Idaho Lawmakers Strike Climate Change Language From New Science Standards
The Idaho House Education Committee voted 12-4 Wednesday on a motion to strip references to human-caused climate change in the state's proposed new science education standards.
The motion, proposed by Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, strikes a section* from the Idaho Content Standards that includes the language: "energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment." Several paragraphs of "Supporting Content"** that delves further into climate science were deleted as well.
Boise Republican Rep. Patrick McDonald, the committee's vice chairman, joined the panel's three Democrats that opposed the motion to scrub climate-related passages from the standards.
"I want to support these standards as written," McDonald said, referring to the work that local teachers put in developing the standards. "What I don't want to do is not support them. There has been a lot work involved in putting these things together."
Idaho is the only state in the nation where legislators have removed references to the established science of climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment from the K-12 science curricula. That decision sparked an ardent effort from teachers, parents and students across Idaho who want to revise public school education standards to include climate science.
THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! Idaho Drops #ClimateChange Language From K-12 Science Curriculum https://t.co/j6Yv3fjvUz @SierraClub @climatehawk1 @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1487178793.0
At a two-day hearing before the Idaho House Education Committee last week, 29 people testified in favor of revisions. Roughly 1,000 public comments were also submitted in favor of the revisions.
"We're here today not just for those students in classrooms across our state but for tomorrow's nurses, farmers, lawmakers, bankers and citizens who deserve the very best science and science education—not some water-downed censored version," said Dick Jordan, a retired high school science teacher at the hearing. "We cannot ignore science even if it makes us uncomfortable."
But many Republican lawmakers contend that the science on climate change is not settled. As the New York Times pointed out, only 24 percent of Idaho Republicans agree in human-caused climate change, the lowest percentage in the country.
Rep. Julie VanOrden (R-Pingree), who chairs the Idaho House Education Committee, dismissed arguments about the topic during the hearings last week.
"We are not having a hearing on climate change," VanOrden said continually. "We're here to address the changes made in the standards, not climate change."
Rep. Syme also argued that the revised standards would force students to come to a particular conclusion rather than draw their own, ThinkProgress reported.
"When we heard all the testimony, it was clear that all the students want to do inquiry and all the teachers want to move to this inquiry based type of learning and I think that is just spectacular," he said Wednesday. "My problem with the one paragraph was that it lead to conclusions. When you have conclusions in standards, it stifles inquiry."
(Syme has even said previously that he does not care if students think the Earth is flat as long as it was the student's own conclusion.)
Of course, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that drives the rise in global temperatures.
The new science education standards do not force Idaho's teachers to omit climate science from their lesson plans. However, as the Times noted, "science educators said they were concerned for teachers in districts where climate change was considered more controversial."
The vote now goes to the Senate Education Committee, where members can undo the House panel's decision.
*Here's the section that House Ed. members removed:
ESS3-4-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. Further explanation: Examples of renewable energy resources could include wind energy, water behind dams, and sunlight; non-renewable energy resources are fossil fuels and atomic energy. Examples of environmental effects could include negative biological impacts of wind turbines, erosion due to deforestation, loss of habitat due to dams, loss of habitat due to surface mining, and air pollution from burning of fossil fuels."
**And here is some of the "Supporting Content" that the committee also voted to remove:
"ESS3.A: Natural Resources: Energy and fuels that humans use are derived from natural sources, and their use affects the environment in multiple ways. Some resources are renewable over time, and others are not. (ESS3-4-1)
ESS3.B: Natural Hazards: A variety of hazards result from natural processes (e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions). Humans cannot eliminate the hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts. (ESS3-4-2)
ETS1.B: Designing Solutions to Engineering Problems: Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions. (ESS3-4-2)"
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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