The Kentucky State Board of Education approved new standards for science education, including the teaching of climate change and evolution, in a unanimous vote last week. But before becoming final, the standards are subject to review by the state’s Senate Education Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Mike Wilson, is on the record opposing the teaching of climate change in schools.
The Next Generation Science Standards, developed with officials from 25 other states over the past two years, call for introducing climate science in the middle school curriculum and teaching high school students about the role of human activity in climate change. The standards also state unequivocally that children should learn about evolution. Though the topics are often points of contention with state lawmakers and some religious groups, they are just two of hundreds of ideas designed to combat scientific ignorance and better prepare students for college.
In an op-ed leading up to the school board meeting, Sen. Wilson (R-Bowling Green) said the standards include “troubling assumptions” regarding climate change and evolution.
Wilson takes particular issue with the fact that the NGSS points to the central role of humans in driving climate change. The standards clearly state that human activity, particularly the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, is a major factor in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature. And further, that outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend of the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year. As evidence for his skepticism, Wilson cites a letter signed by sixteen scientists questioning the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Last month a new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers found a 97 percent consensus that global warming is happening and humans are the cause. This evidence of overwhelming agreement came just a few days after it was reported that atmospheric C02 levels reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence.
Wilson’s op-ed goes on to say, “Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over a decade and the smaller-than-predicted amount of warming over the 22 years since the Intergovernmental Panel began issuing projections.”
The senator’s claim is a frequent talking point of climate deniers, and one that is overwhelmingly refuted by actual climate scientists. Ten of the country’s most prominent climate scientists collaborated to write an op-ed in the Washington Post last week outlining the enormous amount of scientific evidence that points to the increasing threat of climate change and the danger of using “isolated factoids and sweeping generalizations about climate science to defend the destructive status quo”:
Much has been made of a short-term reduction in the rate of atmospheric warming. But “global” warming requires looking at the entire planet. While the increase in atmospheric temperature has slowed, ocean warming rose dramatically after 2000. Excess heat is being trapped in Earth’s climate system, and observations of the Global Climate Observing System and others are increasingly able to locate it. Simplistic interpretations of cherry-picked data hide the realities.
Despite Wilson’s rhetoric, David Karem, school board president, told the Journal-Constitution that the decision to approve the standards was an easy one: “You are going to always have some areas where there is pushback. These are not something that just came out of thin air. Real professionals, real scientists, real educators developed these standards, and I think they are legitimate.”
Before the standards are final, however, they are subject to the state’s regulatory process, which involves public hearings and a review by the House and Senate committees on education, the latter of which is chaired by Wilson.
Supporters of the new standards, organized by the group Climate Parents, delivered 3,700 signatures to last week’s school board meeting and have vowed to continue pressuring the state legislature until the standards are final, stating, “Our students deserve an up-to-date science education that includes learning about climate change.”
The debate in Kentucky is one of many happening in school board meetings across the country. On Tuesday, the Kansas state school board voted 8-2 in favor of adopting the standards after a lengthy open forum. And in Alabama, the state’s superintendent has said they will “absolutely” look at the standards, which have already drawn scrutiny from state Republicans, who attempted to repeal Alabama’s math and English standards during the 2013 legislative session.