Climate Science in Schools: the Next “Evolution”

An Oakland group vows to keep climate science in the classroom.

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Some science teachers face opposition from students, parents and even administrators when they teach basic climate science.

As the climate change debate creeps into classrooms across the country, an Oakland non-profit vows to stem the tide of climate denial in California. They also plan to conduct a comprehensive review of science textbooks to help teachers separate the sound from the shaky in climate science.

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. She readily agrees that many of the details of climate science are debated between scientists, such as differing approaches to modeling climate change. However, she maintains that “the science community is pretty uniform in its acceptance of the fact that the planet is getting warmer.” Nevertheless, Scott said skepticism toward climate science has gained traction with the general public, so legislators and some school boards are starting to demand that science curricula provide room for doubt.

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.

“The science community is pretty uniform in its acceptance of the fact that the planet is getting warmer.”

California is not immune. The Center in Oakland has documented at least two cases of climate change flare-ups in California classrooms. When an Advanced Placement environmental science class was introduced in Los Alamitos, a small city in Orange County, the school board ruled that global warming should be taught as a “controversial subject,” meaning that the teacher should present both sides of the controversy to students. And, in Portola Valley, a stone’s throw from Stanford University, a parent demanded a debate between a climate scientist and a climate denier after learning that the teacher had shown Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth in class.

One of the biggest challenges to NCSE’s new initiative will be the distinctly political nature of the climate change debate. In their battles to allow science teachers to instruct on evolution, NCSE always leaned on the First Amendment and its directive to separate church and state as a backstop to its argument. “There is no constitutional amendment supporting good science,” sighed Scott. “We merely have to try to persuade people to try to do what’s best.” Largely that persuasion has focused on moving the “controversy” part of the topic into the social science sphere, where policy is debated, and leaving the science alone.

  • Russell Steele

    ” The science community is pretty uniform in its acceptance of the fact that the planet is getting warmer.” Really!  There has been no significant warming since 1998, and the planet started cooling o so slowly in 2002. http://www.climate4you.com/index.htm

    The NCSE claims that humans are responsible for the warming with out providing any proof. Show us the proof that humans are responsible! 

    • http://twitter.com/caerbannog666 caerbannog666

      Looks like someone slept through Stats 1A.

      I could use the same logic to argue that you’ll get heads 75 percent of the time when you toss a coin.  You see, I tossed a coin 4 times and got 3 heads.  That’s 75 percent.

      • Russell Steele

        Yes, small numbers can lead one astray, we need more that 15 years for a real significant cooling number. However, in the satellite data the only warming  was from 1992 to 2002. that is only 10 years. Was that significant? Not according to small numbers.  

        • http://twitter.com/caerbannog666 caerbannog666

          Anyone who looks at the satellite data can verify for him/herself that the above claim is completely absurd.

  • Scientist-Denier

    The only thing that is undeniable is that the global warming narrative is pseudo-scientific fraud

    • Anonymous

      You should ask for your money back from Limbaugh University.

  • Anonymous

    “…..a debate between a climate scientist and a climate denier…” and  about objectivity in journalism?  The real debate is over how to deal with warming if it does indeed occur and that will require serious cost benefit analysis since if the warming occurs as predicted by the “scientists” occurs there isn’t enough money on the planet to reverse it, not to forget we have no control over how the  emerging countries will contribute, or not, to a global phenomenon so we may instead have to learn to live with it.

  • Venthasse2

    It really depends upon what time span is being discussed when one suggest agreement as to warming or cooling.  For instance, we have been warming for centuries as we come out of the Little Ice Age, yet we are not yet as warm as the period that preceded it known as the Medieval Warming Period.  Still, if we want to narrow it down, we are near the temperatures of the early 1900s having retreated in the last decade from a warm spell and many eminent climatologist suggest we are in for perhaps another 30 years of cooling before we resume the upward trend. So, warmer, yes there is agreement and cooler, yes there is agreement there too except for those that support the man-cause model and for them the dogmatic adherence to what models predict serves as a blinder to the natural world and the cycles found in study.  So, what we are discussing here is not presentation of science, it is ensuring propaganda masked as scientific study is properly supported and not challenged by questions or facts.  This is supporting of the statement, consensus is the first refuge of tyrants. 

    • Ken

      You’re basically just trotting out common denier arguments that have long been debunked. 

      There is no “natural-cycles-only” model of climate that adequately explains the temperature trends we’ve observed, especially over the last 100 years.. However, the “man-cause” model *does* explain the trend. In other words: If we try to model the climate based on only natural causes, ignoring the effect of human-produced CO2, we come out with a result saying it should be much cooler than it is. If you add the effect of CO2, the models match reality much more closely.

      No climate denier has yet produced a working mathematical model showing that the current climate can be explained by natural causes only. Yet they keep making this claim without anything to back it up — this is anti-science.

      You should probably read through this http://grist.org/series/skeptics/ especially section 3 “Climate change is natural”

      • Russell Steele

        Ken, That is because the modelers can make the models do anything they want with the tweeks and fudge factors they apply. Read about the fudge factors in the Climategate e-mails.  The current climate models do not model clouds well and they apply positive feedbacks, when in the real world they are negative feedbacks. If you put real world figure in the models 2/3 of the projected warming goes away. Imagine that, and over the past 15 years there has been no significant warming, yet the CO2 emission continue to rise. If there was a correlation then the temperatures should have increased, rather it declined. The problem with models it that your are tied to the initialization point and the assumptions that you put in the model. The current warming models suffer from both problems.  

        • http://blogs.kqed.org/climatewatch Craig Miller, KQED

          Actually, Russ, scientists I’ve interviewed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and elsewhere have told me that clouds can produce either positive or negative feedbacks, depending on the type and altitude of the cloud. They readily agree that the net effect of clouds is a complicated issue and among the most difficult to model. But I don’t think there’s a clear-cut “real world” answer, as you suggest.

          • Russell Steele

            Craig,

            You are right there is no real world in the models, the world is too complex, thus we must take the modeling out puts with a great deal of skepticism.  What bother me the most is that our political leaders are making policy on the result of unproven and in some cases invalid models of the real world. They accept computer garbage and fact. 

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic. I’m going to donate to this group fighting against polluter-sponsored ignorance in the USA. http://ncse.com/join