Public Comment

Don't Ask Teachers to Avoid Controversy in Teaching about Climate Change

By Alan Gould
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 05:37:00 PM

Re: Global Warming Are We Paving the Way to Inaction? , by Shahir Masri. 

I feel the essence of Masri's message is contained in the sentence: "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." 

There are many aspects of global warming that are controversial...mostly in the realm of "how bad might things get?" and "what can we or should we do about it?" There are some things that are not controversial, mainly the basic science facts:—we expect global temperature to rise as atmospheric CO2 levels rise—not only do we expect it, but it's happening. 

And the following is not controversial, not so much from basic science, but more inference and data analysis—atmospheric CO2 levels are rising due to human activity, largely from two behaviors: burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. However, I feel strongly that to make blanket statement to teachers to avoid the controversial aspects of climate change is unnecessarily tying their hands. There is both scientific controversy regarding the extent of damage that will occur and controversy in the realm of economics and how society should respond to the threat of that damage. 

As an example of what I mean, see chapters from the Climate Change book Global Systems Science, high school science curriculum materials that I help develop and maintain, in particular a chapter titled "What is the Controversy About?" 

Alan Gould is Director, Global Systems Science ,University of California, Berkeley, The Lawrence Hall of Science