In November, a study by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 45 percent of Americans believe that climate change is a “very serious” problem. Now, a study published in the journal Science indicates that although climate change is widely covered by schools throughout the U.S., a huge chunk of teachers disseminate incorrect information about the issue.
The study, carried out by Eric Plutzer — a professor of political science at the Pennsylvania State University — and several collaborators from the Wright State University and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) consisted of a survey of 1,500 teachers nationwide. They included middle and high school science teachers in the survey.
According to the researchers, the study revealed both good and bad news. The good news is that most science teachers in the U.S. — 70 percent of middle school science teachers and 87 percent of high school biology teachers — include climate science in their courses. However, the flip side is that an insufficient grasp of the science of climate change is greatly affecting the quality of those lessons.
“At least one in three teachers bring climate change denial into the classroom, claiming that many scientists believe climate change is not caused by humans,” Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, said in a statement released Thursday. “Worse, half of the surveyed teachers have allowed students to discuss the supposed ‘controversy’ over climate change without guiding students to the scientifically supported conclusion.”
Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.
However, among the scientific community, climate change is an accepted fact. And, over 95 percent of climate scientists attribute the rise in average global temperature over the past century to human causes. But only 30 percent of middle school teachers and 45 percent of high school teachers correctly identified the degree of consensus among scientists as “81 percent to 100 percent.”
Additionally, 12 percent of the teachers surveyed said they do not emphasize the human causes, including half who said they did not discuss any causes at all.
“First, teachers might experience overt pressure from parents, community leaders, or school administrators not to teach climate change. Second, teachers also may not be very knowledgeable about a wide range of evidence — e.g., carbon dioxide measurements from ice cores and from direct measures at Mauna Loa — and how climate models work,” the researchers said, in the study.
However, the survey also recorded only 4.4 percent of teachers saying that they had faced overt pressure from parents, school administrators or the community not to teach about climate change, as opposed to 6.1 percent who reported pressure to teach it, mostly from fellow teachers.
“Teachers didn’t create the polarized culture war around climate change. But they're the key to ending this battle,” Rosenau said, in the statement.