The Heartland Institute, a conservative and Libertarian think tank, began sending out copies of a new textbook on climate change issues this week to teachers across the country, including Wyoming.
The textbook attempts to show that the science on extreme weather and other impacts of global warming is far more nuanced than students are often taught.
“Climate at a Glance for Teachers and Students: Facts on 30 Prominent Climate Change Topics,” said Anthony Watts, senior fellow of the Heartland Institute and one of the authors, is designed to be easily integrated into teachers’ lesson plans.
Among the Wyoming schools that received copies are Laramie High School, Central High and South High school in Cheyenne; Jackson Hole Middle School; and Natrona County High School in Casper.
The textbook is raising alarm among those who want children taught that the planet is becoming uninhabitable as a result of climate change and that anyone who questions that position is denying that climate change is happening at all, says an author of the textbook.
The Grist, a nonprofit media organization focused on climate change, reported on the textbook in an article titled “Climate Denial Campaign Goes Retro With New Textbook.” The story quotes experts in education arguing the textbook is a propaganda tool to deny the validity of all climate science.
The Grist article couldn’t find any actual inaccuracies or unscientific sources, but rather complained the textbook doesn’t point out more frightening information. For example, “Climate at a Glance” correctly states that sea levels have been increasing for centuries. The Grist article doesn’t dispute that, but it states that the rate has more than doubled in the 2000s.
A graph in the section on sea level rises clearly shows this.
The article also claims the institute received “hundreds of thousands” of dollars from libertarian billionaires of the Koch family. According to the Heartland’s website, the Charles G. Koch Foundation made one donation to the institute in 2012 for $25,000 in support of free-market health care solutions.
Among the sources the Heartland’s textbook cites is the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists. The panel’s reports are considered a prime source for research into the impacts of climate change on extreme weather.
“Climate at a Glance” presents IPCC research into topics like flooding.
The textbook explains that the IPCC concludes in its research reports that there’s a “low confidence” that climate change is impacting flooding, which links to the relevant sections in the panel’s working group reports.
In its latest working group report, for example, the IPCC writes that, “In summary, there is low confidence in the human influence on the changes in high river flows on the global scale.
“In general, there is low confidence in attributing changes in the probability or magnitude of flood events to human influence because of a limited number of studies, differences in the results of these studies and large modeling uncertainties.”
The textbook also draws heavily on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, peer-reviewed studies in respected journals and articles in publications such as The Washington Post and Scientific American.
James Taylor, president of the Heartland Institute, told Cowboy State Daily that he and Watts made sure every fact presented in the textbook was backed up by objective, authoritative data and research from credible sources.
“Each topic is concise enough, while still having the authoritative citations, to be a single daily lesson. And that way, it just fits perfectly with an educational model,” Taylor said.
He said the feedback they’ve received from teachers who were sent copies of the book has been mostly positive.
They did receive one “hate mail letter,” Taylor said, from a teacher who called it science fiction.
From the teacher’s letter, Taylor said it didn’t appear she had looked at the book’s content.
Taylor said the book also is designed to help kids understand that, contrary to what they’re being told, the bulk of scientific research into climate change does not conclude that kids should assume they have no future.
Polls consistently show that children are experiencing serious emotional problems as a result of what they are being taught about climate change.
A global survey in 2021 by Bath University found that 60% of young people said they were very worried or extremely worried about climate change. More than 45% said their feelings about climate change affected their daily lives.
Of those surveyed, 75% said the future is frightening, and over half say the human race is doomed.
According to the nonpartisan International Disaster Database, the number of climate-related deaths is down 98% from 100 years ago, and there’s no indication, even in the last couple of decades, that the trend is reversing.
“I think it’s immoral for people to be preying upon young people, children, telling them that there is no hope for their lives, that the planet is going to be unlivable when that is simply not the case,” Taylor said.
Whether or not any Wyoming teachers who received the book will incorporate it into their classrooms is uncertain.
While there are state standards that all school districts in the state must follow, individual districts have quite a lot of room to set their own curricula.
Jason Sleep, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Park County School District 1, told Cowboy State Daily the district’s policy when it comes to material that might be controversial is to present both sides.
“We could possibly use it as a resource, if it has scientific backing, but we would also have to use another resource to present the other side,” Sleep said.
Tanya Southerland, director of public relations for Natrona County School District said the district’s board of trustees police issues regarding learning resources selection.
The board’s policy is to “provide and maintain a wide range of learning resources at various levels of difficulty, diversity of appeal, and the presentation of different points of view.”
Other topics discussed in “Climate at a Glance” are drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat wave trends, cold snap trends, comparisons of greenhouse gas emissions across various industrial sectors, coral reefs and polar bears.
There are certainly other credible sources that dispute points made in the book, and uncertainty is a feature in all fields of science.
The goal is to create a diversity of perspectives in climate education, and Heartland plans to send out “thousands” more copies of the book, Taylor said.
Climate change has become such a politically charged topic that even when you’re presenting science-based educational materials, some people just don’t want kids learning that there are other perspectives on the issue, he said.
“For some, they’ve taken it on as almost a religion,” Taylor said. “I’ve lost friendships – lifelong friends – over it.”