Evolution is to climate change as…

Earlier this week, the National Center
for Science Education—an organization devoted to “defending the teaching of
evolution and climate science”—launched a new initiative to promote the
teaching of climate change in schools. But they didn't settle for conveying the
solid scientific fact that the climate (almost everywhere) is indeed changing.
They want causality and they enter into policy, politics and civic
activism
. In the Center's formulation, schools should teach children that,
while “climate has changed in the past…now it is changing because humans have
become a force of nature and are altering the flow of matter and energy on the
planet.” What's more, climate change needs to be taught in schools so that
“future citizens to be able to make scientifically informed decisions about the
consequences of climate change.”

But can we really equate people who question evolution with
those who question the science behind what causes (and what, if anything, might
ameliorate) climate change? According to
NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie Scott, “Both [groups] are making a pedagogical argument, that it is somehow
good pedagogy, good critical thinking, for students to learn both. That it is somehow good pedagogy for students to learn good and bad science.” Here is the problem: unlike
evolution, where there is universal agreement among scientists, the scientific
community does not agree about the degree to which man has contributed to
global warming and certainly not about the efficacy of steps that might be
taken, from a policy perspective, to combat the present warming trend. Nor,
being scientists, do they get into the churning waters of international policy
and economic tradeoffs—as if fifth graders would be adept on such issues,
anyway.

Curricula that address climate change should focus not on
promoting particular environmental policies, but rather on helping students
understand the science behind what is definitely known to be the case and some
of the reasons why so much of the rest remains a matter of controversy among
adults.

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