Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?

CAMPAIGNS to inject ideologically-driven climate science denial into schools are moving up a notch or two.

In Australia, we’ve had mining entrepreneur and geologist Professor Ian Plimer’s book released late last year, supported by free-market think-tank The Institute for Public Affairs and targeting school children and teachers.

In the US, the recent unauthorised release of fundraising documents from the free-market think tank The Heartland Institute revealed a plan to spend at least $100,000 to design a climate science curriculum for schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 which would focus on the “controversy” of climate science.

On the back of this revelation, the Climate Reality project has released a one-minute video that imagines what school students might say about climate science if plans such as Heartland’s (or Professor Plimer’s for that matter) were to come to fruition.

Yet in reality, it’s a campaign which has already started.

Just today, The Guardian reports on how climate science misinformer Tom Harris, of the secretly-funded and deceptiveley-titled International Climate Science Coalition, managed to get a spot teaching climate to first year university students. A study of Harris’ course contents “found 142 false, biased and misleading claims”.

In 2008, the Heartland Institute, which claims Harris as an “expert“, helped to distribute a DVD designed to fit into school curriculums.

This 13-minute film features fresh-faced student narrator Beth, telling her peers how CO2 might not be to blame for climate change and how it could all be down to solar activity.

At the end of the DVD, Beth concludes: “From what I’ve heard the cost to reduce CO2 will be enormous and, as the scientists said, this may not be the cause. We could create disaster for poor countries and hardship for all of us and not change the pattern of warming and cooling.”

This is a common refrain from free market groups like Heartland and the IPA. It is an entirely politicised phrase, placed strategically into school classrooms yet representing a fringe view of the science.

The film features fossil fuel-funded scientist Dr Willie Soon, who claims to the audience that the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change is “corrupted”.

Also backing the DVD was a little-known US funding group called Donors Capital Fund which, together with its associated group Donors Trust, has been spending millions to help spread climate denial and run campaigns to block greenhouse gas legislation, while keeping its donors and any vested interests hidden from public view. I’ve just written a post for DeSmogBlog which explains the role of this group more clearly.

You can see the Heartland-backed DVD here. It is Climate Reality’s fictional nightmare, writ large.


Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

4 thoughts on “Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?”

  1. This would be a great resource for teaching senior high school students about critical thinking and climate science denial. The presentation very carefully avoids the inconvenient fact that recent warming has continued despite declining solar activity over the last 50 years. It correctly identifies the trailing CO2 record during the glacial cycles but neglects to mention the contrasting leading role played by CO2 during the industrial period – when you’d expect it to be rising faster than temperature.
    Presented by itself, the argument seems plausible, but closer and more critical analysis reveals a rich vein of subtle deception and lying by omission. It’s all soothing messages about natural cycles – in the pre-industrial period, when no-one has concerns about man made global warming. At the end of a critical analysis, students would be wondering about the motivation of the program’s makers. They claim to be scientists, and indeed many like Willy Soon are, but if science is about examining the facts and weighing up all the evidence, why would ‘scientists’ like Soon and our own Ian Plimer deliberately leave out critical and well supported facts if they weren’t attempting to deceive their audience?

  2. The Heartland video looks ok me, while the other one you provide looks silly.

    The amount of misleading, scary information about climate for schools raises the problem of how to help children who have been exposed to it and been frightened about CO2 and about their future.

    How to explain to children that the alarm is not solidly based on observations but rather on theories and computer models? Models which even their owners and operators declare are not fit for climate prediction, only, in the word chosen by the IPCC, for ‘projection’ of various scenarios. None of which seem to be unfolding given the divergence between real observations and what we might be expecting if the claims of alarmed scientists such as James Hansen were to be taken as a guide.

    Superficial scaremongering about, for example, polar bears dying, Himalayan glaciers rapidly disappearing, hurricanes increasing, and so on, has backfired since it is becoming more widely known that the bears are doing ok, those glaciers are not going anywhere soon, and the hurricanes if anything are less frequent than usual in the States.

    Yet climate does change, and weather can threaten us, so telling the children that all is perfectly well is not going to be good enough. Thus the Heartland using the example of the Greenland settlements is a good one – it shows we can be vulnerable to climate change, and it illustrates that that change has occurred in the recent past without human intervention. The details of human impact via CO2 can then be introduced in a calm way, explaining that the indications so far are that the impact has been modest, as expected by some scientists and some of them also see no sufficient cause for alarm about the future impact either.

    The children could also be told that several dozen scientists active in the IPCC have been arguing that the effects of more CO2 could be much larger, and be of concern, and that this group has had a great influence on governments and the leaderships of scientific institutions around the world who have been disposed to take them at their word.

    That Mother Nature has been failing to take them at their word could also be pointed out, and thus trigger a useful discussion of what science is and how it has proceeded in the past, and how it came to be that scientists were accorded great trust and respect.

    Bit by bit, the childrens’ worst fears could be assuaged, and the damage done by the astonishing levels of scaremongering at least reduced. I think the Heartland video you show above could be just the sort of resource that would help with this work.

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