By John McClaughry
In this era dominated by aggressive steps to deal with “climate change,” it’s worth inquiring into what the climate activists are working to install in our public school system, presumably to lead their pupils into supporting a long list of policies on the climate change agenda.
This is not a new thought. As far back as 2007, a Governor’s Commission on Climate Change called for “promoting enormous systemic and long term cultural, cross-generational change in our awareness and behavior through the efforts of our formalized K-12 public and private school systems.”
A year later VPIRG, backed by Senate President Peter Shumlin, was busily promoting what I then labelled an “Extreme Green Makeover.” Its central feature was one form or another of a carbon tax, to rid us of the fossil fuels that the backers believed to be driving the planet to “Al Gore’s Heat Death.”
Their legislation also called for a “public education and engagement framework to encourage behavior change”, through “social marketing strategies with broad ethical goals.” An example: “in-depth, science-based in-school programs on energy efficiency and climate change at all levels.” “Behavior change” apparently means awakening schoolchildren to the menace of climate change and stimulating their opposition to the continued use of fossil fuel energy.
A drastically watered down version of the Shumlin bill eventually passed (Act 209), but it did not include the promotion of climate theology in the schools.
Three years later Shumlin, by then Governor, supported a bill calling for an all-out taxpayer-financed “climate change educational campaign”, through which the next generation of Vermonters would be thoroughly indoctrinated in apocalyptic climate theology. This was apparently designed to reduce resistance to the increasingly desperate tax and regulatory schemes that were and are likely to be needed to push Vermont to Gov. Shumlin’s declared (but never legislated) goal of 90% of the state’s energy produced by renewables by 2050.
The legislature enacted the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act over Gov. Scott’s veto. The law set deep mandatory reductions on carbon dioxide emissions, attaining an 80% reduction by 2050. It also created a Vermont Climate Council to direct the executive branch to regulate and subsidize our pathway to that shining goal. Fifteen of the VCC’s 23 members answered to somebody other than Gov. Scott, who was increasingly concerned about the effects of all this on Vermont’s economy.
In its 2021 Climate Action Plan, the Council recommended “amend(ing) the Vermont State Board of Education’s Education Quality Standards to incorporate environmental and climate change education at all grade levels.”
Meanwhile in 2013 the Agency of Education became one of 20 lead states in creating the Next Generation Science Standards for public schools. A quick perusal of those Standards reveals a number of useful techniques for strengthening science understanding. This would be commendable – unless the climate activists pushing for ever more desperate emissions reductions can get into the process and inject their political views.
That is exactly what has happened in Washington state, where Gov. Jay Inslee (D) considers himself a national environmental leader. Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Institute has sounded a warning. A lifelong environmentalist, Myers is the author of a very interesting book titled Time to Think Small: How nimble environmental technologies can solve the planet’s biggest problems (2022). It outlines how small-scale technologies are empowering people to protect threatened wildlife species, reduce CO2 emissions, and reduce ocean plastic.
In a recent article Myers quotes Washington’s purportedly scientific curriculum document as saying that “we must learn to pay attention to our own emotions and those of other people…” “It also threatens to fundamentally undermine the scientific process, turning the word ‘science’ from an open discussion of facts into an empty political slogan than means whatever politicians want.”
The document goes on to insist that scientific assessment must be “contextualized” so that it promotes environmental justice and “equitable discourse.” The document also advises setting aside data in favor of “community wisdom,” that is, “listen to our emotions even if they contradict science.”
The current state budget requires the superintendent of public instruction to “integrate climate change content into Washington state learning standards across subject areas and grade levels’’… requiring that the lessons be “action oriented.” This, Myers, says, is “political indoctrination masquerading as school curricula … It is manipulative and shameful.”
How far has Vermont gone down this road? Given the 15 years of urgent effort by the climate activists, one may suspect that they have been at work here as well. The AoEd web site offers the thought that “achieving equity and social justice in science education is an ongoing challenge,” which suggests infusing science standards with political goals is proceeding apace.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.