Middle School Kids May Soon Know More About Climate Change Than Fox

Source: BES Photos via flickr

Fox Business is crying foul over Environmental Protection Agency-hosted climate change lesson plans, which it calls “propaganda.” However, the material is aligned with the National Research Council, reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and covers many topics that conservative media have flagrantly misreported in the past. 

The lesson plans, which have been available online to middle school educators for months, drew conservative ire after a tweet from the EPA appeared on Fox contributor Michelle Malkin's social media aggregation site, Twitchy.com, on September 12. By the next morning, it was considered big enough news that Fox News contributor Monica Crowley covered it on Varney & Company, asking, “Are they going to tell these kids to not exhale? Because every time you exhale, that's carbon dioxide.”

The plans don't teach kids not to exhale. Instead, they explain that carbon plays a critical role in sustaining life on this planet. This is entirely uncontroversial. Nice job, Monica.

Equally uncontroversial is the view that industrial activities -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels for energy -- have led to a surplus of life-supporting gases like carbon dioxide, which has made the planet hotter -- too hot, in fact. Even many prominent climate deniers acknowledge this much.

It is no surprise that the EPA's lesson plans are grounded in good, basic science; they were adapted from material designed by preeminent scientific institutions including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The material is also aligned with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.

Fox figures would do well to take a look at these plans. Here are three issues they cover that have proven tricky for them in the past:

Weather And Climate: What's The Difference?

The difference between weather and climate has bedeviled Fox for years. This confusion has led many figures on both Fox News and Fox Business to seize on winter storms as evidence that the earth is not warming: 

The EPA's lesson plan explains:

Weather is a specific event or condition that happens over a period of hours or days. For example, a thunderstorm, a snowstorm, and today's temperature all describe the weather. Weather is highly variable day to day, and from one year to the next.


Climate refers to the average weather conditions in a place over  many years (usually at least 30 years, to account for the range of natural variations from one year to the next).

Sea Level: On The Rise 

Fox News has suggested that sea level rise would account for "maybe, worst-case scenario, a few inches over a century," even as some scientists -- including those whose research has been called “overly conservative” -- have offered far more dire possibilities. Sometimes Fox treats the entire issue as a joke:

The EPA's lesson plan explains:

If people keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the average sea level around the world by the end of this century (the year 2099) could be anywhere from 7 to 40 inches higher than it was in 2000. Sea level could rise even more if the big ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica were to melt more quickly. If temperatures keep rising, glaciers will continue melting, and some could disappear completely.

Rising sea level is a threat to people who live near the ocean. Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in low-lying areas near the coast that could be flooded as sea level rises. Some low-lying areas will have more frequent flooding, and very low-lying land could be submerged completely.

Corals And Chemistry

Fox News completely ignores (or is entirely unaware of) ocean acidification, a phenomenon in which carbon dioxide emissions change the chemistry of our oceans, thus posing a major threat to marine life. Maybe it should take a page from the EPA and give it a little attention.

The EPA's lesson plan explains:

Over the last few decades, the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean has increased all over the world, and so has ocean acidity. Increasing acidity is a problem because it reduces the availability of chemicals needed to make calcium carbonate, which corals, shellfish, some types of plankton, and other creatures rely on to produce their hard skeletons and shells.