How Texas' Climate Denial Could Harm Your Child's Education

TexasThe textbooks that Texas adopts influence those that are chosen by districts across the U.S., which makes it all the more worrying that several textbooks under consideration by the state misrepresent what scientists know about climate change. The distortions in these textbooks mirror the misinformation that has been pushed in Texas media that has contributed to this dangerous ignorance.

A recent review by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) found that several textbooks under consideration by the Texas Board of Education, which includes numerous members who deny global warming, cast doubt on the basic fact that carbon pollution is driving climate change. National Journal explained that since “Texas is the second-largest market in the U.S. for textbooks after California,” the textbooks chosen by the board could affect what publishers sell to states across the country.

Some of the misleading claims in these textbooks mirror the misinformation that has been pushed in the state's local media. For example, one textbook presents claims from the Heartland Institute, a climate “skeptic” organization that once compared those that “believe” in global warming to the Unabomber and in the 1990s denied the science demonstrating the dangers of secondhand smoke, as equally credible to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which assembles hundreds of scientists to review thousands of peer-reviewed articles on climate change. Some Texas media have similarly treated the Heartland Institute as equally or even more credible than the world's top scientists. For example, a news reporter for the Houston talk radio station KTRH hyped a Heartland Institute report when it was released in April 2014 with the headline "New Report Debunks Climate Change," and in May 2014 turned to the group to rebut an actual scientific report on climate change that was reviewed by a National Academy of Sciences panel. An on-air host at KTRH has also called global warming a “scam.”

Other news outlets in Texas have also misrepresented climate science. For example, an East Texas Fox affiliate, KFXK, aired a commentary on September 9 that falsely claimed Arctic sea ice has “expanded”:

Moreover, national news outlets have amplified anti-scientific views to their Texas viewers. For instance, in November 2013, Fox News attacked the Texas Education Agency for approving a book that accurately described climate science, interviewing a former Texas State Board of Education Member to criticize the book's approval as proof of “socialized education.” The Wall Street Journal, which is the second most read newspaper in Texas according to data from Bitly, has also consistently downplayed the scientific consensus on climate change, and Rush Limbaugh's strident climate denial reaches a large audience there as well.

That's not to say all Texas media outlets have done poorly - the National Public Radio station for Central Texas, for example, told its viewers about the misrepresentations in these textbooks in a September 15 segment. Media outlets in Texas can improve by turning to experts that can connect with their specific audience when discussing climate change, such as Katharine Hayhoe, the Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and an evangelical Christian. It can also tell viewers about the local impacts that climate change is having on the state, which emits more carbon dioxide than any other. For example, the Austin news station KXAN explained on its website that a scientific report showed that in Central Texas, “hotter temperatures will increase demand for water and energy; longer summers will mean changes to the growing season for local farmers; and extreme events such as droughts and floods will happen more often.”

On September 17, there will be a public hearing on the textbooks under consideration, and in November, the Texas Board of Education will vote on which textbooks to adopt. The National Center for Science Education along with the Texas Freedom Network are collecting signatures on a petition asking the publishers to correct the errors.