The Corruption of 'Climate Literacy'

A recent Wall Street Journal article expressed concern about low math and science standards in the Common Core curriculum, despite President Obama's frequent speechifying about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

There are many possible explanations for this sorry state of affairs, but one factor that doesn't add anything positive is the politicization of education, a culmination of fifty years of a "long march through the institutions" by leftists. Humanities and social sciences have been most corrupted, but STEM disciplines are being assaulted by a new agenda promoting "climate education" or "climate literacy."

A report titled "Climate Literacy," signed by President Obama's science czar John Holdren, declares that "Climate Science Literacy is part of Science [STEM] Literacy." The usual arguments are presented: 1) recent global warming "represents an extraordinary rapid rate of change compared to changes in the previous 10,000 years." 2) Rising temperatures will lead to "rising global sea level and increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts, and floods." 3) "human activities are now the primary cause of most of the ongoing increase in Earth's globally averaged surface temperature."

Many climate scientists disagree with these three propositions; at very least, they are partisan viewpoints with political implications that have no place in public education.

This campaign is being advanced by local, state and federal governments, by universities and various non-profits, and is aimed at K-16 -- kindergarten through college.

Stanford University's School of Earth Sciences has developed Climate Change Education curricula for middle school and high school, which begins with the following declaration: "Global climate change unequivocal, almost certainly is caused mostly by us, already is causing significant harm, and is growing rapidly."

Environmental activist groups like the Sierra Club, the NRDC, and the National Wildlife Federation all push for climate education. Another organization, the National Center for Science Education, describes itself as the "premier institution dedicated to keeping evolution and climate change in the science classroom and to keeping creationism and climate change denial out."

Not surprisingly, the largest promoter of climate literacy is the federal government, which has dozens of programs scattered throughout the bureaucracy. It's worth taking a step back to look at the big picture of federal climate spending.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush established the United States Global Change Research Program or USGCRP which "coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society." USGCRP is a collaboration of 13 federal agencies, currently under the oversight of John Holdren.

Federal climate spending increased throughout the 1990s and then, "In February 2002, [President George W. Bush] created a new Cabinet-level management structure, the Committee on Climate Change Science and Technology Integration, to oversee the more than $3 billion annual investment in the combined federal climate change research and technology development programs" ( Total Federal Climate Change Expenditures, as reported to Congress every year, rose to $4.6 billion in 2003 and a decade later, expenditures have expanded five-fold to $22.6 billion (2013 Enacted Budget Authority). The 2014 proposed budgets total $21.4B.

For comparison, the 2012 budget of the Heartland Institute, one of the largest skeptical non-profits, funded in part by the Koch brothers, is $7.7 million.

Here's a diagram from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce of where we are today:


USCGRP, in the green box at the bottom left, appears low on the totem pole, but its 2014 budget is a significant $2.7 billion (not all of which is directed at climate literacy), a 7% increase over 2012.

$1.49 billion of USGCP's budget goes to NASA to fund programs like the NASA Innovations in Climate Education, or NICE, which "is designed to improve the quality of the nation's STEM education and enhance students' and teachers' literacy about global climate and Earth system change, from elementary grades to lifelong learners." The NASA budget lists the total expenditure for NICE as N/A; it currently funds 71 educational projects. A few typical examples:

• A program of the National Wildlife Federation, Eco-Schools USA Climate Change Connections, "help[s] educators effectively integrate climate change science and literacy into their classrooms." According to the NWF, "Over the course of the program, we will provide training to over 50 educators reaching 3,000 students. Our goal is to expand the program to 5,000 U.S. schools by 2015."

• Another NWF program:"Building a Diverse, Green Workforce will infuse climate change science into community college green job and career preparation programs in three community colleges. The project has four main goals: 1) strengthen adult learner green STEM career education and training programs to support the development of workers with climate change knowledge. [etc.]"

In 2011, the NICE program was combined with NASA's Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) and "the solicitation for proposals was opened only to minority serving institutions." Thus, in addition to outreach to the Muslim world, NASA's latest 14 projects are further politicized by limiting climate education to victims of racism. Overall, the federal government spends $1.1 billion "on investments that have the primary goal of targeting groups that are underrepresented in STEM" -- primarily African-Americans, but also Native Americans, as in the "CYCLES" program at the University of Minnesota that teaches climate literacy from a "Native perspective" -- as in Native American.

In this vein, Cora Marrett, the recent Acting Director of the National Science Foundation, which runs several climate change education programs, is a sociologist who has dedicated her career to "chang[ing] the color of the faculty in higher education" and "enhanc[ing] the status of African Americans in the face of the nation's historic racism" (American Sociological Association).

Some climate literacy programs might involve actual hard science mixed with alarmist propaganda. A description of a high school biology class at my local high school, however, does not inspire confidence:

By 2050, today's teenagers will be dealing head-on with frequent flooding, rising seas, and extreme weather. In response, innovative teachers across the region are helping prepare them by making climate change part of their high school curricula...

Many students wrote letters to government officials about public policy, others are changing individual behavior, and everyone seemed fully engaged and energized by the assignment. One group of girls created a music video to Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball," describing the role of big industry in climate change.

Sample lyrics (as best as I could make out):

Instead of solar
You killed the polar
Big industry's a wrecking ball
You never helped at all
All you ever did was wreck the trees.
All you ever did was wreck the bees...

"Big industry" of course created the video camera and the internet that allowed the video to be posted on YouTube, as well as providing heat and light in their Massachusetts classrooms (current temperature: 4 degrees F). I'm sure I was guilty of worse poetry at age 13, but it is inexcusable for teachers to encouragethis mindless exercise in anti-capitalism -- in a biology class!

Then again, it's a relief to know that we're building a climate-literate workforce to fill the green jobs of the future, like those at Solyndra and A123 Systems.