From evolution wars to climate wars in the classroom

The war over teaching evolution in the classroom, that was such a huge issue in the last century and even prompted me to write a book about it, seems to have subsided after the latest incarnation known as intelligence design getting severely smacked down in a Pennsylvania courtroom in 2005. But Katie Worth writes that now there is a new war in the classroom, this time involving climate change. Wealthy people who oppose any action to combat climate change, like the Koch brothers and the Heartland Institute, are trying to influence teachers in schools by mailing them free packets of misinformation. But once the pro-science community got wind of this move, they fought back with mailings of their own, a project headed by the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI).

Last spring, science teachers across the nation began receiving unsolicited packages containing classroom materials from a libertarian group that rejects the scientific consensus on climate change.

This spring, some of the same teachers are opening packages containing very different materials: A book written by a Cornell University affiliate called “The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change,” which embraces the prevailing science, explains the phenomenon in detail and includes recommendations for how to teach the subject to children.

This rare back-and-forth of direct mailings to teachers demonstrates how classrooms have emerged as a battleground in the American political war over climate change. While those who reject mainstream climate science have long advocated their view in Washington and statehouses across the country, their efforts to influence educators – and the counter-efforts from the science community – shows the extent to which the minds of children are also being targeted.

The PRI book includes chapters like, “Why Teach About Climate Change?”, “Climate Change Through Earth History,” and “Evidence for and Causes of Recent Climate Change.” Don Duggan-Haas, co-author of the book and director of teacher programing at PRI, said the book is aimed at teachers who may not have had robust instruction in climate change in their own education.

“We know folks need it,” he said. “It’s written for an audience that is scientifically literate but not in the disciplinary areas you need to teach climate change. This is for the biology teacher who is suddenly assigned to teach an earth science class.”

As we have seen with the March For Our Lives movement, young people are not the passive receptors of knowledge that adults think them to be, especially when they are galvanized by some cause. Let’s see how this new classroom battle plays out.


  1. Matt G says

    I received some libertarian propaganda about climate change, including “lesson plans”. They do their very best to ape science, just like the ID creationists.

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