The Board of Education in West Virginia may be on to something when it comes to the thorny problem of worldwide climate change: Scrub it for the K-12 curriculum.
Last fall, the board was set to adopt new science-teaching standards based on a national blueprint of voluntary and internationally-recognized benchmarks, developed by 26 states in conjunction with such tree-hugger bastions as the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The standards require students to learn about the evidence for human-driven climate change.
But in December, as reported by Ryan Quinn of the Charleston Gazette, the board changed the standards to more or less eliminate references to human causes of climate change — to whit, the burning of fossil fuels — largely at the behest of a board member. Quinn reported that Wade Linger doesn’t believe human-driven global warming is a “foregone conclusion.”
Quinn also noted:
State school board member Tom Campbell said that in response to the climate change language, Linger brought up concerns about political views being taught in classrooms during an open school board meeting in Mingo County in November. Campbell said he shared those concerns.
“Let’s not use unproven theories,” said Campbell, a former House of Delegates education chairman. “Let’s stick to the facts.”
Technically all theories could be considered unproven — many, like the theory of gravitation or plate tectonics, are overwhelmingly accepted by both scientists and the public based on a bevy of evidence. Even other publicly controversial ones, like evolution, are still overwhelmingly accepted by scientists.
When asked why climate change was the particular “unproven science” that he and Linger were concerned about, Campbell responded that “West Virginia coal in particular has been taking on unfair negativity from certain groups.” He also noted the coal industry provides much money to the state’s education system.
The two board members might have been reading from a page in The Heartland Institute’s playbook. In 2012, the national conservative think-tank was cooking up plans to create a curriculum promoting the idea that the human role in contributing to climate change is “a major scientific controversy” (notwithstanding that some 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing and that human activity is a significant cause).
The West Virginia Board of Education’s action has precipitated quite the kerfuffle in the Mountain State. Groups who oppose the changes to the science standard are now speaking out, and have started a petition to compel the board to rescind the changes.
“When it comes to the accuracy of peer-reviewed science, it is important to teach actual science and not theories that are based on the politics of the coal industry,” said Lisa Hoyos — director and co-founder of Climate Parents, a national nonprofit with members in all 50 states, including 200 in West Virginia. Hoyos said group members would be attending future meetings of the education board.