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So What’s A Teacher to Do?

Filed under: — group @ 4 February 2012

Guest Commentary by Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education

Imagine you’re a middle-school science teacher, and you get to the section of the course where you’re to talk about climate change. You mention the “C” words, and two students walk out of the class.

Or you mention global warming and a hand shoots up.

“Mrs. Brown! My dad says global warming is a hoax!”

Or you come to school one morning and the principal wants to see you because a parent of one of your students has accused you of political bias because you taught what scientists agree about: that the Earth is getting warmer, and human actions have had an important role in this warming.

Or you pick up the newspaper and see that your state legislature is considering a bill that declares that accepted sciences like global warming (and evolution, of course) are “controversial issues” that require “alternatives” to be taught.

Incidents like these have happened in one or more states, and they are likely to continue to happen. Teachers are encountering pushback from many directions as they try to teach global warming and other climate science topics.

The importance of climate change education is, to the RealClimate community, a no-brainer. Numerous professional science organizations, from the American Chemical Society to the American Geophysical Union to the Geological Society of America have stressed the imperative of climate science being an integral part of science education.

So What’s a Teacher to Do?

Long a defender of the teaching of evolution, the National Center for Science Education has recently launched an initiative to support and defend the teaching of climate change science.

The “support” part has challenges all its own. Unlike evolution, which easily fits into biology and other life science courses, climate science spans multiple disciplines and can fall through disciplinary cracks in biology, chemistry and physics, or appear briefly in more specialized disciplines like ecology or Earth sciences. Moreover, climate science is complex and often non-intuitive, and students (and all too often teachers) stumble over misinformation and misconceptions that are hard to overcome. Many educational institutions are wrestling with how to support climate science in the K-12 curriculum.

But the “defend” part is where NCSE will make a unique contribution. Our experience over the decades helping teachers and school boards resolve the problems that have arisen over the teaching of evolution should stand us in good stead in helping them deal with this newer “controversial science”. Of course, there are many perspectives affecting the objections to climate science education, and each requires its own response.

Some of the denial is literal (It’s not happening! The science is bad!), some of it may be interpretive (it’s maybe happening but people aren’t to blame), and some of it stems more from the implications of climate change (it’s happening and maybe humans are responsible, but someone else is to blame and/or there’s nothing I can do about it). We’re going to help teachers understand where pressure against climate science education comes from, as the first step in helping them construct a response. From the evolution education controversy we learned long ago that one does not solve these problems merely by piling on more or better science: the underlying, motivating issues must be addressed. The science is essential, but not sufficient.

Climate change education should be an integral part of science education. Students should graduate from high school and certainly college with at least a basic understanding of the foundational concepts of climate science so they can understand human activities and how they are impacting climate and other aspects of the earth system.

This is no small task, and obviously NCSE as a relatively small non-profit can only do so much. We need your help.

We have been successful because we marshal allies, like scientists, teachers, parents, and other citizens, at the grassroots. NCSE’s success over recent decades in defending the teaching of evolution has been due in large measure to scientists and others who are willing to support good science education locally and at the state level. We also need scientists to provide us with their scientific expertise.

If you are a climate scientist, please give us your contact information so we can consult with you. Also, your contact information will be helpful to us if something occurs in your region or state where we need a scientist to write a letter, testify before a committee, support a teacher, or help in some other way.

Of course, an obvious way you can help is to join NCSE, but even if you don’t, your expertise will be helpful to us.

Visit our website, and contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey, who will be helping spearhead the new initiative, to let us know you support our effort. Teachers will thank you.

217 Responses to “So What’s A Teacher to Do?”

  1. 1
    Snapple says:

    This is a really good idea. It is very true that climate change may “fall through the cracks” because it doesn’t fit into a specific course of study. Catholic schools have an easier time because the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences is having conferences and issuing statements about the dangers of climate change. Some famous climate scientists such as P. Crutzen and V. Ramanathan are members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They are also in the AP Environmental Science book.

    Climate scientists might consider the example of Crutzen and Ramanathan. They should take the opportunity to speak to students in Catholic Schools. If politicians see that such a large group of voters supports learning about climate change, they might think twice about persecuting the scientists.

    The people who run our schools and the science teachers see through the phony-baloney propaganda. Please come to our schools and inspire our students who will be tomorrow’s voters and scientists.

  2. 2
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    I strongly agree that teachers need serious support just to be able to teach proper science in America. I might add that statewide “Citizens for Science” groups can make a worthy contribution.

  3. 3
    Salamano says:

    “So what’s a teacher to do?”

    …Part of it depends on what the curriculum and standards are. If you notice, the curriculum frameworks for each state do not devote a heavy amount of time to Climate Change science topics (and indeed not as much on science at all– increasingly on Math/ELA content).

    You certainly could attempt to integrate cross-subject matters into each content area, but here’s the problem:

    You run the risk of short-changing students by making your own pet-projects or pedagogical goals more important than the curriculum/standards themselves. This is true for teachers of creationism/evolution, climate change, the Kennedy assassination, the Titanic, earthquakes, or whatever else. “Real” teachers in the field know that their time is nil, expectations are high, and the standards are vast.

    It’s not that I’m recommending doing nothing as far as communicating climate change validity in the classroom is concerned, but there has to be a more realistic amount of horse-trading or “is this a hill to die on” kind of discussion when it comes to this. Sure, you can spend 4 weeks on Climate Change, wrestle with parents and the school board (and win), but see a bunch of ‘smart kids’ to transfer to private school, see your remaining students fail the standardized testing in science because all they ‘really’ know has to do with climate change (or evolution), and then you’re out of a job anyway for poor performance with no one to blame but yourself.

    Most middle-school science curriculum is one of general science, complete with its own wide-ranging standards. It’s rare that a school offer “biology”, “earth science”, “chemistry”, etc. etc. at that level. Unless it’s a private school, or a posh school from a rich community where every kid is going to pass standardized testing anyway, I think this kind of conversation needs to be tempered with a few more variables that a flustered teacher wrestles with every day.

  4. 4
    John Brookes says:

    I’m going to make an odd suggestion. I don’t think there needs to be much emphasis on the teaching of climate change in schools. I think it should be mentioned and explained, and the opinions of the “skeptics” should be mentioned too. The nature of the “skeptics” arguments should be gently ridiculed. The possibility of future problems should be raised.

    The cause of the seasons is taught in schools, but experience shows that despite the instruction, most students don’t understand it properly. It is even less likely that detailed explanations of greenhouse warming would be effective.

  5. 5
    Chris Colose says:

    I don’t think that the alleged “controversial” aspects of climate change should play any role in its presentation in the classroom, but I’m also not one that gets worked up over challenging a student (or parents) beliefs. I’m the type of person that likes to discuss/debate the “no-no topics of dinner table conversations” (like religion, science, etc) just as casually as teenagers brag about their new iphones. The idea that education should bend to the glorification of people’s pre-conceived opinions is absurd to me, and puts a dagger in the very heart of education.

    Perhaps I’m a bit of an educational ‘purist’ in that regard, but the students go to class to learn, and if I was a teacher being called to the principal’s office due to an angry parent, I’d gladly invite that parent to my classroom for an instruction on the topic as well.

    With that said, the level of initiation in the topic should still scale with the students’ grade level, just as 6th graders don’t learn calculus. Because of this, I think there is very little room for teaching the subject below the upper high school level.

    On the one hand, climate change is perhaps the single largest environmental of our time, and in fact of the grandest scientific challenges of the modern era. It is also one of the most multidisciplinary and practical applications of science that students will run into, perhaps in their entire lives, so some introduction into it is critical. On the other hand, virtually nothing about it is really good “lecture material” at the lower high school (and below) level, aside from perhaps showing a few powerpoint slides (like the Mauna Loa curve, the global temperature time series, etc).

    Earth sciences are usually taught before 11th grade or so (at least in my experience), so the only way I could forsee a good intro to the topic is perhaps in a high school physics class, which a lot of students don’t take anyway. As mentioned before, even a lot of instructors aren’t very well-versed in even the basics of climate science, and probably wouldn’t get a good opportunity to be prior to that segment of the class. Very often high school teachers are only a chapter ahead of their class in the book, so if some “debate” or more nuanced questions come up that challenge the teacher, those might go unresolved.

  6. 6
    Steve Fish says:

    I have been a member of the NCSE for a long time and I can highly recommend that others here join. The newsletter, REPORTS, will keep you up to date on ongoing activities of the NCSE. Eugenie Scott and the NCSE have been very important in the fight against pseudoscience and disinformation in the teaching of evolutionary theory, and this expansion to climate change is a logical step. Thanks Eugenie!


  7. 7
    JK says:

    In school science lessons? Teach the basics of thermodynamics, electromagnetism and optics, fluid dynamics, astronomy, the chemistry and biology of the carbon cycle and statistics – at the appropriate level for the pupils.

    I don’t see a compelling reason for middle school science teachers to go into details of the earth’s current warming, although they should be free to do that if they want to.

    What to do about global warming is another problem. Not one for science class, I would say. Pupils need to be taught about how to engaging in democractic debates, and the role of experts (which is complicated in itself) should be part of that discussion. Why would anyone think that science class is the place to do that? Science teachers should refuse to be diverted into giving civics lessons.

    That’s not a perfect solution as I know there will still be some objections to science classes from skeptics. But I think it would help.

  8. 8
    Fred Moolten says:

    A fairly recent resource teachers may find useful in providing an evidentiary basis for climate science education is CAMEL (Climate Adaptation Mitigation E-Learning), which offers a large selection of articles, videos, and other modalities on a range of climate change topics. Like the National Center for Science Education, this program stands to benefit from future participation by more individuals knowledgeable in these topics.

    I also wonder whether the National Science Teachers Association is aware of either organization. If not, it should be alerted to their existence.

  9. 9
    Scott Mandia says:

    Thank you, Genie. The climate change initiative undertaken by NCSE has been sorely needed.

    I find that the best way to educate high school and college students about how we know humans are causing global warming is by referring them to John Cook’s The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism. Easy to read and highly visual.

    Scott Mandia

    Support Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to protect the scientific endeavor.

  10. 10
    John West says:

    “So what’s a teacher to do?”

    First, take a day and teach them a lesson in Zohnerism. Introduce them to the ban DHMO controversy, show each side of the debate being careful not to give away the punch line. Take a class vote for or against banning DHMO.

    Next, teach the basics of climate science (not climate change science). They need to know: what a GHG is and how the GHE works; the carbon cycle; how climate has changed over the entire geologic history of the planet; how the climate has changed recently (relatively speaking); the main variables of climate like temperature, rainfall, etc.; the role of the sun, atmosphere and oceans on climate.

    Then, IMO, they’d have the knowledge to absorb “climate change science” without being overly frightened or depressed by hyperbole and exaggerations they may be exposed to in the future. Simply lay the case for AGW out there as an fyi, no testing on it or repercussions for not getting it and under no circumstances should a course of action “necessary” be taught without a whole series on cost/benefit analysis and risk management. Even skeptics (such as myself) would have a hard time objecting to such a presentation scenario. I don’t want my son indoctrinated into being a CAGW skeptic any more than I want him indoctrinated into being a “believer”. Science isn’t about belief, it’s about evidence (observational & experimental) and reasonable conclusions; as long as a teacher sticks to an objective curriculum based on science I would be supportive. However, if my son came home saying my teacher says we’re all going to die by 2100 then, YES, we’re going to have a problem.

  11. 11
    Jim says:

    The other more worrisome scenario not presented is when your daughter’s Middle School Science Teacher doesn’t believe climate change is real!

  12. 12
    John Atkeison says:

    Thank you for doing this!
    I testified at the state legislature in Louisiana against one of the no-nothing bills you mentioned, and even though it was painfully obvious that the legislators had no real intention of being affected by any argument we might make, it was a necessary “waste” of time.

    If we want to continue as a democracy, the people must be informed, sometimes in spite of their inclinations, and the electorate must be challenged to do something about our climate crisis.

    Teach climate science in the schools! The older kids deserve to know the truth about the thing that will dominate their lives, don’t they? And talk passionately about the basic facts in public: climate changes (expressed as the wacky and destructive weather that has become so common) are caused by the global warming produced by having too much greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere. People are beginning to see the “new normal.”

    Let’s make sure that we encourage that, not lag so far behind we end up lending credibility to the deniers.
    All while tackling the real issues raised by Salamano in #3… It will be difficult, but hell, so is math or portrait painting!

  13. 13

    I can offer an introduction to the curriculum.

    “Sorry kids that this is such a harsh message:

    There can be two ways to think of Global Warming: – it is like a slow car crash or a global pandemic plague. The situation will be getting steadily worse — only we don’t yet know how bad a destabilizing climate will be. Lots of destructive events happening in different places. And like a crashing car, some will happen quickly and violently, and like a pandemic – some more slowly. But it will affect everyone on the planet, and everyone in the future. We just don’t know how bad, or how fast it will unfold.

    Essentially these changes will be happening forever with increasing intensity and frequency. Now your job in facing the future will be adaptation and mitigation.

    Our next step is to ruthlessly examine our situation”

  14. 14
    William Freimuth says:

    This article and discussion are the best thing I’ve seen on the subject in a long time. The fact that an enormous political debate is occurring sans SCIENCE should be enough for most intelligent life forms to go stark raving mad.
    BTW 10, most of us will be gone by 2100. And 11, I’m certain this is happening where I live.

  15. 15
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The issue here is nothing short of whether we allow idiots in power to mandate the teaching of lies to children. There is plenty of room in the curriculum for the fundamentals of climate science, as well as for the scientific method in general.

    Essentially, though, there are two challenges:
    1)How do we teach science to children when the truth of that science provides incontrovertible evidence that their parents who reject it are idiots?

    2)How do we teach what we know without sending students into despair?

  16. 16

    Sadly, the problem is bigger than this. What happens when the science teachers themselves disbelieve the science (or, rather, believe the nonsense about the science)?

    The end result is teachers who teach denialism, either reinforcing the beliefs of the ignorant, or even leading people who should and would know better to instead question their own positions.

    There is just such a teacher who comments frequently at Skeptical Science, and according to him, all of the science teachers at his school are “skeptics” like him.

    So the problem is three fold, how enable teachers to teach the material properly, encouraging them to do so, but also how to get through to the science teachers who dang well should know better and yet believe and teach denial.

  17. 17
    Steve Easterbrook says:

    Remember that high school science teachers generally do not have expertise in climate science – they rely on what’s in the textbooks, what gets filtered through the media, and web-based resources. School boards (and teachers’s professional networks) vary tremendously in how good they are at providing the support teachers need to get accurate and useful information. Which means that it’s very easy to dissuade many teachers from tackling climate change at all, or to hedge their bets by “teaching the controversy”. Faced with a topic where they don’t have the confidence that expertise brings, they’re unlikely to do a good job at this.

    Until the media start doing a better job with their fact checking, it’s going to be an uphill battle to improve things in the schools.

  18. 18
    Peter Adamski says:

    Does anyone know of a Canadian equivalent to the National Centre for Science Education?

  19. 19

    JW: [I]f my son came home saying my teacher says we’re all going to die by 2100 then, YES, we’re going to have a problem.
    BPL: You can relax. We’re not all going to die. Just about 99% of us. And probably around 2056, by my latest estimate, not 2100.

    [Response: Sorry but this is just as ridiculous now as it was the first time you said it. You have no way of knowing such a thing, and if you think you do, you’re deluded. And no more on it please–Jim]

  20. 20
    Nick says:

    @13 Richard Pauli

    This is the situation of climate chaos that has been the norm throughout most of human history.

    We have been blessed with a small window of relative climate stability, the Holocene, which seems huge to us, because it is the only kind of global climate that human civilization has ever known.
    However, this stability has in fact been the exception rather than the rule for the past ~2.5 million years.

    What we should be teaching kids is the truth about nature. We should teach them about the fact that the ecosystems around them consist of a chaotic jumble of species, each of which (except in cases of monospecific specialization) has a different geological range corresponding to different ranges of adaptations and tolerances, that have come to assemble together only very recently, and whose function is far more a result of chaotic war, competition and depredation than any sort of planned order.

    Instead, the model of ecology we teach kids is an unrealistic fantasy of order, planning and cooperation, the balance of which we humans can destroy forever simply by breathing on it (leave no trace).

    We should teach them that any concept of “pristine” ecosystem anywhere outside of Africa is absolutely absurd considering the fact that most native megafauna went extinct 10,000 years ago (in North America’s case as elsewhere, almost certainly due in part to overhunting by “ecologically conscious” paleo-Native Americans)

    Whether or not human emissions are about to cause a massive switch in climate is more or less irrelevant in the big picture. It will almost certainly happen anyway, no matter what we do, and it has happened already, millions and millions of times.

    The only way to avoid it is to achieve a level of science that can engineer and control the climate of Earth (which is essentially what we are trying to do by cutting down carbon emissions)

    And if you argue that all modern species are adapted to Pleistocene glacial cycles, then logically, to stop the cycles will also be to upset the supposed plans of Nature. Presumably you would be just as worried about a naturally occuring plunge into ice age as an anthropogenic rapid warming.

    But the horrible fact is, without human emissions we are almost certainly still living in the Pleistocene. Our naming of our own interglacial the “Holocene” is pure vanity. Why would this interglacial be any different from the dozens before it, i.e. our emissions contributions aside, “naturally” we should expect within a few thousand years that glaciers will rapidly advance from the north and throw everything into chaos as has occurred after every interglacial for the past 2.5 million years.

    And yet somehow we’re all still here, minus a few woolly mammoths, gian sloths, dodos and passenger pigeons…

    That is what we should teach kids, along with evolution. For most of the time our species has existed, we have had to adapt to rapid climate change. In the West in 2012, relatively wealthy, secure, industrially supported academics and suburbanites and urbanites have grown accustomed to comfort and security and extremely detached from the chaotic processes of nature. We focus on the pandas and the polar bears and the few extremely vulnerable species, we fetishize random, recently occurring assemblages of species as holistic, cooperative ecosystems that must remain untouched and unchanged by humans, and we ignore the vast, robust biological storm of chaos that characterizes the majority of species on Earth. But the fact is, if most species on Earth today were not extremely robust in the face of massive disturbance and climate change, they would be long gone.

    I think we should be worried and prepared to adapt, because we live in a chaotic, unpredictable world, and we always have. but we shouldn’t flatter ourselves into thinking that we are the worst thing that has ever happened, and that nature as a whole is our victim. Essentially it is the same foolish vanity as thinking we are the best thing that has ever happened and nature is evil, as was the cultural trend centuries ago.

  21. 21
    Edward Greisch says:

    Just teaching the students what science is will be resisted a lot. Teaching students to think is also taboo. Thinkers are too likely to quit religion, a payroll problem for preachers.

    Teach the students to do experiments. Leave it at that, or at most demonstrate Tyndall’s experiment. If you can get them to like solving math problems, that would be great.

    Look at what students do for science fairs in small town country high schools. If they make a Jacob’s Ladder, you know that they learned their “science” from old Frankenstein movies. For a lot of people, that is the limit of their education. Does that high school in a small town even have a physics teacher? Does the physics teacher have a degree in physics or in teaching?

    NCSE web page: They want donations and dues. There is no sign-up to volunteer or to get a free email newsletter.

  22. 22
    David L. Hagen says:

    Should teachers be allowed to teach students to think critically?

  23. 23

    Bob (comment 16) has hit it on the nose.

    I too know teachers that assert absolutely that climate change is a hoax as is evolution.

    One in particular is someone i have known since school days. He says he follows the curriculum and does not let his own beliefs influence his teaching but that’s balderdash – if he is skeptical of the science then the kids will pick up on it for sure.

    Maybe it’s as it always has been – kids just have to survive it all somehow and parents have to do the best they can to help them

    and eventually, in a thousand years or so, these issues will have become ancient history and some other issues will have taken their place


  24. 24
    Robert Huie says:

    I suggest that what should be taught is the consensus theory of the climate. How the earth/sun system interacts without an atmosphere and how our atmosphere and its constituents modify that. The students subsequent understanding of global warming and climate change would be built on that.

    If anyone objects to the theory of the climate, they can be invited to bring in their favorite story from mythology as an alternative.

  25. 25
    robert says:

    Keep up the good work. One comment: Having gone to the NSCE website and fished around, there is no obvious path / link to contact Mark McCaffrey, as the post requests. If you’re going to put out the call, I suggest you’ll have a better response if you make it easy for folks…

  26. 26
    Nick says:

    Skepticism is the health of the scientific mind.
    I’m sure it’s been said before a thousand times on this site, but without skepticism, we would still think the earth was flat, that diseases were invisible demons, and that humans were not descended from early primates.

    I’m not saying the evidence we have available does not point to anthropogenic climate change.

    But I think it’s disturbing that so many people have come to automatically equate the term “skepticism” with scientific laxity.

    A truly skeptical mind is the scientific ideal. It is a mind that asks questions and probes deeper into reality.

    It is a good thing, not something to deride and disparage.

    When people stop questioning “the facts”, that’s when science ends and religion begins.

  27. 27
    Mark A. York says:

    Education is important. In the fall of 1775, a wandering hurricane clobbered a floundering Continental army in the wilds of Maine en route to capture Quebec City. Many died from exposure, smallpox and starvation. The survivors attacked but were turned back and captured. Nonetheless, they believed in the cause. America. I/3 third of the population of the colonies were for separation from English rule. 1/3 were against it and 1/3 too afraid to commit. The first third won against long odds. Truth always wins, eventually.

    Patriot on the Kennebec

    Alas my climate change thrillers still seek a home in print. What does that say about the topic? The fight has just begun.

  28. 28
    michael sweet says:

    I teach High School Chemistry in a conservative part of Florida. When I try to teach climate science the students think it is political and do not believe what is presented. I also get a lot of parent complaints. I currently assign three written assignments on sea ice (NSIDC), the yearly weather (NCDC) and the US Climate Change web site. The students read the web sites and answer some questions. Most of the students say they have never seen the data before. I do not even review the data in class due to problems with skeptics shouting down the discussion. I get a few complaints from skeptics so I developed an alternative assignment on energy sources. No-one has ever done the alternative assignment.

    Last year I assigned the Skeptical Science handbook and got a lot of flak from the students as they thought it was political. We had a very popular physics teacher who claimed his textbook proved that the greenhouse effect could not exist. Many students believed him. Students also will believe a popular history teacher over a science teacher if they like the message.

  29. 29
    Les Southwell says:

    People respond far better to visual demonstrations of a scientific principle, something they can see, rather than to mere words and clever arguments. Tyndall carried out such a crude (but striking) experiment in 1859 to show the heat-trapping properties of CO2 and CH4.

    Prof. Iain Stewart demonstrated a modern version – more accurate and very convincing – in his BBC documentary “The Climate Wars”, by passing the IR rays from a candle through a one-metre tube of CO2 to an IR-sensitive camera.

    I suggest you view the doco. Then, consider staging a pilot trial with such equipment at a few schools; even outright deniers have difficulty explaining it all away. After that, they might be more inclined to listen to rational argument.

  30. 30
    MalcolmT says:

    Nick @20
    Previous climate changes occurred over a time scale of hundreds or thousands of years. The current one is occurring in tens. That single fact invalidates most of your arguments.

  31. 31
    MalcolmT says:

    In response to the OP: Great initiative and best wishes with it. But as a long-time teacher in I would encourage you to develop something for primary teachers, because older children tend to be willing to build on foundations established in early years but find altering those foundations very difficult and reversing them is almost impossible (‘Give us a child until he is five and he is ours for life,’ remember).
    You don’t need details, just basic facts, a sketch of causes and (most importantly) a belief that doing something is possible and important.
    We have seen similar approaches work very well here in Australia in regard to conservation and recycling.

  32. 32
    Kamimenive says:

    Be honest about the desire here: to have students be activists for a global warming agenda.

    [Response: Not at all. I would say it is rather to allow students to distinguish between science and agendas of all sorts. – gavin]

  33. 33
    Hank Roberts says:

    > NCSE web page … no sign-up to volunteer or to get a free email newsletter.

    Oh, good grief. No, they don’t require you to sign up.

    Look at the website.

    Find the gray bar with words in capital letters.
    Those are buttons.
    Put your mouse over the words.

    If you want personal attention, read those two pages you get by clicking the buttons. You’ll find the opportunities you want.

    For news, click NEWS
    For volunteer opportunities, click TAKING ACTION

  34. 34
    Hank Roberts says:

    One thing kids need — awareness of shifting baselines.
    Google the phrase, the information is available.

    Reading that sort of information can go with assignments to talk to grandparents or elderly neighbors and find out what the world was like for them.

  35. 35
    Craig Nazor says:

    Nick@20 said:

    “And yet somehow we’re all still here, minus a few woolly mammoths, gian [sic] sloths, dodos and passenger pigeons…”

    Around 1800, there were between 3 and 5 BILLION passenger pigeons in North America. It is estimated that 40% of all birds (by weight) in North America were passenger pigeons. In a little more than 100 years, all of them were wiped out by humans.

    Think about that. If you could count, on average, one count per second, and if you never ate or slept, you could count to 3 billion in a little more than 90 years.

    Using the word “few” in this case is just absolutely, completely, crazy FALSE.

    And that doesn’t include any mammoths, sloths, or dodos.

    Directly after that quote, you say:

    “That is what we should teach kids”.

    Since 1800, humans have released over 270 BILLION TONS of CO2 into the atmosphere. I really think that you have no understanding of scale. That’s 8,100+ years of counting, and just one ton is a LOT of gas. The current rate of species extinction (due almost completely to human activity, including the release of all this CO2) is estimated to be one of the most rapid in the history of the planet.

    A whole lot of your false assumptions are based on a lack of comprehension of scale, plus an ample ignorance of real data. Unfortunately, the teachers in your education appear to have failed you miserably in many areas of science.

    That is the real problem here.

    I am a teacher. I may be a little old fashioned, but I think we should teach kids things that are important, and facts and concepts that are actually true. That way, as adults, they may be less likely to go around creating their own false “reality,” as you have.

  36. 36
    John West says:

    MalcolmT says:
    “Nick @20 Previous climate changes occurred over a time scale of hundreds or thousands of years. The current one is occurring in tens. That single fact invalidates most of your arguments.”

    Are you from the future? Perhaps you’re a Kwisatz Haderach? From where (when) I sit your single fact hasn’t happened yet, the relatively small shift to date is well within what has happened in the past. I realize that “we” put a lot of “faith” in computer model projections here, but surely they’re not considered facts just yet.

  37. 37
    Mike Roddy says:

    The biggest problem may be that actual climate scientists’ response to the deniers’ collection of whoppers is to reference an article, or calmly cite some data. The students who walked out of their science classes when the teachers brought up climate change were acting out their parents’ wishes. The kids’ parents, in turn, may be getting their information from people like Rush Limbaugh or Anthony Watts. These people don’t care about no data.

    The factual rebuttals from legitimate scientists tend to be forgotten. What sticks is the notion that an honest debate is occurring. This moves the bar way down, so that those who have studied the science end up as one group of opinionmakers (or debaters) opposed to those brave souls who practice “contarian” science.

    There are many bad effects here, before school boards and in the general court of public opinion. For example, if a scientist such as Thompson or Semiletov finds evidence that points to more potentially catastrophic effects, he is labeled an “alarmist”, and ignored or thrown under the bus, by some of his peers, too. The public in general senses that the truth can be found by splitting the difference, an absurd position when it comes to measuring and evaluating the effects of radiative forcing in the atmosphere.

    Scientists themselves have become more intimidated than they admit. Based on both recent papers and their public defense, scientists’ public appearances are becoming even more muted, especially since audiences on blogs and in public fora are often stacked with hysterical deniers. Public opinion polls indicate that concern about global warming has been going down, even as the evidence (giant forest fires, drought, floods, record setting hot days etc) becomes so ironclad that it’s almost a joke.

    Koch and Tillerson have been winning. David (I don’t know about Charles) is perfectly aware of the science of global warming. The people he hires to deny it are merely shills in the service of his goal to preserve and increase the enormous family fortune as long as possible. It’s mission accomplished, though- scientists, consciously or not, moderate their views. Feedback loops are either ignored (IPCC) or underestimated (Realclimate). The almost unbelievably absurd “debate” continues.

    Scientists, with certain notable exceptions, retreat. The oil and coal company owners want to win over the pickup truck and vinyl/chipboad mansion crowd, knowing that this will produce deadlock in Congress. Liberal Democrats justify their own positions, and pat themselves on the back for living in a Blue state. Trying to achieve victory does not really occur to them. Deadlock prevails. The wealthy fossil fuel company managers and investors push us around again.

    Worst of all, we go for it.

    We don’t have time to wait a couple of decades for this critical knowledge to eventually gestate and persuade the public. Instead, scientists must be proactive in informing Defense, Interior, and the White House that we cannot continue to screw around. These meetings should be scheduled on an emergency basis. After all, Cheney achieved this in 2001 just to keep the fossil fuel companies in business. This time it means closing coal plants, stopping fracking, placing tariffs on tar sands oil, and permitting new fossil fuel plants only after all externalities are accounted for. Including global warming. Soon.

  38. 38
    jyyh says:

    give a D- to the kid and an F to his father and state, see, there is evolution.

  39. 39
    EmuBob says:

    I suggest that it is much more important to teach children about science than climatology.

    I am not a climate scientist but I believe that global warming is a catastrophic threat to humanity and that we are responsible. Why? Because I understand what science is and how it works.

    Science is the only valid means we have of understanding the physical world. If 97 percent of the scientists in any field were to agree about anything (as they do about AGW) I would accept it. It would be the only rational view.

    Educate young people about science throughout their school years and we might not have this tragic delay in responding to the crisis (or have half of the people in the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth believing that the earth was created less than ten thousand years ago for that matter).

  40. 40
    Edward Greisch says:

    19 Jim: It is your blog, but how do you know Bart is wrong? I would like to see your analysis of Bart’s data. Why has nobody else except Aiguo Dai who appears to agree with Bart, predicted what will happen to agriculture?

    [Response:Give me a break. No more on this topic here.–Jim]

    31 MalcolmT: I agree. Science should be taught for an hour a day starting in first grade or daycare, not 10 minutes per week. The teachers aren’t up to it. At least MY teachers weren’t. The calculus teacher couldn’t do the homework. The biology teacher didn’t believe in evolution. [The New York State regents exam saved me in biology. She couldn’t do anything about that.]

  41. 41

    That really is a tough position, but the position on climate change must be a firm one. The more we forego any decisive action, the more damage we allow to happen. Hopefully people such as yourselves are able to properly educate the future to the damage we’re doing.

    Juan Miguel Ruiz (Going Green)

  42. 42
    Ron R. says:

    When I was in 4th grade one day this lady just kind of showed up and invited students to go to this little shack on the far end of school property. There she gave us weekly bible lessons. She’d also pass around a bag of penny candies which even then seemed like bribery to me. We were warned not to let on about the class.

    I just learned that a local elementary school is also doing this in a public classroom, though after school. They call it the Good News Club. They hand out bibles and candy pulling in the kids who’s parents pick them up late.

    Despite vigorous effort not much has changed. Fact is people who are determined can always find ways to push their pet myths on children. It’s a shame that the western world, well, especially the US, has been carefully brainwashed into thinking of anyone who teaches something that may run counter to “common sense” rightwing fundamentalism as elitist and amoral. Possibly even secret devil worshippers. In a lot of ways we are still in the dark ages.

    I think one of the biggest shocks I received when I first started surfing the net was to learn that there are people who actively work to suppress truth if it goes against their religious or business interests. People who are not interested in facts and not open to reason. People who see others as pawns to be manipulated in their long lasting culture war, that being to WASPize the world. They really don’t care about those they knowingly mislead with specious arguments, it’s all about their selfish aims. RIghtwing “think tanks”, for example, exist to mislead, to build a groundswell of opposition to anything they perceive as anti-conservative. Remember the Digg Patriots? A secret band of right-wingers colluding and conspiring to kill any news story they saw as left leaning.

    You see it on Wikipedia. Though there are good articles, keeping them honest is often a behind-the-scenes war. I myself tried mightily on a handful of articles to edit them with reliably sourced and incontrovertible evidence only to have my edits continually removed by coteries of conservatives, well versed in Wiki acronyms, that essentially “sit” on selected articles to make sure that nothing gets in they don’t want in. I finally gave up.

    I’ve always felt that going into long, involved arguments in the classroom about controversial subjects is risky. First, the teacher needs to be not only well versed on the subject but also able to inspire. Second, he/she has to have enough time to devote to it and that can rob other subjects. Third, the kids need to be open to non-intuitive persuasion. Kids though, and really most people I think, respond better to simple, straightforward, intuitive evidence. For climate change I recommend something incontrovertible like Glacial Repeat Photography.

    For evolution I like the polar bear:

    Obvious stuff which doesn’t leave a lot of room for debate.

    Having said all that, what I believe what’s sorely lacking in the classroom is not to have just one aspect of our present environmental “situation”, if you will, expounded upon. What’s really lacking are umbrella environmental ethics classes. People continue to be raised believing that we are somehow separate and above nature, a tragic mistake. It’s at root of all of our many environmental problems. From overpopulation to habitat destruction to mass species extinction to climate change. We have to stop being so damn timid about the teaching of respect for this planet and all of its species, the only world we’ve ever had and perhaps are ever likely to have.

    About a year ago I was asked if I’d like to take part in a school hike on acres of wild land behind it. There would be informational stops for the kids and people placed at those stops talking about this or that subject such as Native American crafts, or spotting animal tracks. I readily said yes. She asked for ideas I might have for discussion at my stop. I mentioned the possibility of a gentle discussion of the environmental ethics, for example, that littering is disrespectful. I suggested a chart showing the various planets in our solar system; when you look at them all together the earth really stands out as quite special. While all the others are, far as we know, sterile, the earth is a blue jewel of life that should be protected. She was horrified and didn’t want to get into anything “controversial”. She thought it might compromise her funding. So I ended up talking about Native American games. Anyway, sorry for the length.

  43. 43
    Ron R. says:

    In a nutshell, you don’t have to preach. A picture is worth a thousand words. Rather than try to go deep into detail, provide some clear, incontrovertible evidence and leave it at that. They will remember that far longer.

  44. 44
    michael sweet says:

    Most of what I teach in High School chemistry is really the history of science and is little changed from 40 years ago. The curriculum guide does not allow time for understanding scientific argument, there are too many facts to introduce. If we have a class discussion many students consider a reference to WUWT the same as a reference to the IPCC. In other classes “debates” are done by both sides presenting “evidence” and students pick who seems most believable. Any evidence can be used, there are no standards. Students have asked me to debate them in class- with no standards as to how material is screened. Students have never seen scientific journals. I do not introduce scientific journals, even in AP Chemistry. Scientific debate as seen here on Real Climate, with data certified by experts to support arguments, in completely unknown. With no standards for evidence it is no wonder students are easy fodder for the deniers.

  45. 45
    Fred Moolten says:

    For those teachers eager to convey accurate information about climate change, two important needs are first, good sources of information, and second, strong support for their teaching in the face of resistance.

    There are many good web sources for the former (see my earlier comment, #8, to which I would add the National Science Teachers Association). For backup support, it seems to me that one area that needs shoring up is textbook material on climate change, because a teacher who can point to a text source is better equipped to handle studen/parent resistance than one who can merely repeat verbal arguments. I have seen some brief mention in biology texts to climate change, including the role of greenhouse gases, but I don’t know whether there are more extensive descriptions in texts relevant to middle school and even more particularly, high school. This strikes me as an area that would benefit from attention from respected scientific experts.

    I would be interested in the experiences of others regarding text material, including the political pressures that affect inclusion or exclusion of climate change.

  46. 46
    Team Wintercogs says:

    Educational Opportunities for science based curriculum at all levels can be as simple or complex as teaching the controversy of the science: What are the sociological foundations of accepting climate change science. How will the scientific climate change models impact life on earth if they prove to be true or false: Argument for climate change will affect earth in the next 200 -500 years. Argument against climate change: how will the earth have evolved in 200 -500 years: What is the foundation of your arguments for or against the climate change science – and have the students access research articles and mobile apps to state their positions for or against climate change. The climate change course can be taught as a sociological scientific survey to complete a scientific opinion paper: with adequate presentation of a research paper or book report, at the lower levels of education, to complete the course / module.

  47. 47
    Hank Roberts says:

    > A picture is worth a thousand words…
    > provide some clear, incontrovertible evidence

    Test any science question by doing an image search in your favorite search engine, then another image search in Scholar. Note how heavily loaded the PR and denial and anti-science websites are with images.

    Yes, images are convincing.
    No, they’re not evidence.

    Look at the comparison between the sizes of trophy fish 60 years ago, and trophy fish caught recently — link’s among those I posted above.

    It’s an astonishing, shocking comparison.
    It’s not evidence.

    The research papers on the subject are evidence.
    Look at any of the phenology papers, and Grumbine on detecting trends.

    That’s why ‘shifting baselines’ is so powerful a problem.

    Remember the Fermi Paradox.

  48. 48
    Fred Moolten says:

    For teachers eager to convey accurate information on climate change, two needs are first, a good source of information, and second, strong support for their teaching in the face of resistance from some parents and teachers.

    Many good web sources exist regarding the first need (see my comment #8 above to which I would add the National Science Teachers Association). For the second, strong backup, it seems to me that an important element would be the existence of adequate textbook material to which a teacher can point if faced with opposition. I’ve seen some brief mention of climate change principles in high school texts, but I would be interested in whether others have discovered texts with more adequate coverage appropriate at the middle or high school level.

    Attention to the development of better textbook support for climate change teaching may be a useful effort, and will presumably require the support of reputable experts to ensure the material is included in texts in the face of coordinated opposition.

  49. 49
    Hank Roberts says:

    >> contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey

    > robert says: 4 Feb 2012
    > Having gone to the NSCE website and fished around,
    > there is no obvious path / link to contact Mark McCaffrey …

    To generate email to Mark McCaffrey,
    click “email” to the right of his name.
    It looks like this:

    Mark McCaffrey, Programs and Policy Director [email]

    To find that,
    go to the NCSE website,
    click either
    “More Contact Information” (upper right)
    “About” (upper left);
    then click go to the NCSE website,
    click either
    “More Contact Information” (upper right)
    “About” (upper left);
    then click go to the NCSE website,
    click either
    “More Contact Information” (upper right)
    “About” (upper left);
    then click “Staff”

  50. 50
    Hank Roberts says:

    >> contact our new Programs and Policy Director, Mark McCaffrey

    > robert says: 4 Feb 2012
    > Having gone to the NSCE website and fished around,
    > there is no obvious path / link to contact Mark McCaffrey …

    To generate email to Mark McCaffrey,
    click “email” to the right of his name.
    It looks like this:

    Mark McCaffrey, Programs and Policy Director email

    To find that,
    go to the NCSE website,
    click “More Contact Information” (upper right)
    click “About” (upper left);
    then click “Staff”