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Leon Kaye headshot

Educators Push Back Hard at Climate Deniers’ Attempts to Influence Teachers

By Leon Kaye

'Déjà vu all over again' could sum up the Union of Concerned Scientists’ reaction to the Heartland Institute’s latest push to convince teachers that there is hardly scientific consensus on climate change.

The libertarian think tank, which several years ago compared climate scientists to Unabomber Ted Kaczynksi, says it plans to mail a book rejecting scientific consensus on climate change to 200,000 K-12 teachers this year.

The book, Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming, was published in 2015 on the same day the COP21 climate talks launched in Paris. It has already gone out to at least 25,000 science teachers across the country.

The book disputes the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the pace of climate change we're seeing is man-made, and further posits that the presence of climate change in debate is "an insult to science.” The volume, co-written by three leading climate skeptics, also asserts that the United Nations' climate change panel has failed to provide any “objective guidance” on its view of the issue and accuses U.N. climate researchers of bias.

Heartland included a letter with the book and a 10-minute DVD. In the materials, the organization reassures teachers it is a “top-rated nonprofit” and insists any claim that climate science is “settled” is false.

As Heartland disperses the first round of these packages to teachers, science education leaders are making it clear what they think of this attempt to influence local school district’s curriculum. “The Heartland Institute is within its rights to have its unscientific opinion about climate change,” Meghan Groome of the New York Academy of Science wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “But opinion is not fact.”

Groome pointed out that Heartland, along with other climate-denial groups, has followed a similar path in the past. Those steps include forceful rhetoric with vocabulary that rings like science jargon; highlighting who are supposedly influential climate skeptics; and adopting phrases such as “it’s only a theory” in an attempt to confuse scientific research with pseudoscience.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) also lashed out at Heartland. In a recent interview on PBS's "Frontline," the NCSE Executive Director Ann Reid criticized the organization’s tactics, saying of the packets: “It’s not science, but it’s dressed up to look like science. It’s clearly intended to confuse the teachers.”

Heartland adopted similar tactics in the past in order to exert its influence on science education. In October 2013, the organization shipped a report entitled 'Climate Change Reconsidered,' which critics say was designed to have the look and feel of materials from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In countering that mailer, the NCSE pointed out that for years, Heartland has taken an active role in opposing any government regulation of tobacco and fossil fuels while accepting millions of dollars from the secretive Donors Trust.

Meanwhile, Heartland is pushing back at its critics. In response to several U.S. lawmakers' criticism of this latest mailer to teachers, the organization dismissed those public statements and press releases as a collective lie and “freak out.”

Policy analysts at Heartland are also sharpening the knives for the Donald Trump administration. On Monday, the group described an Interior Department decision to let an endangered species designation for a bumblebee species as a huge misstep. “If this is the kind of housecleaning and swamp draining we’re going to get, we’re in real trouble,” wrote one advisor yesterday.

Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye