What Trump’s Decision to Withdraw From the Climate Accord Means for Teachers

By Liana Loewus — June 02, 2017 3 min read
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Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the landmark pact that nearly 200 nations signed two years ago in an effort to curb global warming.

Among those groups lauding Trump’s decision to exit is The Heartland Institute—the same right-leaning think tank that’s been lobbying science teachers across the country to teach climate change as an unsettled science. Of Trump’s decision, Heartland President Joseph Bast said in a June 1 statement, “He gets it, totally. It’s been a long time since we had a president who cared as much about real science, energy policy, and the importance of economic growth.”

As it stands, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is due in large part to human activity, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

How climate change should be presented in classrooms has long been a source of contention. Recent research has shown that about a third of teachers still teach that global warming is likely due to natural causes, and that many textbooks being used contain outdated information about the causes of climate change.

The Next Generation Science Standards state that humans have had a large impact on global warming—language that has stirred controversy in some states, including West Virginia.

In some cases, outside organizations such as zoos and aquariums are stepping in to help teachers tackle the subject, as my colleague Marva Hinton recently wrote.

Classroom Changes?

When the Paris agreement was forged, that event caused at least some teachers to reconsider how they had been approaching climate change in the classroom. Noah Zeichner, a Seattle social studies teacher, wrote on the Center for Teaching Quality blog that he had previously “felt some pressure ... to present the other side. ... But facilitating a debate about the causes of climate change was probably the wrong move.”

And it seems teachers are already now grappling with how to present the recent overhaul in the federal government’s stance on environmental issues.

Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, says that yesterday’s announcement won’t likely change anything for teachers who know the scientific consensus and are already presenting that to students. “It will spur them to continue presenting climate change accurately, honestly, and constantly in the classroom,” he said.

But it could have an effect among other teachers. “What I’m more worried about is teachers who reject the science and feel the need to share that with students—they may feel emboldened,” he said. “And teachers in the middle who aren’t confident about the science, they’ll increasingly feel beleaguered and will feel pressure from the community, or will anticipate feeling pressure, and will water down their presentation of climate change.”

Today U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the president’s decision to exit the Paris accord, saying it ensures “the American people are not subject to overreach.”

Image: President Donald Trump announces the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord on June 1 in the Rose Garden of the White House. —Andrew Harnik/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.