The Attacks on Climate Science Education Are Picking Up Steam

Wed, 2011-08-10 07:22Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Attacks on Climate Science Education Are Picking Up Steam

A few months back, those who care about accurate climate science and energy education in high school classes registered a minor victory. Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

When it comes to undermining accurate and responsible climate and energy education at the high school level, Scholastic may have been the most prominent transgressor. But precisely because it is a massive and respected educational publisher, and actually cares what The New York Times thinks, it was also the most moderate and easy to reason with.

Although it’s hard to find online now, I’ve reviewed the offending coal curriculum, entitled “The United States of Energy.” In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission. It was more a case of subtle greenwashing.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

Science magazine just released a report on the state of affairs out there in this place called America, and it’s ugly. From the piece:

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.

Evolution is still the big one, but climate change is catching up,” says Roberta Johnson, executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) in Boulder, Colorado. 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.

How to fight this? 

That’s very difficult because, as the Science piece notes, you can’t use the First Amendment. It only bans teaching religion in classrooms, and it is hard to claim that climate change denial—unlike evolution denial—is fundamentally religious in nature. I wouldn’t want to have to argue that case in court.

But while not religiously impelled in a traditional sense, the conservative activists who are attacking the teaching of climate science at the grassroots do fit a familiar profile. We’ve gotten to know them very well by now.

They are hierarchical in outlook, and tend to deny all manner of environmental risks. They often believe that climate science is part of a global conspiracy to impose a statist economy. And of course, they are often conservative white men like Jeffrey Barke, the Los Alamitos Unified School District board of education member who has placed this school at the center of attacks on accurate climate science teaching.

These people are nothing if not highly politicized and emotional. Here’s Barke in his own words:

Most teachers are left to center, and if we leave it to teachers to impose their liberal views, then it would make for an unbalanced lesson,” Barke said. “Some people believe that global warming is a crock of crap, and others are zealots.” 

What is the case for not letting people like Barke influence young students?

Simple: When a political fight erupts at a school over the teaching science, students are effectively being taught to tie science together with emotional, politicized reasoning processes–the way the adults who are interefering in the curriculum have already done in their own minds.

That’s precisely the opposite of what we want to be instilling in young brains. Students ought to be learning to think critically, to be dispassionate and apportion their beliefs to the evidence. 

Attacks on climate science in schools aren’t just interferences with teaching, then. By supplying teenagers with politicized misinformation, you’re prepping them to have the kinds of emotionally driven argumentative responses that make our public discourse at the national level so fruitless. 

You’re not just instilling denial. You’re creating the next generation of political dysfunction.

You’re not teaching kids to think, you’re teaching them to shout.

Comments

“Ahh the interrogation begins:

What do I “believe in”? Why do you care what I “believe in”?”

Because it’s basic science Sir Godwin. You say you tutor kids in science & you don’t even know what a greenhouse gas is, or what are the most abundant major gases are that make up the greenhouse gases? I’m thinking you teach right wing indoctrination & not much else.

Let me rephrase the question if you think I care what your beliefs are, I already know what your beliefs are.

Is CO2 a greenhouse gas? It’s really quite a simple question.

“I provided you a link: Go see how Joan’s beliefs ”

You provided a link that has absolutely nothing to do with what I asked you for.

I tutor kids in mathematics and chemistry; not in chemistryism or mathism. None of it requires the kids to profess belief in things that they have no means of evaluating.

The purpose of an education is provide kids with the tools to solve problems and to engender enough curiosity and skepticism to ask the right questions; this is the only use of an education it should never involve the parroting of pedantic BS

Everything you think you know about the natural universe is in all likelihood wrong; this includes an understanding of the fundamental forces that drive change. Scientific understanding is and always has been ephemeral.

I find most of the pied pipers of CO2 doom to be statists otherwise completely devoid of the tools necessary to evaluate the the exaggerated claims of what are substantially non-problems. Statist regimens are always required to effect the cure to these non-problems. There is nothing new here. This process is as old as history.

Is CO2 a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse is a building in which transparent or translucent barrier provide a degree of isolation between a confined airspace and the non-finite atmosphere beyond. The atmosphere possesses no such barriers so the very question you pose represents a gross simplification.

Current theory holds that molecules possess the ability absorb the energy of photons of one wavelength and subsequently release energy in discrete quanta of another wavelength. Quantum mechanics is widely accepted and extremely useful for today’s science. At some point in the future some bright kids who are curious, skeptical, and inventive will undoubtedly replace all of it and science will take a giant leap.

How all this plays in the infinitely complex processes of the atmosphere presents an infinite number of explanations which should leave a lot of room for new conjectures and skepticism towards current conjectures.

If we could create the earth’s atmosphere in a lab many of these speculations could be tested in a variety of ways; but since that can’t be done the speculations will go on endlessly. If climate science were all figured out why don’t we let all these people retire from the public payroll?

Why should such esoteric ideas be thrust front and center to kids struggling with basic mathematics or the ability to apply its tools to real problem solving?

Do you possess the ability to balance a simple chemical equation involving CO2, your devil gas?

Suppose I ask you to provide me the mass of both the CO2 and H20 that results from the complete combustion of 300 grams of methane?

You present yourself as one capable of understanding the debate but if my guess is correct you probaly are deviod of even the basic tools required to for an intelligent anylsis of the issues. You substitue “links” for your lack of understanding.

I would be astounded if you proved me wrong and demonstrated to all of us that you are better informed that Al Gore who could never solve even such a simple problem as I have presented to you.

Gore is a politician and a divinity school dropout. We expect him to be an ignoramus. But how about you?

Will you take the challenge and solve this simple problem to establish even the barest of bona fides? i23h2

“Everything you think you know about the natural universe is in all likelihood wrong; this includes an understanding of the fundamental forces that drive change. Scientific understanding is and always has been ephemeral. ”

Of course it is, but that doesn’t stop us from adopting standards or developing a consensus until a new paradigm shift occurs does it? We don’t just sit around through out the centuries & say stuff it, let’s not adopt any position because in 50 or 100 years, it will be completely different, that’s just a nihilistic view of the world.

“I find most of the pied pipers of CO2 doom to be statists”

You digress into personal opinion again, which has already been shown to be wrong.

“Is CO2 a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse is a building in which transparent or translucent barrier ”

Wait……you are denying CO2 is a green house gas or there is no such thing as the greenhouse effect on a planetary scale or both? This is well established fact Sir Godwin. Even denier scientists don’t deny it exists & what the green house gases are.

“If we could create the earth’s atmosphere in a lab many of these speculations could be tested in a variety of ways;”

Yes, without a spare planet exactly like ours & a time machine, we can’t know. Smart people don’t want to take the chance that your wrong.

“Why should such esoteric ideas be thrust front and center to kids struggling with basic mathematics or the ability to apply its tools to real problem solving?”

There’s nothing secret or special about it. They are only required to probably know the hydrological cycle & the greenhouse effect. Just basic well established science. They are not being asked to determine the different spectrum’s of absorption.

The rest of your post is a rant ,where you go off on a tangent to try & avoid the question.

RE: ” Wait……you are denying CO2…….”

j’accuse!

I have denied or confirmed nothing!

The effect this trace gas has on atmospheric temperature appears to be unknown. If it were known there would be no requirement to constantly restate it through an endless parade of re-assessments all less alarmist than the previous.

RE: “Yes, without a spare planet exactly like ours & a time machine, we can’t know.”

WE CAN’T KNOW”!

That’s the first admission I have heard from you that bears any relationship to reality.

I have highlighted your words here because they are true. There are indeed many things we cannot know. In pursuit of pursuing a “safe” course over other issues “we can’t know” people have been both drowned and put to the torch.

RE” “Smart people don’t want to take the chance that your wrong.”

If these “smart people” wanted to follow the dictates of their own beliefs I have no objections to allowing them to follow them.

If they believe the world might be .1 or .2 degrees warmer than it is today some 100 years from now they could advise their grand children to live Northern Minnesota for instance. Here the temperatures often descend to -40. This should give some latitude to anyone with an exaggerated fear of warmer climates.

I don’t think this is what you are driving at however. What you appear to be implying is that “smart people” (who decides they are “smart” is of course the probative question), should have latitude, not simply to direct their own affairs, but to direct the affairs of others through the all the means of force necessary to do so.

Essentially you describe a belief driven tyranny. Here is where my reference to Joan of Arc is instructive as to the latitude the people who have driven such tyrannies in the past will allow themselves when belief in their own infallibility over things “we can’t know” is challenged by “deniers”

RE: “There’s nothing secret or special about it. They are only required to probably know the hydrological cycle & the greenhouse effect.”

Why is this essential?

Why not teach them instead, Fourier Analysis or Laplace Transforms?

“I have denied or confirmed nothing! ”

Exactly. You don’t want to be cornered by a well established scientific principle that both scientists & denier scientist acknowledge, as it will blow much of your paranoid argument out of the water.

“That’s the first admission I have heard from you that bears any relationship to reality. ”

Science operates in degrees of certainty, you should know that. They were not 100% about the ozone hole, but they were pretty certain. Doctors aren’t 100% certain that if someone gets cancer they will die, but they are pretty certain. People don’t just sit around waiting to find out if there is an alternative. They act immediately with one remedy or another.

“If these “smart people” wanted to follow the dictates of their own beliefs I have no objections to allowing them to follow them.”

It’s called the precautionary principle. I bet you pay annual insurance on your house, yet you have probably never had your house burn down & probably never will. But you keep paying! Is that insane, or is that taking prudent precautions for something you can’t afford to replace?

The same goes with AGW. We pay a little now in the grand scheme of things to save paying a lot later.

Why wouldn’t we continue to allow businesses to use CFC’s & see if nature fixed the hole in the ozone? If it turned out bad, we could have just adapted, yeah?

“Why is this essential?

Why not teach them instead, Fourier Analysis or Laplace Transforms?”

Why not just teach them every university degree or trade & leave them at school until 40?

The bottom line here is that Schools need to teach science.
They are in many cases these days teaching pseudo scientific quazi religious doctrines in stead.

AGW is a Theory.
They should show/explain that theory along with the many other theories that are as or more plausable.

until there is some difinitive evidence to support it, AGW should simply be taught as one possible infleuence in a complex climate.

And with the latest science indicating that CO2 is a reault of and not a cause of warming, it importants is very quickly evaporation.

“The bottom line here is that Schools need to teach science.”

I agree. Fortunately they keep denier science ( corporate propaganda) out of schools. It’s great that for now, kids get to actually learn science & the not twisted versions of reality that deniers would have crammed down their throats.

It’s unfortunate that some schools have allowed things like intelligent design to creep into the curriculum, where it is essentially religious science. Hopefully that doesn’t happen with AGW, where we would see fossil fuel science.

AGW is a Theory.”

So is gravity. We don’t confuse kids with alternate theories on every other theory in science do we? There is a consensus reached & that is what is taught. When that consensus is changed, the new theory will be taught. Denier theories are in the minority & have not passed the peer review process to replace the consensus.

“And with the latest science indicating that CO2 is a reault of and not a cause of warming”

*sigh* not that old one again. You really are behind in this debate it seems.

No idiot, gravity is not a theory - its an observation.

Just what does cause the weak force is as unknown today as when Newton honestly stated he didn’t have have a clue.

Just what do you have that provides more enlightenment than he provided?

Instead of schooling that involves praising the blathering of today’s state priests wouldn’t imparting useful skills be more beneficial.

Of course this all assumes our union schools are not the laughing stock of the world and that most of our government union “educators” have any skills to impart.

Are there purveyors of state pedantry among the faithful here?

Again NO takers on my simple CO2 problem - why does that never surprise me?

Pray tell, which theory is more plausable than AGW ? Not the usual “it’s the sun”, “it’s a natural cycle”, “it was warmer before” and so on.
Last time I tried asking, no one answered me. What a shame, I do enjoy enlightment to get away from my sins.

Actually you have just listed off several that are indeed more plausable.

All of those are true, well supported and each has a role.

The only one that that is still at this time, just a weak theory is the human CO2 theory.

you did leave out Cosmic rays of course.
most alarmist do because they can’t offer credible arguments against it.

And as for Gravity? Phil? Well perhaps you should do some reading on the Unified Field Theory and how gravity is indeed just a theory at this time.
Fortunately the affects of it are fairly well understood, unlike AGW.

Again the bottom line is that any statement of certainty is pure FAITH.
Science is not done that way and never has been.

“The only one that that is still at this time, just a weak theory is the human CO2 theory.”

That’s what the religious folk say about Darwinian evolution. They prefer intelligent design as a more plausible explanation. Fortunately for the study of Biology & AGW, the prevailing science is actual science & not religious science or fossil fuel science.

Although like biology I’m sure that soon, in the same way religion has been able to infiltrate science in the southern states of the USA, so too will there be a push for fossil fuel science to be taught along side of actual science, or instead of.

“Again the bottom line is that any statement of certainty is pure FAITH.”

And if you just mention socialism, communism or Al Gore, your journey to the right wing side will be complete.

Btw, do you think intelligent design should be taught along side of science as an alternate view on evolution?

Actually I do..
But only to make students aware that many people do believe such things bases on religious faith.
Evolution is not really a theory. It can be demonstrated, tested proved and verified.
That does not however rule out intellegent design.
Until someone can prove that some intellegent designer did not start it all off, all we can say is that it is highly unlikely.

That is however not relevent to the AGW debate.
It is a different topic that people on both sides of the debate use in an attempt to redirect the topic.

AGW is simply a theory that has some loose backing and some sketchy science that seems to support it it one does not look too closely.

unfortunatley for the people with billions invested, people are now looking closely and finding that the theory does not stand up.

it was an impressive ride. Best attempt of the last 2 or 5 to demonize CO2, but in the end, it if failing and has very little chance of surviving another year.

“Actually I do..
But only to make students aware that many people do believe such things bases on religious faith.”

Great! So we can also teach kids that there are opposing views to most scientific arguments. We can teach kids about gravity and along side of that intelligent falling. Along side the big bang, god did it. Along side where dinosaurs came from, god put them there. Along side of germ theory, evil spirits do it. Along side of vaccination discussions, we can inform kids about subluxation of the spine & that there is no need for vaccinations.

“all we can say is that it is highly unlikely.”

Just like we can say for the 99.9% of denier arguments. The ones that resurface nearly every week by a newbie who has just discovered on their own, from their armchair, with any experience or evidence…..that it’s the sun! Or lets talk about the LIA, or the MWP, or the milankovitch cycles or CO2 lagging, or grapes in england or farms in greenland or why is it even snowing? Wasnt snow supposed to stop? Doesn’t snow just disprove the whole thing? And the endless, SHOW ME THE EVIDENCE!!…no not that evidence, different evidence….not not that one either…..what one do I need? I’ll tell you when I see it.

“Best attempt of the last 2 or 5 to demonize CO2, but in the end, it if failing and has very little chance of surviving another year.”

It’s funny, because I’ve been hearing that from deniers for about 7 years now. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it go away. Even if your country forbids anyone even discussing it anymore, what of other countries? The cat is out of the bag now.

So will you do us the honor of coming back this time next year ( mark it in your calendar) & see if the issue has gone away? Whoever loses must admit they were conned ok?

I don’t hold a dog in the creation myth controversy which I hold to be absurd.

Who cares?

Maybe Shiva did his creation dance.

Maybe God created the universe in six days.

Maybe an infinitely unchangeable state of timeless nothingness decided to create time at a certain time in which time did not exist and in once doing so created an infinite amount of stuff out of nothing.

More probably its all BS.

The whole concept is preposterous. The brightest intellect on earth is no more capable of providing more awareness of the mysteries of creation than my wife’s cat could dream up.

I know of no real science in which the theory evolution can be used to solve a problem.

Could species instead devolve? It sounds as plausible to me as evolution.

Perhaps all creatures are the progeny of the gods but humans at least until recently have devolved at a slower rate than chimps.

Who gives a crap; this is all unknowable and anyone who claims they have it unraveled is a fraud and a charlatan.

Cosmic rays go under “it’s the Sun” argument.

And the correlation between solar activity / magnetism and temperature changed sign in the middle of the XXst century. How do you explain that ?

I think I will wait until the final report is out from the CERN cloud experiemnts.

The whole “its the sun stupid” argument is so much better supported by real science than the “its he almost unmeasurable human CO2 input” argument.

There simply is no credible support for that myth anymore.

Sorry, but its simply a fact.

“than the “its he almost unmeasurable human CO2 input” argument.”

The CFC’s that damaged the ozone were in minute fractions compared to the CO2 that now traps heat in our planet. Obviously adding more….will trap more. That, is a fact.

“There simply is no credible support for that myth anymore.

Sorry, but its simply a fact.”

Care to provide anything to back that statement?

The power of myth.

The Gods are angry but with sufficient offerings we can appease their anger.

DDT is killing our our birds, we must ban its use to save them.

Scientists saved the Ozone hole but only in the nick of time. Praise be unto the scientists - pay them more and keep them on the government payroll

C02 is a dangerous gas; we must tax its production to save the planet from fever.

Please just one fantasy at a time.

That one direcly killed millions in Africa before they finally admitted it was a bad joke.

At least AGW has only wasted billions of dollars of money and not yet killed people.
Well… if we can stop it soon it won’t kill people anyway.

Save a tree….. Go for a drive.

To those readers and posters who really are educators, please consider a few thoughts:

- The science truly is NOT settled. Currently, there are a number of variations of the hypothesis that human generation of CO2 is contributing substantially to an ongoing warming of the earth. There is no consensus on mechanism even amongst those who believe the overarching theme of AGW.

- There are a number of alternate explanation hypotheses concerning warming and its causes that are just as credible, just as well supported by the available data, as any of the pro-AGW hypotheses.

- The modeling on both sides of the issue are all over the charts. There is a dearth of actual measured data; the bulk of the data being used by modelers has been interpolated from situations that have not been confirmed as being valid indicators of what they’ve been used to prove. Much of that body of model-generated data has also been adjusted and corrected for so many theoretical reasons that the corrections and adjustments have become more significant in the equations than the interpolated data itself.

- Ultimately, no matter which AGW theory one examines, the catastrophic results are only obtained when one posits a runaway positive-feedback situation, in which warming feeds warming feeds warming … Seriously, has anyone ever encountered a positive-feedback loop in nature?

- Even if such a feedback loop could occur if the earth reached some certain critical temperature, we know that that temperature is not within range of what any of the current AGW modelers are predicting. We know this because it is quite certain that the Medieval Warm Period reached temperatures significantly higher than we see at present, and higher than are currently predicted by the most-accepted modeling. If this positive-feedback loop really was a danger at the temperatures posited by Gore and the AGW scientific community, that positive feedback loop would have already kicked in back in the MWP. It clearly did not.

- Aside from all of the uncertainty about whether our CO2 generation is a significant causative factor of global warming, there is the question of the appropriateness of suggested responses.

- Given that many of the undeveloped but highly populated areas of the world are at a stage where improvements to living standards are going to be driven and supported by cheap energy availability, any move to deprive those areas of that cheap energy (which is now clearly available) is either going to cause wars, or will drastically throttle back and probably reverse economic growth and thus, given their stage of development, cause many, many deaths in these newly-developing parts of the world.

- Given the rather long timeline involved before we would ever encounter any of the worse-case scenarios, the possibility of finding ways to adapt to and cope with relatively small rises in warmth seems good. Heightened atmospheric CO2 actually promises rather huge increases in agricultural productivity, plus the creeping northwards of the temperate farming zone will yield more “very productive” farmland than will be lost, simply due to the shapes and locations of the continents. (More cold areas will be warmed than warm areas will be made too hot.)

- Finally, in the face of scientific findings that have been less than conclusive, it has also become apparent that the particular scientific community that has been central to the entire AGW hypothesis - meaning, one of the three (or possibly one of the two) main data sources - has allowed itself to become too personally invested in supporting one specific theory.

This factor adds such a critical new dimension to this scientific controversy that its importance cannot be overstated. In the best of times, innocently miscollected data or innocently misadjusted data will fail to lend any support to one’s theories - they will be a nullity. However, when there appears to be a possibility that errors may not be innocent errors, the credibility of the offering scientists is damaged to some point lower than a simple mootness of result. The scientific community no longer says “you’ve not proved your case yet.” Instead, it says “you’ve lied about your results, which gives us an affirmative reason to disbelieve your theory.”

- If any of you are programmers - please review the modeling program revealed in the so-called ClimateGate incident. Especially, read the accompanying text file of another programmer who was attempting to help the CRU people get their programming in order. It is dispositive.

- - - -

In any case - teachers - I think you do a disservice to your students if you present AGW as an accepted scientific working hypothesis.

”- The science truly is NOT settled.”

No, but there is a high degree of certainty.

“There are a number of alternate explanation hypotheses concerning warming and its causes that are just as credible,”

Just like there was during the smoking wars.Depends on who you listen to. It appears you have made up your mind & sought information to confirm your bias.

“We know this because it is quite certain that the Medieval Warm Period reached temperatures significantly higher than we see at present, and higher than are currently predicted by the most-accepted modeling.”

*Sigh*. The MWP was a localized event, it was not global.

“that positive feedback loop would have already kicked in back in the MWP. It clearly did not.”

Again the MWP was not global & they were not burning fossil fuels & adding CO2 to the atmosphere at the rate we are today.

“Given that many of the undeveloped but highly populated areas of the world are at a stage where improvements to living standards are going to be driven and supported by cheap energy availability, any move to deprive those areas of that cheap energy (which is now clearly available) is either going to cause wars, or will drastically throttle back and probably reverse economic growth and thus, given their stage of development, cause many, many deaths in these newly-developing parts of the world.”

Which is why they are not included in the Kyoto protocol. Which is why a carbon price is being asked to be applied to the countries who put it in the atmosphere to begin with. Which is why economic support is asked of those countries to encourage developing countries to ween off fossil fuels.

“Heightened atmospheric CO2 actually promises rather huge increases in agricultural productivity,”

And ignores already heat prone climates.

“(More cold areas will be warmed than warm areas will be made too hot.)”

More people live in warm climates & will be forced to migrate into other countries. How embracive is your countries immigration policy?

“meaning, one of the three (or possibly one of the two) main data sources - has allowed itself to become too personally invested in supporting one specific theory. ”

There are many. Are they all in on the scam?

“If any of you are programmers - please review the modeling program revealed in the so-called ClimateGate incident.”

The data has been freely available to the public the whole time.

“Especially, read the accompanying text file of another programmer”

When you hear one side of the story, that’s exactly what you get.

“In any case - teachers - I think you do a disservice to your students if you present AGW as an accepted scientific working hypothesis.”

They owe it to our future generations to learn from our past mistakes, evolve, progress & leave the place in good working order for the next to use it.

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