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Idaho Drops Climate Change Language From K-12 Science Curriculum

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Lawmakers in Idaho have approved new K-12 science standards that do not reference the established science of climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment.

The Feb. 9 vote from the House Education Committee came mostly down party lines. According to Idaho Ed News, 11 Republicans on the panel approved the proposed slate of science standards after five paragraphs* mentioning the topics were removed from the initial draft. The committee's three Democrats voted against removing the climate change language.

The omitted language includes, "Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century," and "human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species and climate change."

The language comes from the Next Generation Science Standards, which has been adopted by at least 18 states and the District of Columbia. The standards, which identify the science all K-12 students should know, were developed by 26 states and a number of national science and educational groups.

But Republican Rep. Scott Syme said the initial draft of new state science standards did not teach "both sides of the debate."

"I really didn't want to scrap everything they had done, just some," Syme said. "Actually most of these (rejected paragraphs) deal with three areas and didn't seem to me to present both sides of the picture."

House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel criticized the committee's decision.

"Not only do we owe it to our children to teach them 21st century science, but we owe it to the farmers, foresters and citizens of Idaho to take this issue seriously and not bury our heads in the sand," she said in a statement.

Committee members in favor of removing the language said that local school officials could still teach global warming to students even if there are new state standards.

"This is not about curriculum," Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby explained to the Associated Press. "If a school district wants to teach the dickens out of global warming, have at it."

Only one Republican on the committee, Rep. Paul Amador, favored the standards as originally written.

"While I appreciate teaching both sides, I think this was a very transparent process where we relied on our highly qualified educators," he said.

According to Idaho Ed News, "Technically, the committee approved a temporary rule including the new science standards. When the Legislature adjourns, the new standards will take effect, without the climate change language. Then, SDE and State Board officials will develop a permanent rule. ... [I]t appears likely state officials will draft new language to replace the references to climate change. Legislators would review the standards again in 2018."

*Here is the full text of the rejected paragraphs removed from the science standards:

ESS3-MS-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

  • Further Explanation: Examples of factors include human activities (such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and agricultural activity) and natural processes (such as changes in incoming solar radiation or volcanic activity). Examples of evidence can include tables, graphs, and maps of global and regional temperatures, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and the rates of human activities. Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

  • Human activities have altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth's environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.(ESS3-MS-3)
  • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (ESS3-MS-3, ESS3-MS-4)
  • Human activities (such as the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuel combustion) are major factors in the current rise in Earth's mean surface temperature. Other natural activities (such as volcanic activity) are also contributors to changing global temperatures. Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (ESS3-MS-5)

LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans

  • Biodiversity is increased by the formation of new species (speciation) and decreased by the loss of species (extinction). (LS2-HS-7)
  • Humans depend on the living world for the resources and other benefits provided by biodiversity. But human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, and climate change. Thus sustaining biodiversity so that ecosystem functioning and productivity are maintained is essential to supporting and enhancing life on Earth. Sustaining biodiversity also aids humanity by preserving landscapes of recreational or inspirational value. (LS2-HS-7, LS4-HS-6.)

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

  • Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere. (ESS3-HS-6)
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