Teaching climate change | April 17, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 16 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 16 | p. 2 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: April 17, 2017

Teaching climate change

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: editorial, opinion

There was outrage in the science teaching community after a recent initiative by the Heartland Institute (HI). I didn’t know much about this organization, but a quick search tells me that it is a public policy think tank that works on issues such as education reform, taxation, health care, tobacco policy, global warming, and fracking.

Its views are conservative. For example, in relation to tobacco policy, it worked with manufacturer Philip Morris to lobby against smoking bans and thus attempted to throw into question the health risks of secondhand smoke. In relation to global warming, HI rejects the scientific consensus and opposes policies to fight it, maintaining they’d damage the economy.

So “why the outrage?” you may ask. Organizations such as HI with views not in line with scientific consensus are not uncommon, but generally they are harmless enough because they have little influence and thus are easy to ignore. The problem is that HI decided to send a book titled “Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming” to 200,000 teachers in the U.S. The K–12 science teachers went up in arms because it makes claims such as:

“Many prominent experts and probably most working scientists disagree with the claims made by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

I wonder what IPCC has to say about this. I know the scientific community would have a lot to say, as studies have found 97% or greater consensus among publishing climate scientists. That is as close to unanimity as it gets, so no wonder teachers are upset. No national uniform standard for how to teach global warming exists in the U.S., so at a minimum, this campaign has the effect of sending mixed messages to teachers who are striving to strike the right balance.

As the quote mentions IPCC, it is worth highlighting that the “Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming” book was written by NIPCC, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. On its site, HI maintains that “NIPCC seeks to objectively analyze and interpret data and facts without conforming to any specific agenda.” That’s interesting, given NIPCC is sponsored by three organizations, one of which is HI. I don’t know in detail how HI is funded, but it looks like it has had relationships with organizations such as Philip Morris and Exxon Mobil to advance its tobacco and fracking policy agendas. In contrast, HI says of IPCC that it “is government-sponsored, politically motivated, and predisposed to believing that climate change is a problem in need of a U.N. solution.” I dare you to guess which of the two won a Nobel Prize.

My advice if you are a science teacher is to refer to your state-approved materials. They will have been reviewed by experts and educators and reflect the scientific consensus. If you want additional resources, ACS, which publishes C&EN, has a number that have been produced specifically for K–12 teachers of chemistry. Another source is the American Association of Chemistry Teachers resource library. Some of these materials provide background on climate change, whereas others describe some of the solutions that the chemistry enterprise has developed to address this reality.

It’ll be interesting to see if this event has the effect of further mobilizing the community of science teachers into taking part in the March for Science at the end of this week.

ACS will be present at the Washington, D.C., march, which is concurrent with Earth Day celebrations on Saturday, April 22. C&EN reporters will be on the ground covering the D.C. march as well as satellite marches in Berlin, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Watch the march unfold—and find out the role chemists and chemistry will be playing in it—by following C&EN on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to tag us in your #sciencemarch photos. One of them just might show up in C&EN.


Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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