Climate Parents: An NCSE ally in the effort to defend climate change education

NCSE has a long history working with Climate Parents—a 2019 Friend of the Planet recipient—and its founder, Lisa Hoyos, to defend the integrity of climate change education.

Looking at the description of Climate Parents on the website of its parent organization, the Sierra Club, you would have no difficulty in recognizing it as a group with goals broadly consonant with NCSE’s:

Sierra Club’s Climate Parents is a diverse national movement of parents and families mobilizing for bold clean energy and climate solutions. We work to harness the moral and political power of parents and families to move public decision makers to take bold climate action. We believe that all children deserve to grow up in a livable, healthy and equitable 100% clean energy world—and that we have an important role to play in advancing vision.

What you might not realize, though, is how fiercely and effectively Climate Parents, and especially its founder Lisa Hoyos, have defended the integrity of climate change education in recent years.

Climate Parents at a recent climate march

Lisa Hoyos, behind the banner, left, with her two sons in front of her. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Hoyos.)

NCSE began to work with Climate Parents in 2012, when it was a start-up project affiliated with the Citizen Engagement Lab, four years before it joined forces with the Sierra ClubTennessee was then on the verge of enacting its so-called monkey bill, which purported to help teachers in the state’s public schools in teaching about scientific topics that “may cause debate and disputation.” Global warming, along with biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning, was explicitly cited as controversial in earlier versions of the bill, and the intent was clearly to undermine the teaching of these topics in particular.

Climate Parents not only played a vital role in assembling the coalition of national and state organizations that formed to fight the Tennessee monkey bill, but also organized a petition signed by thousands of concerned Tennesseans urging Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill once it was passed by the legislature. Unfortunately, despite the ample attention from the media to the concerns expressed in the petition, Haslam heeded the petition only in part, allowing the bill to pass into law without his signature.

Even though Climate Parents was primarily focused on engaging parents in advocacy to expand clean energy, there was a shared clarity with NCSE about the vital importance of ensuring that young people have a right to learn the truth about climate change—an issue fundamental to their future. Together, both organizations recognized that even in very conservative states where parents didn’t necessarily place a high value on climate education as such, they did value their children learning accurate science. Parents, as well as the media, saw something very objectionable about denying students a 21st-century science education. 

In the years that followed, NCSE was pleased to collaborate further with Climate Parents in resisting similar legislation aimed at undermining the integrity of science education in states across the country, supporting a scientifically accurate and pedagogically appropriate treatment of climate change in revised state science education standards in a number of different states, and in criticizing misleading material about climate change in social studies textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas.

After a bill similar to Tennessee’s monkey bill passed the South Dakota Senate in 2017, NCSE asked Climate Parents to rally its local troops to ensure that the bill proceeded no further.

Working with Climate Parents on projects like these is always a fluid experience, typically involving a series of conference calls with Hoyos and her colleagues, interspersed with e-mails clearly laying out the current situation and plan of action. Hoyos is especially good at ascertaining where the levers of power are, and how best to exert influence over them. A long-time Climate Parents staffer, John Friedrich, also played a central role in working with NCSE.

When Climate Parents joined forces with the national Sierra Club in 2016, its grassroots reach became more expansive. After a bill similar to Tennessee’s monkey bill passed the South Dakota Senate in 2017, NCSE asked Climate Parents to rally its local troops to ensure that the bill proceeded no further. They included Mark Winegar, a longtime activist with the state’s chapter of the Sierra Club. Thanks to Winegar’s indefatigable advocacy as well as a Climate Parents petition signed by over 1400 South Dakotans, the bill was defeated in the House Education Committee.

Climate Parents also thinks big. In 2014, it drafted a Climate Science Students Bill of Rights, which declared that all students, in every state, have the right to learn about climate change properly. (Mark McCaffrey, NCSE’s first staffer working primarily on climate change education, wrote about it in 2014.) The declaration was endorsed by NCSE as well as the Alliance for Climate Education, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In a paradoxical way, it would be nice not to have any occasion to work with Climate Parents. If, in 2020, there are no attempts to compromise the integrity of science education through misguided legislation, standards, or policy, you won’t find NCSE complaining! But there is, alas, little chance of that happening. And it is good to know that in NCSE’s efforts to combat such attempts as they inevitably occur, Climate Parents will be ready, willing, and able to continue as a valued collaborator.

Of course, helping to catalyze action in support of the integrity of science education isn’t the only item on the agenda at Climate Parents. A current important campaign of the organization is urging school districts across the country to move toward 100% clean energy—with the Los Angeles Unified School District recently coming on board, a real coup! But it is for its fierce and effective advocacy on behalf of science education that NCSE is pleased to honor Climate Parents with the Friend of the Planet award.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.