Climate Education

How Some States Sabotage Science

The issue of climate change still somehow appears to be a polarizing issue amongst adults in America and is one of the most heavily debated topics in politics today. However, the youth of America have spoken and are perfectly clear about what they want; climate education in schools. 

This demand from younger generations highlights a shift in priorities, as they seek to address the pressing environmental challenges that will shape their future. Unlike older generations, who are often divided on the issue, today’s youth are unified in their concern and are calling for educational reforms to better prepare for the future. 

In a study of 1,000 young people aged 16-25 in the US, it was found that the overwhelming majority harbor fear towards the effects of climate change, with less than 10% of participants saying they are not worried at all. 

Despite dealing with climate anxiety, students actively want to learn more about the climate crisis and its effects, how they can lessen their own impact on it, and how they will have to adapt to the green economy. By introducing students to climate education early, we can help reduce climate anxiety by presenting the facts in a digestible and comfortable manner.  We can convey tangible solutions and encourage planet-friendly behaviors. Beyond this, the world is experiencing a notable shift towards green jobs and students who are aware of climate change and sustainability efforts will have a leg up on those when pursuing career options in the job market for high-paying jobs.

Obviously the easiest and most logical manner of instructing students on climate change would be through their schooling. Though this seems fairly obvious, the fact is that while the rest of the world largely accepts the reality of climate change, it’s still being hotly debated in some US states. Although a number of states have adopted climate education practices, such as New Jersey, there have also been actions which are counterproductive to the advancement of climate education in schools. 

One notable instance is Texas. Despite seemingly taking a step forward in recent years by mandating education on the climate crisis for eighth graders, progress was thwarted at the end of 2023 when the Texas State Education Board, (TSBE), composed of members leaning farther right than the previous board, reversed course. They rejected all but 5 of 12 science textbooks, citing their inclusion of policy solutions to the climate crisis. Notably, Texas is one of six states that doesn’t use “Next Generation Science Standards” which teaches K-12 that the climate crisis is real, dangerous, caused by humans and can be mitigated by our actions. Texas continues to lag behind in climate education.    

Another example can be found in Alabama. In 2015, it was decided that students in the state could learn about climate change as part of a process in which Alabama updated its science standards to better reflect the current state of the world. However, in 2020 these standards were revised to exclude climate change education, and any progress that was previously made was erased. 

In another backward step, in 2023, Florida approved a new curriculum which allows for teachers to show videos made by PragerU in their classes. This may seem harmless enough, as PragerU claims to be “Promoting American values through the creative use of educational videos that reach millions of people online.”  But they are the self-proclaimed world’s leading conservative nonprofit and spread climate change denial sentiments

The CEO, Marissa Streit, has been quoted as saying, “Young kids are being taught climate hysteria… They’re hearing that the world is coming to an end, and we think that there needs to be a healthy balance.” 

It was decided that their videos could be shown in July of 2023, the same month the founder of PragerU, Dennis Prager, stated that the purpose of the videos produced by the organization was to indoctrinate children into right-wing ideas. 

In West Virginia in 2015, state science standards were altered so that in place of anthropogenic climate change being taught as fact, the students are instructed on Milankovitch Cycles. Milankovitch Cycles are changes in the orbital pattern of Earth as it revolves around the sun, and these orbital changes subsequently alter the climate of the Earth. They are typically used by climate change deniers to highlight the fact that there are other ways in which the climate can be changing aside from the impact of human beings. There’s just one problem: these Milankovitch Cycles take place over tens of thousands of years. So in reality, these cycles cannot explain the rapid changes which we have been experiencing in recent decades. 

All of these actions limit students’ access to climate education, and these states and more (Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina) are all choosing to leave their own future workers, teachers and innovators under-educated on arguably the most important topic in the world. They are allowing their students to enter a workforce where they will be wildly unprepared. 

Luckily, these states don’t represent or speak for the majority when it comes to climate education initiatives. At this time, 20 states and the District of Columbia in the US have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which places an emphasis on the reality of climate change. In 2020, New Jersey became the first state to mandate the inclusion of climate change into their school curriculum and in 2022, Connecticut followed suit. Our newly released report Climate Educations vs The Climate Crisis, gives a global snap-shot of how the rest of the world   is supporting climate education.

If you’d like to learn more about climate education across the US and how state are choosing to instruct their students, be sure to check out our Climate Education Map.