New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) did a disservice to New Mexico’s students, and the taxpayers who fund schools, last week when it caved in to climate extremists in the battle over how to teach climate science in the state’s schools.
The PED was in the midst of updating its standards for science education. Initially, PED showed backbone, standing up to political activists pushing the state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards view of climate change, which promotes the false claims that the science on climate change is settled, that we know human activities are driving dangerous climate change, that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that’s dangerous to human health and the environment, and that we fully understand how to counteract the effects of climate change or control long-term global temperature.
PED had modified the standards to show recognition the recent rise in global temperature is not unusual, but instead is consistent with our scientific understanding of historic temperature fluctuations, both according to long-term ice age interglacial scales and according to data showing multi-decadal and multi-century temperature changes.
Environmental activists, led by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), were outraged that sound science might get a hearing in New Mexico’s science classes. As they had done in other states, from the time the modifications were suggested in September, NCSE worked tirelessly to stop PED from bringing a balanced understanding of climate science. NCSE isn’t composed of scientists or science teachers; it’s an activist group devoted, in part, to expounding global warming alarmists’ dogma: Humans are causing climate change; the results will be catastrophic; and governments must force people to use less energy and live simpler to prevent future disasters. NCSE and radical environmental activists want textbooks to teach students what to think, not how to think, about climate change.
The established science shows carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, that humans produce greenhouse gas emissions, and that humans have had some effect on Earth’s climate. However, important issues remain unanswered: Are humans or other natural conditions responsible for the majority of the past century’s warming? Is global warming, on balance, bad or good for humanity? If humans are responsible, and the results are generally harmful, what are the best responses? On each of these points, there is widespread disagreement, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
Having a willingness to challenge existing beliefs and consider all the available evidence are cornerstones of scientific discovery, but, sadly, these are precisely the concepts NCSE and their fellow alarmists are fighting against. As such, alarmists aren’t just questioning the value of continuing the global warming debate; their approach also calls into question the scientific method, which has been used successfully in its current form since the Enlightenment.
Recognizing the political, one-size-fits-all nature of the Next Generation of Science Standards, the vast majority of states have refused to adopt them. Others have gone even further and attempted to ensure that when climate science is taught in their schools, it acknowledges the significant debate ongoing within the scientific community concerning the causes and consequences of climate change.
For instance, in April 2015, West Virginia’s State Board of Education approved national science standards, but with slight modifications to the language on climate change. Where the original standards required students to ask questions only about the rise in global temperature, ignoring temperature declines, the new standards require them to discuss “changes,” including temperature increases, declines, and stasis. In addition, the amended standards add “natural forces” as an area of study for its possible influence on climate change.
The amended climate science standards were intended to “ensure students will develop skills to acknowledge and distinguish claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, support arguments… with evidence, and communicate about science-related topics/issues in a knowledgeable, clear and objective manner.”
More recently, this year Idaho’s legislature approved new statewide science standards for K–12 education that eliminated any mention of human-caused climate change. The committee rejected the originally proposed standards for failing to acknowledge the ongoing climate change debate. In response, the state’s Department of Education approved updated standards in May, recognizing, according to the standards, “Human activities can have consequences (positive and negative) on the biosphere, sometimes altering natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species.”
Climate change is indeed occurring. The climate is always changing. However, the debate over whether human activities are responsible for all, some, or none of the recent climate change remains very much alive and well.
Schoolchildren in New Mexico and beyond deserve the truth. They can handle it. And on the causes and possible consequences of climate change, the scientific truth is there’s too much we just don’t know. Sadly, PED’s decision to cave to climate radicals’ anti-science agenda won’t improve anyone’s understanding.