNPLUG campaign against commercially sponsored TV in public schools. Research for this article was conducted as part of the Consumers or Citizens Program -- an effort to educate the public about corporate polluters' involvement in schools.sidebar Corporations in the ClassroomEnvironmental education got its start with Junior Audubon Clubs in 1910, but received its biggest boost in 1990, when President George Bush added a grant-making Environmental Education Division to the EPA. A dozen states now require environmental education in grades K through 12. Critics like Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute complain that environmental education is "taking advantage of students' natural curiosity about the world and transforming them into activists." Meanwhile, cutbacks in education are forcing schools to rely more and more on free teaching materials supplied by corporations, many with poor environmental records. Consumers or Citizens, a report from the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education (CCFPE), notes that US kids -- exposed to an average of 40,000 TV commercials a year at home - now face commercials in the classroom: Shell Oil Co. provides a free video for schools called Fueling America's Future that teaches: "It takes gasoline to power the vehicles that take us to nature. And gasoline comes from nature!" American Coal Foundation offers a 15-page Power from Coal Activity Book that advises children that, even if coal burning causes global warming (although some scientists "do not believe this is likely"), "the Earth could benefit� from increased carbon dioxide, which makes plants grow larger." DuPont's classroom poster ignores the 348 million pounds of chemical pollutants the company spills into the country's water, air and land each year, and encourages children to "fashion birdfeeders out of both plastic and paperboard milk containers." Polystyrene Packaging Council's Plastics and the Environment Sourcebook urges children to plan a "plastics treasure hunt to reinforce the diversity of plastics." American Plastics Council publishes Plastics in Our World, a slick K-12 kit that downplays plastic's solid waste problem by promoting incineration of plastic (called "white coal" in APC's brochures) as a way to "release useful energy." The kit makes no mention of the toxic dioxins and furans that result from burning "white coal." International Paper supplies teachers with a Conserving America's Forests Teaching Kit that informs students how clearcutting promotes the "growth of trees that require full sunlight." According to CCFPE, the kit fails to mention that the company is "one of the worst polluters in the paper industry." American Nuclear Society's coloring book, Let's Color and Do Activities with the Atoms Family, instructs young students that, while "scientists have known for years how to deal with nuclear 'leftovers,'" Congress stubbornly refused to authorize a nuclear dump until 1982. The teaching aid recommends using "high radioactivity to 'sterilize' sewage sludge -- turning waste into a benefit from our silent servant, the atom."- Consumers or Citizens is available for $7 from UNPLUG, 360 Grand Ave., No. 385, Oakland, CA 94610, (510) 268-1100.

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