Beginning this summer, public school students in West Virginia were supposed to learn about human-induced climate change three times — in sixth-grade science, in ninth-grade science, and in a high school elective course on environmental science. Now, it’s unclear whether students will learn about climate change at all.
That’s because the West Virginia House of Delegates voted last Friday to block new science standards from being implemented for at least another year, due to the fact that they mention climate change as a man-made problem. Proponents of the delay, which was introduced as an amendment to a larger education bill, argued that the new curriculum would have presented the science of climate change without properly reflecting both sides of the global warming debate.
“In an energy-producing state, it’s a concern to me that we are teaching our kids potentially that we are doing immoral things here in order to make a living in our state,” Delegate Jim Butler, (R) told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “We need to make sure our science standards are actually teaching science and not pushing a political agenda.” Butler also worried that the new curriculum would “expect students to believe” in global warming and “prove it with evidence.”
If Butler’s concerns were realized, West Virginian students would join an overwhelming number of scientists, governments, and businesses, all of which accept climate change as a man-made phenomenon driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Among publishing climate scientists, there is a 97 percent consensus that humans are responsible for global warming. That roughly means that scientists are as certain about the relationship between humans and climate change as they are about the relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer.
But West Virginia’s overwhelmingly Republican House of Delegates seems to side with the three percent of scientists that doubt the human connection to climate change. Also speaking to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Delegate Michel Moffatt (R), who introduced the amendment, worried that students would “twist” the climate science curriculum to conclude that “all fossil fuels are bad.” And Delegate Frank Deem (R) speaking in support of the amendment, said that “there’s nothing that upsets [him] more than the idea that it’s a proven fact that climate change is man made.”
Adopted in 2015, the new science curriculum, which was based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), has long been a divisive issue for the second-largest coal producing state in the country. In early 2015, the West Virginia Board of Education approved new education standards based on the NGSS, but included changes to the curriculum that gave added weight to the idea that there is a debate surrounding climate science. That move produced a swift outcry from proponents of science and climate education, and led the West Virginia Board of Education to reverse its changes and return to the original NGSS version. Those standards were officially adopted by the board in April, but included a few changes meant to appease climate change doubters, like mentioning “natural forces” in a list of things that could be driving climate change. The standards were supposed to go into effect beginning July 1.
Proponents of the NGSS argue that climate change, when taught, is often left out of general curricula, relegated instead to specific classes that aren’t required of all students. And around the United States, the way that climate change is taught in schools varies widely. A recent survey published in Science found that while three out of four teachers spend at least an hour on climate change instruction, two-thirds of instructors fail to teach the clear connection between human activities and climate change.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which promotes the teaching of both climate science and evolution in school curricula, denounced Friday’s vote.
“West Virginia’s children, like children everywhere, need to learn about the science of climate change,” NCSE’s executive director Ann Reid said in a statement, “since it is they who will have to live in a world that we have been warming. For their sake, West Virginia’s Senate needs to reject the proposed repeal of the state science standards.”
The bill now goes to the Republican-led West Virginia Senate. Republican Senator Dave Sypolt, who is chair of the Senate Education Committee, told ABC News that he has no problem with the bill as it is currently written.
“As it stands right now, I have no problems with it at all,” Sypolt said. “I’m going to work it and send it right through.”