According to new research and survey public middle- and high-school teachers across the United States, few are teaching that climate change is a result of humans and their burning of fossil fuels.

U.S. Teachers Avoiding Climate Change Discussions

How is it possible not to teach the cause of climate change?

In the journal Science published on Feb. 12 researchers from Wright State University, Pennsylvania State and National Center for Science Education wrote that only 30% of teachers are making it clear to their students that humans and the burning of fossil fuels is the primary reason for climate change. A staggering 12% of teachers don’t mention man-made causes at all and 31% percent of teachers actually “teach the controversy” and tell their  students that there are many scientists who don’t believe that climate change has a human cause.

In a 2009 paper published in Eos, 97.4% percent of climate scientists went of record as believing the primary cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. In this newest research, only 30% of middle-school teachers and 45% of high school teachers were aware of the fact that this number was above 80% much less over 97%.

These were not the most frightening findings published in Science last Thursday. The median time spent on climate change over and academic year in both middle and high schools fell between one and two hours. 30% percent of teachers somehow spent less than an hour each year and many used old studies and failed to introduce any new research.

Even more distressing is the fact that 7% actually taught that climate change exists solely do to natural causes which is just way out there and, well, ridiculous. Additionally, 22% taught the consensus study but also said there was significant arguments among scientists which is bald-faced lie when given 97.8% agreement and it’s likely that a fair amount of the  2.2% who have dissenting opinions have their research funded by big energy.

Willful ignorance and lying to students is just wrong

Eric Plutzer, a political scientist at Penn State, and a co-author of the study, said: “We don’t think that is good preparation for citizens to be effective in advocating for policies that are going to be critical to their own generation and their children and grandchildren.”

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on teachers given that they to seem confused themselves as to the root of climate change with only 30% of middle school teachers and 45% of high school teachers believing that human burning of fossil fuels is the biggest culprit in climate change. Additionally, the United States reliance on standardized testing does not encourage teachers to stray from materials that will help their students perform well on these tests.

“Fewer than half of the teachers report any formal instruction in climate science in college,” wrote Plutzer but pointed out that over half would welcome additional information and training on the subject.

“The scientific community has not made sure that teachers are kept up to date with those advances,” said Josh Rosenau, policy director for the National Center for Science in Education and a co-author.

Strangely, a good amount of teachers who are deniers of climate change (over 50%) say they would welcome further training, though it’s unclear what they would do with the training when it came to their teaching in the classroom. In a perfect world, this continuing education on the part of teachers will manifest itself into teaching the consensus cause of climate change, us.