Texas Considers Textbooks That Contain Climate Change Denial

Texas Schoolbook Massacre

Texas State Flag
Texas State FlagCourtesy of Little Black Spot on the Sun Today via Flickr.com

Oh Texas. All that juicy low-carbon windpower you're generating – and wiring into the grid – makes us love you.

But then you have to go and deny anthropogenic climate change. Such a turn-off.

Several news outlets -- including The Guardian, the National Journal, the Huffington Post, and others -- are reporting that the state's board of education is considering middle-grade textbooks that misleadingly teach students that there is scientific disagreement about the causes of climate change. Some of the information is attributed to staff of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian-oriented non-profit that has long included climate change denial among its public policy positions.

climate change info
97% of climate scientists agree that human-propelled greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. But this section from a textbook being considered by the Texas state board of education puts that science on equal footing with the discredited idea that it is a result of natural causes.National Center for Science Education

The articles are based on a new report (PDF) from the National Center for Science Education, which found that the texts prioritize fringe views on climate change including:

  • "Scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change."
  • Regarding the primary cause of climate change, human-propelled greenhouse gas emissions, "Many scientists disagree with the IPCC [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] on this key issue."
  • "Some scientists say it is natural for the Earth's temperature to be higher for a few years. They predict we'll have some cooler years and things will even out."

The report also notes a section where the text confuses the causes of climate change with those of the ozone hole (and describes neither correctly):

  • "The forest burning and the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gasoline) release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Holes in the ozone layer allow sunlight to come through and be trapped beneath airborne pollution. The sunlight is absorbed, warming the earth's atmosphere."

As bad as all this might become for the developing minds of young Texans, it gets worse. Because as Gail Collins wrote in The New York Review of Books a couple years ago, Texas has over 5 million schoolchildren. This makes the state such a significant market for textbook publishers that Texas' choices affect books used around the nation. Further, "the State Board of Education is selected in elections that are practically devoid of voters, and wealthy donors can chip in unlimited amounts of money to help their favorites win."

"Approval of environmental science books was once held up," writes Collins,

over board concern that they were teaching children to be more loyal to their planet than their country. As the board became a national story and a national embarrassment, the state legislature attempted to put a lid on the chaos in 1995 by restricting the board’s oversight to “factual errors.” This made surprisingly little impact when you had a group of deciders who believed that the theory of evolution, global warming, and separation of church and state are all basically errors of fact.

According to Associated Press reporting published in today's Houston Chronicle, the Texas state education board heard arguments against these books today, but will not vote to approve textbooks until a meeting in November.