Portland school board’s ban of climate dissent in textbooks is wrong

“This action by Oregon teaches [students] that scientific knowledge derives from politics. – Dr. Judith Curry

A recent decision by the Portland, Oregon public school board to ban discussion of climate change opposition in textbooks is part of the same environmental movement strategy that has brought us #Exxonknew. And they’re both wrong.

Portland

Dr. Judith Curry. Photo: www.climatedepot.com.

Thanks to the National Coalition Against Censorship, a group that usually takes on causes like teaching religious creationism in schools, for shining a spotlight on the school board’s erroneous new policy.

Here is the relevant part of the May 17 resolution: “The implementation plan should include a review of current textbooks for accuracy around the severity of the climate crisis and the impact of human activities. PPS will abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

I’m all in favor of scientific accuracy. But between the certainty of Michael Mann and the alarmists, and the Friends of Science and the outright deniers, there is plenty of room for further scientific inquiry and debate, especially within the realms of computer model projections and public policy strategies.

For instance, would the Portland school board avoid environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg’s argument that humankind can do little to influence climate change and that money and effort is better spent on adaptations?

The NCAC argues that purging “the curriculum of this kind of material will undermine public education, which should equip students for critical and informed consideration of important matters of public policy and controversy.”

Nor should it matter if some of the science is undertaken at the behest of the fossil fuel industry, according to the NCAC, because “it is still a fact that environmental policy is a subject of ongoing debate.  Students should be conversant with, and equipped to address, the various questions and issues that are the subject of public discussion.”

Dr. Judith Curry is one of those voices that would likely be silenced by the Portland school board. She is a noted climate scientist, and a professor and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who accepts the scientific opinion around human-caused climate change, but is concerned about the “uncertainty monster” that bedevils projections of future impacts. She worries about the tribal nature of the climate science community and the trend to silence dissenting voices.

She provided this statement by email:

“The actions by the Oregon State Board of Education regarding teaching climate change are disturbing on a number of fronts.  Students need to be taught to think critically about their world.  This action by Oregon teaches them that scientific knowledge derives from politics.  Oregon’s policy on this has frightening implications for how we educate students to think critically about science and controversial issues facing society.”

Curry’s comments about politics and science are instructive in the Portland case. As the NCAC points out, “the resolution is undermined by the appearance that its adoption was driven primarily by political pressure, rather than pedagogical considerations, because it represents the views of environmental groups that have lobbied the school board for many years.”

The Portland controversy reminds me of the #Exxonknew campaign and the ongoing investigations by various state Democrat attorney generals that oil and gas companies knew about the potentially negative effects of climate change as early as the 1980s and hid it from the public and investors, and in Exxon Mobil’s case, actively funded climate denial groups.

Regardless of where one stands on climate change, we can all agree Exxon Mobil lost the climate change political battle, as this statement on its website attests: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.” Even the worlds largest energy company is now firmly on board the climate change consensus.

People – and corporations – who participate in public debate are allowed to be wrong. Often, it is only through extensive public debate, sometimes over the course of decades, that we sort out who is right and who is wrong.

The idea that science dissenters should be silenced – and in the case of ExxonMobil, punished – violates basic Western values of free thought and speech. The Portland school board is wrong. The attorney generals are wrong. The #Exxonknew campaign is wrong.

Scientists like Lomborg and Curry are right. We should never close the door to scientific inquiry or debate.

Especially not in public schools.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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