Shared from the 5/16/2019 The Denver Post eEdition By Michael Melia The Associated Press
Science teacher Sarah Ott speaks to her class about climate literacy in Dalton, Ga. Teachers across the country describe struggles finding trustworthy materials to help them teach their students about climate change. Sarah Blake Morgan, The Associated Press
When science teacher Diana Allen set out to teach climate change, a subject she never learned in school, she fell into a rabbit’s hole of misinformation: Many resources presented online as educational material were actually junk.
“It is a pretty scary topic to take on,” said Allen, a teacher at Sanford Junior High School in southern Maine. “There are some pretty tricky websites out there. You kind of have to be an expert to be able to see through that, like, ‘Oh, no, these guys aren’t telling you the truth.’ ”
There are materials produced by climate change doubters, lesson plans developed by the oil industry and countless other sites with misleading or outdated information. The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network , funded by federal grants, reviewed more than 30,000 free online resources and found only 700 acceptable for use in schools.
“There’s a lot of information out there that is broken, old, misleading, not scientifically sound, not sound technically,” said Frank Niepold, a climate education coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based group that dismisses climate change, in 2017 sent thousands of science teachers copies of a book titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.” The book, attributed to the group’s Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, misrepresents the near-universal consensus of scientists and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that global warming is real and man-made.
Another resource, a set of six lesson plans on understanding climate change, is available online from the Canada-based Fraser Institute, which counts the Charles Koch Foundation among its financial supporters. The lessons claim that mainstream climate scientists have made selective use of data and that it’s a matter of debate whether human-generated carbon dioxide emissions have contributed to climate change, saying “the issues are far from settled.”
“Our history is full of examples where ‘common knowledge’ was discarded in favor of more correct hypotheses,” the lesson plans say. Among them, it lists, “Are diseases caused by evil spirits? Are natural disasters caused by angry gods?”
And: “Does smoking pose a threat to your health?”
Also vying for educators’ attention are classroom-ready materials made available by the oil companies.
ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and other companies have invested heavily in promoting science, technology, engineering and math education in K-12 schools. Such materials are used widely to teach topics related to energy, but critics say they can mislead by not addressing the role of burning fossil fuels in global warming.
For teachers in cash-strapped schools, it can be hard to pass up the free handout materials.
Melissa Lau, a sixth-grade teacher in Piedmont, Okla., attended one of the training sessions put on regularly for teachers by the Oklahoma Energy Resource Bureau, which is funded by the oil and gas companies. She kept the $50 stipend and the tub full of science equipment she got from the group but tossed its illustrated lesson plans featuring the character “Petro Pete.”
In a book available online, Petro Pete has a nightmare about everything that would be missing from his life if there were no petroleum products, from his toothbrush to his school bus.
“I get free beakers and cool things like that,” Lau said. “But the curriculum itself is borderline propaganda.”
A spokeswoman for the industry group, Dara Mc-Bee, said their materials align with Oklahoma standards, which do not reference climate change, and they are intended to supplement what students learn in school.
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