Climate Deniers Push for False Science in Textbooks
Every ten years, the Texas State Board of Education reviews its textbook standards. Controversy often swirls around the process, with conservatives demanding the inclusion of dubious information that goes against well-grounded scientific research.
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Board-appointed groups of citizens have been reviewing the standards since July, pending final adoption in November. But the first public hearing on them yesterday brought the fault lines out in the open. Climate change joined evolution as one of the main issues in the spotlight, and a target for the anti-science crowd as they attempt to insert material in social studies textbooks that suggest the causes of climate change are still in doubt.
The review panel members included people like Probe Ministries' Ray Bohlin, an anti-evolution zealot who explained in this interview with Mother Jones why he believes carbon emissions don't cause climate change.
Ahead of the public meeting, watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network got its hands on the proposed standards and were troubled by what they said about climate change.
"One textbook goes so far as to equate arguments from a polluter-funded political advocacy group with real facts from an international science organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007," the group found.
“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” said Texas Freedom Network education Fund president Kathy Miller. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”
It asked the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for input on the climate change sections. No surprise: they don't agree with Bohlin. It found many troubling things in the proposed textbooks.
For instance, one of the textbooks said, “Scientists agree that Earth’s climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change. Is it just another natural warming cycle like so many cycles that have occurred in the past? Scientists who support this position cite thousands of years’ worth of natural climatic change as evidence. Or is climate change anthropogenic—caused by human activity? Scientists who support this position cite the warming effect of rapidly increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
But virtually all actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers say it's mainly human caused.
"The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear," said NCSE's Minda Berbeco. "Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead."
A group of more than 50 scientific organizations signed an open letter to the Texas State Board of Education, saying, "As societies of educators and scientists, we are concerned by reports that textbook reviewers unqualified in the relevant science are seeking to undermine the teaching of evolution and climate change, and that good textbooks may be revised or rejected based on these reviewers’ comments."
Texas textbook standards have nationwide impact. Because Texas has such a large public school system and such specific textbook standards, publishers often use these to prepare the materials they sell to other states.
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They might also have an impact in producing a future generation of Texas politicians even more science-averse than the current one, if that's possible. Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold has called climate change "scare tactic used by groups with a political agenda," while his fellow Congressman Louie Gohmert has scoffed, "This climate change was global freezing back in the 1970s. Then global warming and then, when it quit warming, now it’s climate change." Yet another Texas congressman, Joe Barton, cited the Bible as his science text, saying, "One would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy."
They're joined by Texas Senator Ted Cruz who also mentioned "global cooling" and told CNN earlier this year, "The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn't happened." Texas' other senator, John Cornyn, disagrees, saying not only does he think climate change is happening but that it's at least partly man-made. He just doesn't think we should do anything about it.
Meanwhile, Texas agriculture commissioner Todd Staples denied science in another area, nutrition. He claimed that Austin's adoption of Meatless Mondays would deprive low-income children of their only source of protein for the day, proving that more, not less, scientifically accurate education is needed in Texas.
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By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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