04.03.17

Ranking Members of Ed & Workforce, Nat. Resources, and Science Committees Condemn Group Misleading Students on Climate Science

WASHINGTON - Ranking Members Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of the Committee on Natural Resources, and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, today condemned the Heartland Institute’s distribution of politically motivated and scientifically inaccurate materials on climate change to science teachers at the nation’s public schools. The campaign was recently uncovered by the PBS program Frontline, which reports that Heartland seeks to send a book and DVD distorting the scientific consensus on climate change to “every public-school science teacher in the nation” – approximately 200,000 teachers across the country.

As Frontline reports, the materials are accompanied by a cover letter from a Heartland official urging teachers to “consider the possibility” that climate science is still being debated. “If that’s the case, then students would be better served by letting them know a vibrant debate is taking place among scientists,” the letter says.

Right-wing funders, including the Koch and Scaife financial networks, have contributed millions of dollars to Heartland Institute projects. The organization previously worked with and accepted money from the tobacco giant Philip Morris to question the validity of research on smoking and cancer, among other activities. A Texas district court judge rebuked its president, Joseph Bast, in a 2014 ruling for declaring that public schools are “socialism” and that his organization was dedicated to using school vouchers to destroy American public education – a ruling that also criticized Bast for his “use of inflammatory and irresponsible language regarding global warming.”[1]

Scott, Grijalva, and Johnson today called on Heartland to end its campaign immediately and for education officials across the country to dismiss the materials out of hand. The scientific consensus that manmade emissions are worsening the process of climate change has been widely accepted, including by the Department of Defense, for many years.

“Public school classrooms are no place for anti-science propaganda, and I encourage every teacher to toss these materials in the recycling bin,” Rep. Scott said today. “Successful high school graduates are aware and engaged global citizens with an understanding of and appreciation for scientific fact. If the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers want to push a false agenda on global warming, our nation’s schools are an inappropriate place to drive that agenda.”

“Lying to children about the world we live in to further corporate polluter profits is cruel,” Rep. Grijalva said. “If climate deniers think our public schools are the right place for their propaganda, they need to be exposed in no uncertain terms. Let’s see how much Heartland believes in this project when schools, teachers, parents, students and our fellow members of Congress tell the group and its corporate funders to end this ridiculous campaign.”

“After a week that started with the President signing an executive order undoing the previous Administration’s initiatives to address climate change and included the latest bizarre, climate-denying hearing on my Committee, I was not really surprised to see a right-wing organization sending scientifically inaccurate materials on climate change to public school teachers across the country,” Rep. Johnson said. “Climate change has emerged as a defining scientific and policy challenge facing humanity. Scientists, corporations, and governments around the world are all working to understand it and devise effective responses to it. Accurate information is critical if we are to succeed in that effort. And in an environment where people on both sides of the aisle talk about improving the STEM capabilities of our students, we must, at a minimum,  ensure that our children are exposed to the best scientific resources on this issue, not these unsolicited and misleading materials from the Heartland Institute.”

The fossil fuel industry has a long history of promoting corporate-funded anti-science propaganda in schools, as Frontline reports:

This isn’t the first time the movement has targeted teachers. As early as 1998, a group of fossil fuel officials, lobbyists and conservative think tanks planned to distribute climate-change skeptical curricula for classrooms nationwide. In 2012, an internal Heartland document outlined plans to do the same.

The Heartland Institute has regained prominence under the Trump administration, surpassing even its influence under the climate-denying regime of President George W. Bush:

The campaign comes at a time when Heartland’s influence on national climate policy is at an apex. Myron Ebell, a leading climate change skeptic and a longtime ally of the Heartland Institute, ran President Donald Trump’s transition efforts for the Environmental Protection Agency. That process led to the appointment of climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA.

[. . .]

“We’re getting a lot of requests for expert opinion from the White House,” said Bast. “That’s very new. We haven’t had those calls for eight years. Even 12 years.”

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[1]  "The Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition et al. vs Williams et al. (pdf)," D-1-GN-11-003130, (District Court of Travis County Texas 2014), 335 to 336.

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