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Op-ed: We should teach students about climate change — the correct way

Dr. H. Sterling Burnett is correct that it is time for Utah’s State Board of Education to review science standards for state schools (“Utah has chance to improve science and climate education in schools,” Nov. 9). But Burnett, a research fellow for the conservative/libertarian think tank Heartland Institute, would like to see Utah’s science, at least when it comes to climate change, mired in the past. Burnett says new standards “would try to force on students the view that humans are causing dangerous climate change,” and proposes that we should instead be asking, “Is global warming, on balance, bad or good for humanity?”

To answer the latter question, perhaps we should ask residents of Puerto Rico, Houston or Florida how they feel about the devastatingly powerful storms that wracked their homelands this fall. Or the 8,400 Californians who lost homes and businesses in October’s drought-fueled fires. Or the scientists documenting the 25 percent of all marine species — the basis for life on earth — that is failing as coral reefs die around the globe.

Regarding Burnett’s first point, is it more dangerous to teach students that climate change is real and likely to be human caused, or to focus on the 2 percent of global scientists who still challenge this assumption?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Burnett feels that Next Generation Science Standards, a teaching methodology developed by a consortium of 26 states and by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council and the nonprofit Achieve, is simply spouting “alarmists’ orthodoxy.” After all, the Heartland Institute, which he represents, worked with tobacco industry giant Phillip Morris in the 1990s to deny the health risks of cigarettes and to lobby against a smoking ban. Coincidentally, Heartland Institute has, since the early 2000s, been a leading supporter of climate denial.

It must be frightening to men like Dr. Burnett that a report issued by a collection of 13 federal agencies, made public on Nov. 3, found humans are “the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization,” (US Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials,” New York Times, Nov. 3). The product of hundreds of government and academic experts, and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, the report is our country’s most definitive statement on climate science.

Young people get it. Last month, University of Utah and BYU students concerned about climate change joined forces to demonstrate that conservatives and liberals can put aside their differences to work on this non-partisan issue. But if organizations such as Heartland Institute force schools to discredit the climate science presented to our most intellectually vulnerable population, this generation will be ill-prepared to both meet the myriad challenges that climate change poses and to benefit from the economic opportunities that rethinking America’s energy sources presents.

Burnett claims Utah’s schoolchildren “deserve the truth.” I couldn’t agree more.

Marjorie McCloy is a concerned citizen dedicated to leaving a livable world to our children and grandchildren.