Sixth Grade Students Taught that Climate Change is a Matter of Opinion

November 18, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

Girl flipping through textbook in the classroom
Photo credit: Gar Lunny/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Climate change denial is being ingrained at a young age.

There are still numerous climate change deniers out there, despite the vast amount of evidence provided by scientists from across the globe. If that doesn’t make you shake your head, try opening a sixth-grade textbook. A recent survey of textbooks used in classrooms found that the books give climate deniers as equal weight as climate scientists.

The study looked at how sixth-grade science textbooks currently used in California discuss the topic of climate change.  The researchers looked at textbooks from four different publishers, either published in 2007 or 2008.  “We found that climate change is presented as a controversial debate stemming from different options,” said Diego Román, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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There is nearly unanimous agreement among the climate research scientific community that climate change is human induced, and the latest release from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states, “Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever […] Their effects […] have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.

According to the study, 51 percent of American teens believe that scientists do not agree about climate change, when in fact only three percent of experts in the field do not believe that humans are the cause. The study also finds that only 54 percent of teens believe climate change is happening, 43 percent do not believe it is caused by humans, and 57 percent are not worried about it.

These results are unsurprising as the messages received from these textbooks are that climate change may be happening, it may or may not be caused by humans, and that it is not clear whether immediate action is needed to prevent worsening environmental change.

On the bright side, U.S. states are in the process of adapting a Next Generation Science Standard that will rework science textbooks and include scientific facts when discussing climate change.  One of the goals of this new standard is to eliminate the misleading impression that climate change is an opinion, and to emphasize that scientists are in agreement about its cause.

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