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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the fiscal year 2018 budget. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The majority of scientists agree the Earth’s climate is changing, though some skeptics dismiss it as a conspiracy to redistribute global wealth by upending the energy status quo.

The debate has now encompassed the next generation: through the science classrooms of America. It’s a battleground now contested in Congress and by the Trump Administration. 

The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that previously worked with the tobacco industry in decades past to question the health effects of smoking, has begun pushing out packages of 200,000 books and DVDs to teachers across the country to offer an alternative to the mainstream science.

The packages started arriving at schools in March, according to the Institute. The materials include a short cover letter, a book titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” and an 11-minute DVD called “History of Climate Change in Greenland.” (One of the scientists featured on the DVD is Willie Soon, a scientist who was allegedly paid by fossil fuel interests).

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created to find and disseminate research finding a human impact on global climate, is not a credible source,” contends the Institute’s material. “It is agenda-driven, a political rather than scientific body, and some allege it is corrupt."

“Origins of bias include careerism, grant-seeking, political views, and confirmation bias,” adds the Institute, which does not divulge current benefactors, but which has previously been funded by the Koch family foundations, fossil fuel companies like Exxon, and other industrial groups.

The Heartland package has prompted Congressional alarm. Today, four Democratic Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to question the mass shipment of science packages. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Brian Schatz (HI), and Edward Markey (Mass.) asked DeVos for information and documents that would outline contact between the Heartland Institute and the Trump Administration, including the Department of Education and the White House. The senators also specifically ask whether there was collaboration that resulted in the informational materials now reaching science teachers across the country.

Shortly after last week’s announcement by President Donald Trump that he would remove the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, DeVos released a response statement claiming that Trump was “making good” on promises – that it was an “example of his commitment to rolling back the unrealistic and overreaching regulatory actions by the previous administration.”

The senators claim the Secretary of Education is going back on her word. They cite DeVos’s comments during her confirmation hearings, in which she indicated she would avoid climate change policy discussions: “The Department of Education does not have any jurisdiction over climate change or climate issues, so, if confirmed, I would respectfully defer to my colleagues in other agencies, like the Department of Energy, on these issues.”

The Heartland packages began to hit mailboxes around the same time Trump signed a March executive order that reversed much of the climate change policy and regulations instituted by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, over the course of two terms. The executive order was part of the “America First Energy Plan,” which has touted the use of fossil fuels, especially from a coal industry in decline.

The U.S. is now one of three nations to buck the accord. Nicaragua and Syria are the others (Syria is in midst of a civil war, and Nicaragua protests that the terms did not go far enough).

Trump said the deal and its costs were unfair to the U.S., variously referring to it as “draconian” and “onerous.”

In the meantime, the world warms. The warmest surface temperatures yet witnessed were recorded last year – the third straight year of setting the record.

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