Idaho lawmakers vote to remove climate information from science curriculum

New K-12 science standards don’t include references to climate change.

A wildfire burns in Idaho. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rebecca Boone
A wildfire burns in Idaho. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rebecca Boone

Last week, the Idaho House Education Committee voted to approve new statewide science standards for K-12 education for the first time since 2001. Missing from the standards, however, is any mention of climate change — committee members voted to reject all five paragraphs of the original standards that referenced climate change and mankind’s role in the phenomenon.

Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby told the Idaho Statesman that the rejection of climate science was “not about curriculum.” The standards represent the minimum requirements for what students must learn, and teachers could ostensibly choose to teach climate science even if its not required by the curriculum.

“If a school district wants to teach the dickens out of global warming, have at it,” Kerby said.

Another Republican legislator, Rep. Scott Syme, argued that the original standards, which included five paragraphs about climate change, did not teach “both sides of the debate.”

In reality, there is little to no debate about whether climate change is occurring, and whether human activity — primarily through the burning of fossil fuels — is the primary contributor. There is a 97 percent consensus among actively publishing climate scientists that climate change is both happening and that humans are the primary cause — about the same consensus among medical professionals that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.

The committee vote broke down largely along party lines, with one Republican lawmaker joining the three Democratic members in voting against the change. Eleven Republican lawmakers on the committee voted to change the standards to remove references to climate change.

House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, a Democrat, criticized the committee’s decision to remove climate information from the curriculum.

“Not only do we owe it to our children to teach them 21st Century science, but we owe it to the farmers, foresters and citizens of Idaho to take this issue seriously and not bury our heads in the sand,” she said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time Idaho lawmakers have rejected science standards for mentioning climate change. Last year, the Idaho legislature rejected science standards written by two Idaho teachers in part because the standards contained language connecting human activity to global warming.

Idaho is not unique in omitting accurate climate science from its curriculum. According to a survey published last February in Science, 30 percent of teachers that teach climate change tell students that it is “likely due to natural causes,” and another 31 percent teach the issue as unsettled science. States like Wyoming have gone so far as to pass a ban barring schools from teaching that climate change was caused by humans, though that ban was later repealed.

Other states, however, are choosing to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, which were put crafted by 26 states and a number of science and education organizations, and include accurate climate science information. So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards.

The revised science standards in Idaho have a one year expiration date, and legislators will have to approve the rules again next year.