August 18 2012

Climate Change Coming to a School Near You

Vicki E. Alger

Last week the National Science Foundation Awarded six grants worth nearly $19 million combined to promote climate change curricula (note: apparently we don’t call it global warming any more). According to Education Week:

The grants will support a number of efforts, including a joint project in Maryland and Delaware to help schools deliver effective and regionally relevant instruction in grades 8-12, and pay for work led by the New England Aquarium to enhance climate-change education in zoos, aquariums, and other settings.

In spite of promises not to politicize the issues, and assurances that the “science” is settled (ah, it’s not), it’s more likely that children will get a heaping helping of the stuff those of us of a certain age got when we were in school—but worse.

We were taught that the dinosaurs were wiped out because of global cooling that resulted from an asteroid strike. While we couldn’t stop an asteroid, we could do our part by being galactic size nags to grownups. So we marched home and tisked, tisked our parents for not shutting off a light, or scolded litter-bugs that they’re making the nice Native American man on TV cry for not keeping America beautiful.

Today, researchers are beginning to document cases of climate change anxiety. Yes, I am serious. Björn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist author, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, penned a great editorial in the UK’s Guardian a few years ago, called “Scared silly over climate change.”

The continuous presentation of scary stories about global warming in the popular media makes us unnecessarily frightened. Even worse, it terrifies our kids….Recently, I discussed climate change with a group of Danish teenagers. One of them worried that global warming would cause the planet to "explode" – and all the others had similar fears.

In the US, the ABC television network recently reported that psychologists are starting to see more neuroses in people anxious about climate change. An article in the Washington Post cited nine-year-old Alyssa, who cries about the possibility of mass animal extinctions from global warming. In her words: "I don't like global warming because it kills animals, and I like animals." From a child who is yet to lose all her baby teeth: "I worry about [global warming] because I don't want to die."…

Another nine-year old showed the Washington Post his drawing of a global warming timeline. "That's the Earth now," Alex says, pointing to a dark shape at the bottom. "And then it's just starting to fade away." Looking up to make sure his mother is following along, he taps the end of the drawing: "In 20 years, there's no oxygen." Then, to dramatise the point, he collapses, "dead", to the floor.

And these are not just two freak stories. In a new survey of 500 American pre-teens, it was found that one in three children, aged between six and 11, feared that the earth would not exist when they reach adulthood because of global warming and other environmental threats. An unbelievable one-third of our children believe that they don't have a future because of scary global warming stories.

We see the same pattern in the United Kingdom, where a survey showed that half of young children aged between seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming, often losing sleep because of their concern. This is grotesquely harmful.

And let us be honest. This scare was intended. Children believe that global warming will destroy the planet before they grow up because adults are telling them that.

Encouraging personal responsibility for being good stewards of our world is one thing. Solid science devoid of political agendas is another. But if recent history is any indication, don’t expect the NSF’s multi-million dollar climate change curricula grants to have much of either.

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