Climate change education in the Senate

Seal of the United States SenateClimate change education is suddenly under discussion in the United States Senate, the National Journal (July 9, 2015) reports, with the introduction of dueling amendments to a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

A proposed amendment (SA 2144) from Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) would direct the administrators of EPA and NOAA to provide state and local educational agencies with "balanced, objective resources on climate theory," including material on "the natural causes and cycles of climate change ... the uncertainties inherent in climate modeling ... and ... the myriad factors that influence the climate of the Earth."

Wicker was the sole dissenter to a sense-of-the-Senate amendment "that climate change is real and not a hoax" that was before the Senate in 2015, as National Public Radio (January 23, 2015) reported, and among dozens of senators that dissented from a similar amendment that acknowledged human influence on climate change. Human influence is conspicuously unmentioned in SA 2144, the new amendment.

"It would be marvelous for educational materials from these agencies to be more widely used in our schools, because those materials of course reflect the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for recent climate change," commented NCSE's executive director Ann Reid. "But I'm concerned that Senator Wicker's amendment is intended to hijack the federal government's scientific expertise in the service of climate denial."

Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced two amendments seemingly to counter Wicker's. The first (SA 2175) is a sense-of-the-Senate amendment that refers to the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change as "overwhelming and undeniable" and holds that "instruction in climate science is important for all students and should not be prohibited by any unit of State or local government."

The second of Markey's proposed amendments (SA 2176) would establish the Climate Change Education Act. Acknowledging the importance of education about climate change "to ensure the future generation of leaders is well-informed about the challenges facing our planet," the amendment would institute a competitive grant program aimed in part at developing and improving educational material and teacher training on the topic of climate change.

NCSE's Reid applauded both amendments. "Senator Markey's sense-of-the-Senate amendment puts the Senate in line with the best science available, which is laudable. But the Climate Change Education Act is simply splendid. It puts the federal government's money where its mouth is — and where, in a time when the effects of human-induced climate change are becoming more visible and more disruptive, it ought to be."

According to the National Journal, referring to Wicker's amendment and Markey's pair of amendments alike, "It is unclear whether the amendments will see a vote. They are not slated to be taken up when the Senate votes on a series of amendments to the education bill Thursday [i.e., July 9, 2015], but votes will continue next week and the provisions could come up then." NCSE is monitoring their progress.

"Everyone who cares about the integrity of science education in the United States needs to get in touch with their senators, expressing their opposition to SA 2144 and their support for SA 2175 and SA 2176," Reid urged.