What will it mean to teach today’s students both sides of the “global warming debate?” Will this translate to a politically balanced and scientifically sound education? Well that is the consensus among members of California’s Los Alamitos School Board who now require the District to teach “controversial issues” such as global warming in a balanced way that presents both sides of the issue. Just because two theories surround an issue, however, does not make that issue controversial or mean that both theories deserve balanced attention. In the case of global warming, because theories surrounding the issue are not supported equally by the scientific community, these theories should not be given equal representation in the classroom.
There is a critical distinction to be made between things that are equal and things that are simply represented equally in the media. While most scientists and scientific bodies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, and the Geophysical Union all agree that human activity is causing climate change, industry think tanks have brilliantly exploited the journalistic tendency towards “balanced” reporting, resulting in the industry view, supported only by a minority of scientists, receiving nearly equal coverage alongside the mainstream scientific consensus. This disproportionate reporting which has assigned equal coverage to the counterargument surrounding global warming has created the illusion of a major controversy, and in turn has had the unfortunate effect of engendering confusion amongst policymakers that stalls industry-directed emissions regulations.
“We define a topic to be controversial if it has more than one widely held view,” said Assistant Superintendent Sherry Kropp following the Board’s decision. This definition, however, ignores the necessary emphasis that should be placed on the legitimacy of a given view, whether widely held or not. That said, the contrarian view towards global warming is primarily shared not by climate experts but rather the general public as well as conservative politicians. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists maintain that the global temperature is in fact increasing and that human activities are linked with this observed increase. Skeptics need only turn to reputable scientific journals to discover that the literature refuting this link is scarce. Therefore, it is not only misleading to depict global warming as a controversial issue, but illogical and potentially destructive to do so within the framework of education. It is today’s generation that will overwhelmingly bear the effects of climate change and the responsibility of its mitigation. So by misinforming this generation to believe that the science on the issue is divided, what kind of future are we paving? It is not the scientific community within which a division exists, but rather the political arena, and such politics has no place in our classrooms.