Big Oil's Pipeline Into American Schools
By Jie Jenny Zou
Jennifer Merritt's first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests: state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn.
Dressed in suits, the Republican lawmakers read aloud from "Petro Pete's Big Bad Dream," a parable in which a Bob the Builder lookalike awakens to find his toothbrush, hardhat and even the tires on his bike missing. Abandoned by the school bus, Pete walks to Petroville Elementary in his pajamas.
State Rep. Tom Gann and State Sen. Marty Quinn read aloud to first graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, OklahomaOklahoma Energy Resources Board
"It sounds like you are missing all of your petroleum by-products today!" his teacher, Mrs. Rigwell, exclaims, extolling oil's benefits to Pete and fellow students like Sammy Shale. Before long, Pete decides that "having no petroleum is like a nightmare!"
The tale is the latest in an illustrated series by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, a state agency funded by oil and gas producers. The board has spent upwards of $40 million over the past two decades on K-12 education with a pro-industry bent, including hundreds of pages of curricula, a speaker series and an afterschool program—all at no cost to educators.
A similar program in Ohio shows teachers how to "frack" Twinkies using straws to pump for cream and advises on the curriculum for a charter school that revolves around shale drilling. A national program whose sponsors include BP and Shell claims it's too soon to tell if the earth is heating up, but "a little warming might be a good thing."
Decades of documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity reveal a tightly woven network of organizations that works in concert with the oil and gas industry to paint a rosy picture of fossil fuels in America's classrooms. Led by advertising and public-relations strategists, the groups have long plied the tools of their trade on impressionable children and teachers desperate for resources.
Proponents of programs like the one in Oklahoma say they help the oil and gas industry replenish its aging workforce by stirring early interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. But some experts question the educational value and ethics of lessons touting an industry that plays a central role in climate change and air pollution.
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, likened industry-sponsored curricula that ignore climate science to advertising. "You're exploiting that trusted relationship between the student and the teacher," he said. Leiserowitz—whose research has focused on how culture, politics and psychology impact public perception of the environment—said fossil-fuel companies have a stake in perpetuating a message of oil dependency.
As early as the 1940s, the industry's largest and most powerful lobby group targeted K-12 schools as a key element of its fledgling marketing strategy. By the 1960s, the American Petroleum Institute was looking to shake its reputation as a "monopoly which reaped excessive profits" and set out to cultivate a network of "thought leaders" that included educators, journalists, politicians and even clergy, according to an organizational history copyrighted by API in 1990.
The idea caught on. Hundreds of oil-and-gas-centric lesson plans are now available at the click of a mouse. The programs occupy a gray area between corporate sponsorship and promotion at a time when climate science has increasingly come under siege at the highest levels of government. On June 1, President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator—and former Oklahoma attorney general—Scott Pruitt, announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
"Teachers are taking their cues from the political situation around them," said Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that advocates for climate-change and evolution education. He pointed to a survey that found teachers in Republican counties and states are less likely to teach the scientific consensus on global warming—regardless of the educator's politics. "Teachers live in local communities, they're sensitive to the needs and desires of the people paying their paychecks."
Branch's group supports wide-scale adoption of Next Generation Science Standards, a joint effort by states and educational organizations to revamp K-12 science that has met with political backlash since the standards were published in 2013. Oklahoma is among a dozen states that have opted for watered-down versions, sometimes omitting provisions on evolution and the anthropogenic causes of global warming. Along with Colorado, Kansas and Montana, Oklahoma legislators have also championed bills requiring that educators teach "both sides" of those scientific concepts.
By Tim Radford
Scientists have calculated yet another item on the human shopping list that makes up the modern world: plastics. They have estimated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts, as yet another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance.
Altogether, since about 1950, with the birth of a new industry, more than 8.3 billion tonnes (or 9.1 tons) of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded. Of that total, 6.3 billion tonnes are classified as waste.
By Jessica Corbett
As Senate Democrats stay silent on an energy bill that environmental groups call "a pro-fracking giveaway to oil and gas interests that would commit America to decades more of dangerous fossil fuel dependence," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is receiving applause for speaking out against it.
"As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite," Sanders said in a statement.
ExxonMobil filed suit against the federal government last week, claiming that a $2 million fine levied against the company by the Treasury Department is "unlawful" and "capricious."
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By Andy Rowell
For years, environmentalists have warned that due to climate change, there will be billions of barrels of oil that we will never be able to burn. These reserves will become what has increasingly been called "stranded assets."
To give you one example: In a new report, Friends of the Earth argued that "The coal, oil and gas in reserves already in production and development globally is more than we can afford to burn. There is no room for any new coal, oil or gas exploration and production.
Late last year, the tiny house community celebrated a watershed moment—an official appendix in the 2018 version of the International Residential Code, the model building code used by most jurisdictions in the U.S.
"There are many things that are monumental in the adoption of tiny house construction codes by the IRC," cheered Thom Stanton, the CEO of small space developer, Timber Trails. "Among them, that architects, designers, builders, community developers and (maybe most importantly) zoning officials have a means of recognizing tiny houses as an official form of permissible dwelling."
The colossal mass of throwaway plastic—from straws to bags to bottles—has grown much faster than recycling and disposal efforts can contain it. You might even say this is obvious, no matter where you look.
Check out this video from National Geographic to watch underwater photographer Huai Su film a diver collecting an endless amount of plastic bottles that litter the seafloor off Xiaoliuqiu Island, Taiwan.
A reef off the coast of Cancún will become the first in the world with its own insurance policy, testing a new strategy meant to encourage local investment in the wellbeing of the reef.
Under the policy, created by insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, local hotels and other organizations dependent on tourism will pay into the policy, receiving reimbursements to repair the reef and local beaches after natural disasters.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) denounced the USDA's permit for the world's first open-air trials of the Genetically Engineered (GE) Diamondback moth to be released in Geneva, New York.
This announcement came concurrently with the availability of a final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for the field release of the GE Diamondback moths. NOFA-NY considers the Environmental Assessment lacking comprehensive health and environmental details.