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Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help.

Why NCSE?

NCSE was established to provide information and advice about the creationism/evolution controversy to teachers, parents, school boards, and other citizens. We help the public to understand the consensus view of scientists that evolution has occurred and is occurring, and that although research continues, a great deal already is known about cosmological, planetary, and biological evolution. The heart of NCSE's efforts has been providing assistance at the grassroots level for those struggling to keep good science—evolution—in their schools.

It is well within our mission to assist citizens to keep another form of good science—climate change—in their schools. Scientists overwhelmingly accept that the Earth is warming, that climate change is occurring, and that human activities have made a major contribution to these planetary changes. Nevertheless, despite the scientific consensus on these points, anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming is a politically polarized, confusing, and challenging topic to address in the public sphere.

Although research is still under way, it is already apparent that teachers who teach climate change are experiencing pressure similar to that experienced by teachers who teach evolution. Because of real or perceived pressure, teachers sometimes self-censor themselves and avoid teaching about climate change. Sometimes teachers believe they should include debating points based on dubious or inaccurate science along with accepted science, which can further confuse or perpetuate doubt in the minds of students.

While there are plenty of organizations concerned with promoting the teaching of climate change, there is none that specializes in providing detailed advice and support for those facing challenges to climate change education in the way that NCSE historically has done for those facing challenges to evolution education.

What We Will Do

Just as NCSE accepts and encourages an understanding of the scientific consensus on evolution, and in accordance with that consensus, helps teachers who are pressured to compromise on its teaching, so we plan to encourage an understanding of the scientific consensus on climate change, and in accordance with that consensus, to help teachers who are pressured to compromise on its teaching. Teachers and other citizens faced with pressure against the teaching of climate change have expressed a need for the kind of grassroots assistance that NCSE has long provided regarding the teaching of evolution, and we will provide this service to anyone who seeks to encourage the teaching of the consensus view of climate science.

NCSE's support of evolution education has always focused on the nature of science itself, and how science differs from other ways of knowing. Our experience has been that a clear understanding of what science is and why it is a superior means of understanding and explaining the natural world is key to coping with socially controversial issues in science. This perspective is also important in helping people to understand the reasons why scientists overwhelmingly accept climate change.

In addition, while not replicating climate change curricular materials that are available from other sources, we intend to provide basic scientific information particularly relevant to the challenges teachers face, as well as the practical advice and support we have developed over many years from our experience with evolution as a controversial issue. And, as with evolution, we will work cooperatively and collaboratively with allies in the scientific, science education, and activist communities.

What We Won't Do

Climate change necessarily has consequences for policy on the local, state, national, and even global stages. Should something be done to counteract climate change? If so, what? Is slowing down climate change impossible, and should, therefore, efforts be directed toward mitigating and adapting to its effects? Such questions, although important, are beyond the scope of NCSE, which is primarily a science and science education organization, not a policy institute. Some of our topics may touch upon policy issues, but we will not take positions on, for example, the advantages or disadvantages of a carbon tax over a cap-and-trade policy. There is a broad range of solutions; NCSE's position is that whatever solutions society decides upon, they should be based on sound science.

NCSE is here to help! You can help us by informing us of any school, school district, or state policy that compromises the integrity of good science, whether the topic is evolution or climate change. We will do what we can to assist those at the grassroots level too. If you are, or know of, a teacher who is feeling pressure about evolution or climate change from parents, administrators, or members of the community, don't hesitate to get in touch—we can help.

CONTACT: Robert Luhn, Director of Communications, NCSE, 510-601-7203, luhn@ncse.com

Web site: www.ncse.com/climate

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit membership organization that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change in the public schools. The NCSE provides information, resources, and advice to schools, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens defending science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of these issues at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.