West Virginia Continues to Grapple Over Climate Change Education


West Virginia has changed its science standards related to climate change by introducing content that casts doubt on the source of the problem.

This a second attempt to change the science standards. The first, in December of 2014, was met with intense criticism and quickly repealed.

The December update was proposed by L. Wade Linger Jr., a West Virginia Board of Education member and technology entrepreneur who believes that scientists have not been impartial about the matter. He wanted the sixth grade requirement that students "ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century" to be rephrased to read "…the rise and fall in global temperatures…"

The original language was reinstated in January after backlash from educators and activists. This month, the sentence was once again revised. Instead, the phrase will read "the change in global temperatures" and students will be encouraged to be able to argue "either claims or counterclaims with evidence."

Another amendment to a standard for an elective course says that students should be able to "debate climate change as it relates to natural forces, greenhouse, gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties." The addition of the phrase "natural forces" seems to water down the idea that global warming has been caused by human interference, notes Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post.

This is an alteration to the Next Generation Science Standards, developed by 26 states (including West Virginia) to encourage consistency in science classrooms, writes John Schwartz of the New York Times. This included teaching the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and caused in large part by human influence.

Educators against the change argue that it injects false information and politics into the classroom. According to Ryan Quinn of the West Virginia Gazette, scientists are sure that humans are the main cause of climate change. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports with 95% certainty that climate change stems from human activity.

Minda Berbeco of the National Center for Science Education said:

These aren't useful changes. They make the standards less precise and they seem intended to open the classroom door a crack to climate change denial. But they are mostly harmless– especially compared to Linger's previous attempts to undermine the treatment of climate change in the standards.

Linger said that the changes were designed to set a particular tone for scientific debate, "rather than trying to go through and tweak every little syllable that might feel like dogma or indoctrination."

Lisa Hoyos, director and co-founder of Climate Parents, said of Linger:

We continue to oppose any falsification of climate change. This is not as egregious as the first attempt, but still wholly unacceptable. He's clearly inserting whatever he can to cast doubt on climate change.

I think that Climate Parents and our allies are concerned that there is still an effort to distort climate science in West Virginia schools– even if it is less than was attempted before — and we stand for the principle that kids deserve to know the truth about evidence-based climate change.

The programs and policy director for the NCSE, Joshua Rosenau, said that he found the changes acceptable since they didn't contain any false information. He said, "I can't quite motivate myself to shout ‘Victory!' from the rooftops."

The changes will be in effect beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.

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