ALEC Climate Change Denial Model Bill Passes in Tennessee

Read time: 6 mins

The month of March has seen unprecedented heat and temperatures. A rational thinking, scientifically-grounded individual could only posit, “Well, hmm, I bet climate change has something to do with the fact that in Madison, WI, it is 80 degrees in mid-March. Sometimes it's 60 or 70 degrees colder than this!”

While that individual would be positing something that is the well-accepted scientific consensus, in some states, under law, that is only a “controversial theory among other theories.”

Welcome to Tennessee, which on March 19th became the fourth state with a legal mandate to incorporate climate change denial as part of the science education curriculum when discussing climate change.

First it was Louisiana, back in 2009, then Texas in 2009, South Dakota in 2010 and now Tennessee has joined the club, bringing the total to four U.S. states that have mandated climate change denial in K-12 “science” education. 

Many other states could follow in their footsteps as well, given that, as DeSmogBlog exposed in late-January, this is an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, a near miror image of its Orwellian-titled “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.”[PDF]

The machinations of ALEC are best explained by the Center for Media and Demoracy's “ALEC Exposed” project.

The ALEC bill passed as H.B. 368 and S.B. 893, with 70-23 and 24-8 roll call votes, respectively. Tennesse Republican Governor Bill Haslam is likely to sign the bill into law soon.

The ALEC Model Bill

As DeSmogBlog reported in January, the Tennessee bill is based on an ALEC model bill passed in May 2000. We explained at the time,

“The bill's opening clause reads [PDF], 'The purpose of this act is to enhance and improve the environmental literacy of students and citizens in the state by requiring that all environmental education programs and activities conducted by schools, universities, and agencies shall…'

  • Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.
  • Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies.
  • Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing.
  • Encourage students to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions.
  • Encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.
  • Not be designed to change student behavior, attitudes or values.
  • Not include instruction in political action skills nor encourage political action activities.”

To summarize, under this model bill and its relatives, global warming will be taught as a “theory” among other “credible theories,” including those unscientific “theories” peddled by the well-paid “merchants of doubt.” 

This, of course, flies in the face of the well-accepted scientific consensus, which has proven global warming as the harsh reality, time and time again. The science speaks for itself, and the fossil fuel money funding climate change deniers speaks for itself.  

The Tennessee Bill

Key portions of the Tennessee bills are as follows (emphases mine):

  • The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to,biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and humancloning, can cause controversy.”
  • “The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to…respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”
  • Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

Look familar? It should. 

The bill was opposed by a broad-based coalition, including the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and all eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences.

These voices of reason were no opposition to ALEC, its corporate backers, and the politicians who serve them, which saw the bill pass with little opposition whatsoever. 

A Review: Bill Written By and For Corporate Polluters

We wrote this back in January:

“The money paper trail for this ALEC model bill runs deep, to put it bluntly. 

When the ALEC model bill was adopted in 2000 by ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, the head of that committee was Sandy Liddy Bourne, who after that stint, became Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC. She is now with the Heartland Institute as vice-president for policy strategy. In Sandy Liddy Bourne's bio on the Heartland website, she boasts that “Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent.” 

SourceWatch states that Liddy Bourne '…is the daughter of former Nixon aide and convicted Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy, who spent more than 52 months in prison for his part in the Watergate burglary…[and her] speech at the Heartland Institute's 2008 International Conference on Climate Change was titled, 'The Kyoto Legacy; The Progeny of a Carbon Cartel in the States.'

The Heartland Institute (of Heartland Exposed infamy) was formerly heavily funded by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, just like ALEC was at the time that Liddy Bourne's committee devised the 'Environmental Literacy Improvement Act.' These two corporations are infamous for their funding of climate change “skeptic” think tanks and front groups.  

Today, the corporate polluter members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force include representatives from American Electric Power, the Fraser Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Heartland Institute, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, to name several.”

Getting Them While They're Young: A Cynical Maneuver 

DeSmogBlog stands by what it wrote in January:

“Maneuvering to dupe schoolchildren is about as cynical as it gets. Neuroscience explains that young brains are like sponges, ready to soak in knowledge (and disinformation, for that matter), and thus, youth are an ideal target for the “merchants of doubt.”

The corporations behind the writing and dissemination of this ALEC model bill, who are among the largest polluters in the world, would benefit handsomly from a legislative mandate to sow the seeds of confusion on climate science among schoolchildren.”

Looks like its four down, 46 states to go for ALEC.

The fight has only just begun.

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Steve Horn:  What you presented there shows to me that teachers could put denial material up there…. then just shred it.  (Whether or not they choose to do so, or are able understand it, is another question.)

“Yes there is only one scientist claiming this, and its not being referenced by other scientists so its likely a dead end concept.”  (an objective assessment)

Then you come across Hansen’s papers, “This is one of the earliest works in Climate Science, and you can see that not only does this compare favorably 25 years later, you have it being quoted and reused into hundreds of future scientific papers.” (an objective assessment)

Respectfully, while the bill looks like not a big deal it is one of those subtle efforts that works on different levels and is part of a combined multi-front effort.

First, a teacher’s time is very limited, and time spent discussing non-scientific subjects is time that could have been spent teaching real science.

Second, any teacher that is going to “shred” creationism will be at severe risk of non-establishment clause lawsuit when he/she offends some fundamentalist’s kid. Granted that is less of a risk when discussing AGW denialism, but there are those that see that as a religious issue too (Santorum and Inhofe come to mind). Such a teacher will need to be very careful. Even then a suit that they win will probably be very expensive in both money and time.

Third, it effectively gives free license to teachers to espouse non-scientific positions and to dishonestly rip on the real science without any valid scientific perspective being provided to the students. As long as the teacher is careful in their wording, or has the protection of higher-ups that decide to call it “objective” what’s to stop it?

Fourth, it also gives license to the teacher’s bosses to “encourage” their teachers to be more “balanced” in the lessons. This is a big problem since fundamentalists tend to be more activist and like to pack the school boards of communities whenever they can get away with it.

In my opinion it’s better (and safer) just to stick with science in science classes.

‘Shred’ may sound strong.  But logically and calmly showing how false something is is fine. i.e. measuring it.

‘Creationism’ would be a theory that no one has proven yet.  That is the way I’d describe it.  On the other hand, reading Darwin’s “Origin Of Species” is excellent and meticulous.  (Last I checked, ‘he’ didn’t discuss dinosours.)  On one hand you have a series of ‘theories’ and on the other you have measured and proven facts.

I still don’t understand why religion needs to try to impede on science.

I didn’t mean to imply that you were being overly aggressive in you prior comment, I’m sorry if I gave that impression.  Rather my point was simply that when making any attempt to critique any issue that can be construed as having religious implications, the teacher must by very careful because they are walking into a potential legal minefield.

As for creationism, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a hypothesis, let alone a theory, in the scientific meaning of such terms. Speaking of Darwin, one of the things I find amusing is the attempts to ‘smear’ Darwin as though it would somehow discredit either his work or the literally mountains of work on evolution that has occurred long after he died.  You see the same thinking when AGW deniers feel that by attempting to discredit Mann (or Al Gore, for some completely irrational reason) they’ll ‘disprove’ AGW as though there hasn’t been mountains of other work by thousands of others or that any evidence will just magically disappear.

As for religion impeding science, my opinion is that it doesn’t necessarily need to do such, instead there is just an annoying tendency to be used as an excuse to do so by some people that aren’t comfortable with the conclusions of science. It all depends on how dogmatic the mindset of the believer in question is.

The bill contains this wording:

the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories

So, I’m confused. What exactly is the ‘existing scientific theory’ that disporoves AGW and explains all the evidence? What exactly is it that the legislators are mandating must be taught? Every crackpot theory in the blogosphere? That’ll occupy a few semesters, I should think.

Sigh. Once again, legislators have acted to subtract from the sum of human knowledge. Democracy allows these people to legislate away the laws of physics. No wonder the world is in such a mess.

To think some of our hard-earned money is going in taxes to pay these buffoons! To quote a Snoopy cartoon I once read, “Dear Tax Office, I wish to cancel my subscription … “

Current AGW… extremely accurate and extremely strong.

This must be where heartland slips in its bogus agenda.  Wherein they equate singular nutjobs (without even verifying facts) to 97% of the climate community.

The trick here is to put a pro AGW science plan together make sure it gets ram rodded into the curriculum.  If anyone wants to use the Anti AGW program standup and yell HEARTLAND!  Show them the exact phrase in the Heartland documents where they state the purpose is to dissuade teachers from teaching science.

The ALEC Bill, the Tennessee Bill, what about the revised Texas Bill?

Updated 2011 Texas agricultural drought losses total $7.62 billion

Livestock: $3.23 billion (up from $2.06 billion);
Lost hay production value: $750 million (no change);
Cotton: $2.2 billion (up from $1.8 billion);
Corn: $736 million (up from $409 million);
Wheat: $314 million (up from $243 million);
Sorghum: $385 million (up from $63 million);

The vast majority of U.S. natural gas imports arrive via pipeline from Canada (see chart below). Significant increases in U.S. natural gas production have led to decreased U.S. demand for Canadian natural gas. Imports from Canada for 2011 were significantly below the previous five-year range, and have been lower for much of 2012 so far (some of this decline, however, can be attributed to warmer-than-usual weather across much of the United States).