school science

U.S. teachers often misinform school children about climate change

While around 97% of active climate change researchers (the most qualified) agree that global warming is real and caused by humans, the same can’t be said about the general populace. One study surveyed 1,500 middle school and high school teachers across all 50 states and found only 67 percent agreed that “global warming is caused mostly by human activities,” which is strikingly similar to how the average American feels. You’d think school teachers should know better, though.

school science

Image: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Since there isn’t exactly a class on climate change anywhere in public schools that we know of, some of the persons included in the study taught  biology, chemistry, physics and Earth sciences where the subject is bound to come up. Indeed, Penn State University researchers in collaboration with colleagues from Wright State University and the National Center for Science Education (you might know them as supporters of evolution and climate change in schools) found that  70% of middle school science teachers and 87% high school biology teachers said they covered climate change in class for at least an hour. This is encouraging for a subject that isn’t included in any curriculum — though some in Texas fought to re-write text books to read “scientists do not agree on what is causing the climate change” (rubbish).

However, school teachers don’t seem to know that much about it. Only 30% of middle school teachers correctly selected “81 to 100%,” when asked  “what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?” High school teachers scored a shy better, 45% correctly answering the question. Clearly, most teachers think that climate change is a subject for debate among scientists, mirroring the polarization they must have seen in the media.

Plutzer et al, Science 2016

Plutzer et al, Science 2016

This confusions seems to be transferred to the classroom. One-third of the teachers explain to to their kids in class   that global warming “is likely due to natural causes,” while 12% go a step further downplaying the role of human activity in the matter.  Thirty-one percent of teachers say they regularly expose both sides of the story: the scientific consensus and the ‘natural variation’ explanation. This ‘mixed feelings’ approach also adds to the confusion. In general, on a personal level, 67 percent agreed that “global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

“We think any amount of legitimization of nonscientific perspectives sends a message to students that this may be a matter of opinion and values, and not one that can be adjudicated by evidence,” says lead author Eric Plutzer of Penn State University for the Washington Post.

“What’s surprising is that many teachers personally think humans are the culprit [for climate change], but they are unaware that scientists share their views,” he said to Mother Jones.

The researchers posit that a lack of formal training in climate change is likely to blame for this gross confusion among school teachers, and the imprudent proliferation of misinformation. The average age of a school teacher is 40, meaning most were schooled in the ’90s when the scientific consensus was not as strong, nor was climate change nearly as much in the spotlight as today. So, the authors of the study published in Science suggest programs be implemented aimed at ‘setting facts straights’. These might include paying for new text books and classes.

2 thoughts on “U.S. teachers often misinform school children about climate change

  1. cvxxx

    Climate change is both natural and man effected. Some change will occur over time with out man’s influence. That part is missing in the fractious often hidden agenda approach of today. The cures are in part known adding forests in the east would cut Co2. Many areas of the world could use the antarctic water(ice) mining that has been talked about for decades.

    IMO the easy to do is not being done. It is the want to control and change other to some person dream that is the real issue.
    Fossil fuels cannot be extracted enough for the future needs. Nor can they be effectively used for moving mankind into space.
    Many of the current manufacturing of “clean energy” also have serious waste management issues that are ignored.

    Doing it right the first time, is more important that haphazard disregard to push an agenda.

  2. Brian

    The Fossils corporations spend billions of dollar on pr and influence. The govs give fossils 5.3T$ in breaks, not including the wars and geopolitics for oil and gas.
    It works. Sort of.

    61% of new energy is solar and wind.
    http://www.utilitydive.com/news/solar-and-wind-comprise-61-of-2015-capacity-additions-gas-contributes-35/411813/

    Why? solar and wind are the cheapest energy before gov breaks.
    http://www.lazard.com/media/17
    http://solar-power-now.com/cost-of-solar/ 3$ residential before gov breaks. 2015.

    Solar and wind create far less pollution and waste, but get 100 times the scrutiny.
    Solar panels are 98% glass and aluminum, which are much cleaner to mine the uranium or fossils, and are 100% recyclable, saving energy in the process. 90+% of solar panels in the world are silicon mono or poly, which need no toxic material and no rare earths and only about 5% of them use any. Solar panels produce about 10 watts per kg. Life time energy is around 1000 times less mass than fossils or uranium mining wastes. And remember they are recyclable unlike fuels.

    Solar pv, offshore wind, electric vehicles, efficiency, and hydro and waste to fuels for backup, long range and chemicals. Cheaper before gov breaks, infinitely cheaper than war, pollution and climate change.

    Baseload plants hate the throttle and thus usually cannot produce more than about 20-30% of the total electrically demand, and the rest must be from reserve, load following and peak hydrocarbon fuels generators. Solar can produce 60% of our energy needs with no storage, wind another 20% or more, leaving only about 10-20% require reverse generators. Way less than baseload. Hydrocarbons from wastes can supply that, and the needed long haul transport fuels and chemicals.

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