How climate, as taught in the public-school setting, is being diluted

The fossil fuel industry has not just bought US senators and members of congress; it’s even buying school board and state board of education members. And, in some states, they’re demanding books or course instruction materials that explicitly lie — or at least confuse students — about the connection between fossil fuels and our climate emergency.

You can thank Clarence Thomas, the most corrupt Supreme Court justice in American history, for this one. After years of wining-and-dining from billionaires who would really, really like to be able to buy their very own politicians, in 2010 Thomas was the tie-breaking vote to legalize political bribery in the Citizens United decision, as I lay out in detail in The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America.

A 2019 NPR/Ipsos poll found that four out of five Americans — and two out of three Republicans — believe our schoolchildren should be taught accurate scientific information about the known and well-documented relationship between climate change and fossil fuels. Yet, the fossil fuel industry has inserted itself deeply into the schoolbook selection process, to the detriment of our children and their future.

Texas is the epicenter right now, although other Red states are following their lead. Texas is one of the nation’s largest purchasers of schoolbooks, so their influence on which books are used elsewhere in the nation is huge.

The last time Texas re-evaluated their public school textbooks was 2009, and, like now, the battleground was around science. Specifically what’s called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS): the core standards for what must be in textbooks and thus taught in Texas classrooms.

The battle back in 2009 was over evolution. The Texas State Board of Education was chaired by a dentist and avowed “young earth creationist” (people who believe the universe was created by their god around 6,000 years ago) named Don McLeroy. When the topic of evolution came up, he declared in a public meeting, “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!”

When a reporter asked him how he responded to the overwhelming evidence that the Earth is warming because of fossil fuels, McLeroy’s response was, “[C]onservatives like me think the evidence is a bunch of hooey.”

Fast-forward ten years to the 2019 textbook debate and McLeroy had moved on, but many members of the board appear to still hold his position that climate change, like evolution, is “hooey.”

People affiliated with a front group for the fossil fuel industry weighed in heavily at several critical junctures in the process, arguing that instead of teaching the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, teachers should tell students that all forms of energy have both costs and benefits, including renewables, and that climate change has been historically caused by natural variations in the earth’s atmosphere.

While all technically true, the main (and desired) effect of emphasizing these positions while removing the scientific consensus is to cause children to think that there’s no urgency about lowering (or ending) the use of fossil fuels. Let the profits continue to roll!

The board largely adopted their recommendations, and now Texas is looking at which textbooks will meet their criteria. As noted by the Editorial Board of The Washington Post in a scathing takedown of the process last month:

“Will Hickman, a Republican [Texas school] board member who works as a senior legal counsel for the oil giant Shell, asked whether Texas textbooks should also discuss the benefits from burning fossil fuels, given that modern life is still powered by hydrocarbons such as oil and gas. Patricia Hardy, another board member, said at a board meeting that students should learn that fossil fuels and naturally occurring climatic changes can both lead to increasing temperatures, which would downplay conclusive research showing fossil fuel use is rapidly warming the planet.”

In Florida, presidential wannabee Ron DeSantis didn’t even wait for a cumbersome process like Texas goes through every ten years.

He simply ordered his education people to authorize videos and other content to be used to teach science in that state’s schools. As the Post editorial noted, “Florida approved for use material from the conservative Prager University Foundation, which includes climate change denial videos.”

In North Carolina, Republicans tried this spring to replace Earth Sciences — which would expose students to the concept of climate change — with Computer Science as one of the three science classes required to graduate.

As Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt told the state’s House K-12 Education Committee last February:

“Of all the things that keep me up at night, eliminating earth science isn’t necessarily one of them if it means we could replace it with computer science.”

In May of this year, climate change survived an effort to remove it altogether from Utah’s public schools by an 8 to 7 single vote margin. Few doubt the fossil fuel industry won’t be back next year to remedy that.

None of this could have happened if it weren’t for the sad reality that it’s almost impossible to find an elected Republican at the state or federal level who is willing to admit that the science linking our deadly weather to burning fossil fuels is real. Rejecting climate science is the price of admission to today’s GOP: fossil fuel billionaires have built much of the political infrastructure and provide many of the campaign contributions, state and federal, that sustain the party in election after election.

There is more to Thom Hartmann’s The Daily Kos “How the Fossil Fuel Industry Pays for Lies to School Children” post and it can be accessed here. Emphasis in this article is that of original post author Thom Hartmann.