A section of the ice sheet covering much of Greenland is seen in this 2005… (John McConnico/AP Photo )
The culture wars have been fought in the classroom for decades, waged over such issues as school prayer, the teaching of evolution and whether the Pledge of Allegiance should include the phrase "under God." But the conflict usually pits backers of religious instruction against secularists. The latest skirmish, by contrast, is centered on a scientific issue that has nothing to do with religious teaching: climate change.
Leaked documents from the Heartland Institute in Chicago, one of many nonprofits that spread disinformation about climate science in hopes of stalling government action to combat global warming, reveal that the organization is working on a curriculum for public schools that casts doubt on the work of climatologists worldwide. Heartland officials say one of the documents was a fake, but the curriculum plans were reportedly discussed in more than one. According to the New York Times, the curriculum would claim, among other things, that "whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy."
That is a lie so big that, to quote from "Mein Kampf," it would be hard for most people to believe that anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." On one side of the "controversy" are credentialed climatologists around the globe who publish in reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals and agree that the planet is warming and that humans are to blame; on the other are fossil-fuel-industry-funded "experts" who tend to have little background in climatology and who publish non-peer-reviewed papers in junk magazines disputing established truths. These are quickly debunked, but not before their findings have been reported by conservative blogs and news outlets, which somehow never get around to mentioning it when these studies are proved to be badly flawed.
Fortunately, if we're about to enter a battle over classroom instruction on climate change, it won't go on for decades, because the impacts of global warming are already patently obvious. Seven of the 10 warmest years since global record-keeping began in 1880 have occurred in the 21st century. Despite an intense campaign to discredit his work, Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph, which shows that temperatures in the latter half of the 20th century soared to their highest level in 1,000 years, has been validated repeatedly. Last year set a record for the most climate-related disasters in the United States costing more than $1 billion in damage each — drought-fueled wildfires in Texas, Hurricane Irene, and Mississippi River flooding were among the 14 cases.
These are facts, not philosophical or religious dogma. Another fact: Sophisticated climate models show that things are going to get a lot worse. It's bad enough that we're gambling our children's futures by doing so little to fight this problem; let's not ask their teachers to lie to them about it too.