When students return to school this fall, they may feel as though they’ve entered “The Twilight Zone.” Thousands of classrooms from middle and high schools to universities will be beset by politicization and contrived claims about the reliability of science, cleaner energy and rising emissions are having on extreme weather events and the climate crisis.
It may seem surreal, but ideologues within state legislatures (e.g., in Ohio, Texas and Florida) are substituting proven climate scholarship with politicians’ deeply held beliefs and the influence of dark money from the fossil fuel industry with the goal of corrupting science curriculums. Some argue false equivalencies and insist that higher-education teaches both sides while officials try to prevent instructors from defending established scientific facts about the climate.
If you think your state is immune from culture warriors greenwashing classes and new textbooks and obscuring facts from curriculum, think again. Extremists’ claims allege parents and teachers are fed up and that “schools have been hijacked by the Left.” PragerU recently went on offense, counteracting known science to promote so-called conservative “edutainment,” which pitches cultural biases towards naive communities and their children. These capricious teaching programs by PragerU Kids are disguised among Florida’s public schools since state government endorsed the company as an official vendor. Unapologetically insidious, their propaganda seeks to establish “conservative lesson plans devoid of perceived radical political agendas” rather than an alleged pressure campaign, indoctrinating students to liberal viewpoints. Oddly, PragerU (aka, the Prager University Foundation) is a misnomer because it lacks accreditation and offers no academic degrees.
Mike Huckabee, the former presidential candidate and 44th Governor of Arkansas, is promoting his new children’s book called the “Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change.” It’s fraught with duplicities. He contends that schools today ostensibly miss the mark by teaching science. But Huckabee, who lacks any science credentials, downplays the climate crisis, defends the fossil fuel industry and fails to produce any relevant or peer-reviewed evidence.
Huckabee claims that kids aren’t being taught the facts about climate change. Yet, his calculated agenda would prevent students from learning known facts about the existential crisis of our time: global warming.
Teaching real science in meaningful ways can encourage kids to learn about the environment, biodiversity and how to adapt to our warming planet. The Texas State Board of Education seems committed to this view, albeit with a dark twist. The Board has vowed to institute “objective“ teaching of science and climate change, such that schools now must “present positive aspects of the United States and Texas and its heritage and abundant natural resources.” That doesn’t inspire confidence nor impartiality. But a “positive” slant on air pollution can produce childhood asthma or premature death.
Since energy trade groups often help shape lesson plans, kids are learning that America’s increased reliance on fossil fuels is okay. Overlooking climate’s causal result from human activity, they mislead students about Earth’s warming and cooling being natural and cyclical. The Texas Energy Council’s agenda changed professional development workshops for teachers and published baseless climate theories in textbooks. Likeminded petrochemical supporters that push “Fossils to Fuel” classes and doubt climate science include Arkansas Energy Rocks and Oklahoma’s Energy Resources Board Home Room.
We can’t rationalize putting corporate profits above education. Yet, oil and gas champions obfuscate today’s menacing climate crisis, insisting it’s a “fad.” Their glib greenwashing deceptions must only see financial gain for exaggerating benefits from expanding the development of fossil fuels. Oil and gas-sponsored schoolbooks are primed to indoctrinate young minds, promoting falsehoods that are indifferent to scientific inquiry. But climatology isn’t an “unsettled science.” Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree humans are causing and exacerbating it. Our dependence on oil and natural gas—aka methane—produces toxic emissions. Culture-warrior extremists undermine today’s classrooms as special interests leverage dark money in elections and align with severe deregulatory policy schemes.
Allies of oil, natural gas and coal allege government overreach, spinning tales of America’s so-called fossil fuels tradition. A recent teachers conference threw out CO2 Coalition members for circulating deceptive comic books, claiming greenhouse gases are eco-friendly.
Polluting industries deride the social cost of carbon, which many call “the most important number you’ve never heard of.” Big polluters routinely deny the tons of carbon they dump into the atmosphere as anti-science nonsense and ignore energy efficiency, renewables and electrification. Regrettably, their naiveté about feedback loops and catastrophic tipping points worsens the climate crisis.
Investigative reporter Katie Worth, in her book “Miseducation: How Climate Change Is Taught in America,” explains how Big Oil downplays the climate crisis to school kids. She observed an industry facilitator address a seventh-grade class. “My feeling is that if this presentation were part of, you know, if the next day they were getting someone from the solar company or the Sierra Club or something it ... could have potentially been part of like a balanced education on this issue. But that’s not the case.” She added, “the kids probably ended that year with this very positive perspective and very partial perspective on the fossil fuel industry.”
Resultant bias from curriculum sponsorships is problematic. As for industry’s place in the classroom, Worth added, “I don’t think anyone is arguing that we shouldn’t have any private business in schools. Like computers are donated through Apple. But when kids are just getting a very unadulterated (account), just kind of messages straight from the horse’s mouth with no questioning, no deepening, no kind of broader perspective.”
When politicians grandstand on education, they intimidate teachers. Meanwhile, partisan state legislatures cherry-pick facts to sow doubt about climate resilience. They also confuse families and distract constituents, endangering their self-interests further impairing pollution-related health risks. Elected officials scoff at doomsday scenarios about living on our warming planet. Their lies are reminiscent of tobacco industry marketing tactics propagated decades ago.
It’s time we call out greenwashing. The truth is clean energy can electrify our homes, cars and trucks and protect our planet without destroying the climate. This generation must reject today’s foremost scourge of disinformation.
Aric Caplan is President of Caplan Communications, a public interest practice founded in 2004.