23 May 2012

Teaching Students Environmental Science The Right Way

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The Daily Climate today featured students in Wicomico County, Maryland learning about climate. There was also a feature in Scientific American about it as well.

Back in March I was asked to be one of the speakers to several groups of Wicomico County, Maryland students at the Sarbanes Coastal Ecology Center on beautiful Assateague Island. National Park rangers and others involved in the environmental sciences gave these kids a head start on understanding the real science behind our changing planet. I was honored to have been a part of making science come alive.

I shared my experiences in Greenland where I witnessed the drilling of the oldest ice core ever recovered there and also showed them  some photos of how dramatically the frozen areas of Earth have changed in the last 75 years.

Scientific American also did a story on the event (click on the image above). Apparently, there were some objections from parents who demanded “balance” in what was taught about climate and this is not surprising with the amount of misinformation given out in some media outlets.

The students did indeed get balance (and should expect no less), but not the kind of false balance that is so prevalent on this subject. If “balance” means telling kids that climate change stopped in 1998 or that the warming we have experienced over the last century is just part of a natural cycle, then, no, this was not taught. There’s virtually no scientific evidence in the peer-reviewed journals to support these myths ( and many others frequently heard). On the other hand,there is a mountain of evidence that they are indeed absolutely wrong. Students should be taught truth and not propaganda in a science classroom, and I was proud to be a part of doing just that.

Claiming the Earth has stopped warming is a common myth and is not "balance". Image from John Cook at Skeptical Science showing how silly this is.

With the amount of misinformation on climate online (and in certain media), I can certainly understand why some parents might be concerned. I’m glad that parents care what their kids are taught. Hopefully they want them to be taught science without someone elses political or religious views attached.

However, as Scientific American makes clear in their article, passing on opinions not backed up by scientific evidence, is a false balance. Telling kids that the best science shows that sea level will rise somewhere between a half meter and a full meter IS balance. Telling them what a rise like that will most likely do to cities and ecosystems is as well. Explaining why we don’t know whether the Earth will be 1.5 degrees C warmer or 4 degrees C warmer in 2100 is balance, and so is telling them that almost all of the best science shows it will likely not be much above or below that amount.

Kudos to Carrie Samis and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, and all involved for standing up and taking the time to teach students in a political climate that sometimes makes it difficult. I’ve been invited to hear the students reports on what they learned in a few weeks and I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Students need to learn that “the laws of physics are real and everything else is politics” just as much as adults do!