Scientists Agree on Climate Change: NESTA's Response to the Heartland Institute's Recent Mailing to Teachers

Over the last few months, tens of thousands of teachers around the country have received an unsolicited package from the Heartland Institute that includes a booklet, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming: the NIPCC Report on Scientific Consensus, and a DVD, History of Climate Change in Greenland. The package looks official with the NIPCC's seal in the upper left corner. The deceptive marketing is intended to take advantage of many teachers' unfamiliarity with climate science.

The letter accompanying the contents encourages teachers to question the degree to which the science of climate change is settled. Questioning is is good. Questioning drives science forward and we should encourage it. However, the evidence we use to support the answers to our questions should come from high quality, peer-reviewed, scientific research.

The National Earth Science Teachers Association's position is that:

  1. Climate change is real, not a hoax. Climate is defined as the long-term record of precipitation and temperature. While Earth's climate has fluctuated throughout geologic time, the current change cannot be fully accounted for by natural phenomena alone. The current measurable change in temperature is due to the increase in greenhouse gases, like CO2, CH4, NO2, and others. These gases absorb infrared radiation and warm the atmosphere, something scientists have known since the late 1800s.

  2. Earth's changing climate has consequences. Land surfaces and oceans are warming. Jet streams are becoming more variable. Sea levels are rising. Mountain glaciers and polar ice caps are melting. Storms and droughts are intensifying. The evidence for these changes is irrefutable and agreed upon by scientists.

  3. Modern climate change is largely driven by human activity. Since the late 1800's, the actions of humans have exponentially accelerated climate change. According to data from ice core and sea sediments, for two million years prior to the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric CO2 concentrations never exceeded 280 ppm. As of today, June 7, 2017, CO2 levels hit 409 ppm.

  4. Small changes in large systems can lead to irreversible and catastrophic changes. Since 1880, Earth's average, combined, land and ocean surface temperature has risen by 1.05°C (1.89°F). Current international efforts strive to limit the increase in temperature to less than 2°C (3.6°F) for the foreseeable future. According to NASA, a 2°C increase in global temperature is significant. We can expect longer, more intense heat waves, more intense rain storms resulting in flooding, accelerated sea level rise and coastal erosion, coral reef die-offs, and a decrease in freshwater stored in snowpack and glaciers.

  5. We must address the causes and consequences of climate change through our educational efforts. By reducing the amount of CO2 emitted into and stored in the atmosphere, increases in atmospheric temperatures can be slowed. We must find ways to combat the impending consequences of climate change through continued scientific research and engineering of solutions. The Next Generation Science Standards encourage teachers of all students to integrate sound climate science with the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts. This integration will enable our students to distinguish between legitimate climate science and misleading information, preparing them to solve the challenges that climate change presents.

Throughout the booklet and DVD, the authors attempt to compare their organization, NIPCC, with the IPCC. Even the acronym, NIPCC is intentionally meant to be deceptive. The two organizations are vastly different. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international body of scientists established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) is a much smaller group of scientists and scholars whose members do not believe climate change is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. The NIPCC is funded by the Heartland Institute.

The NIPCC's booklet and DVD argue against human-induced climate change with misinformation that misrepresents scientific findings and data analyses. The booklet, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming: the NIPCC Report on Scientific Consensus is filled with citations, placing blogs on an equal footing with peer-reviewed science articles. The authors frequently cite their own works, of which many have not been peer-reviewed.

The DVD, History of Climate Change in Greenland, gives a historical account of Viking settlements in Greenland explaining the warming and cooling of Greenland's climate to be the result of natural solar variation. While variations in the amount of solar radiation received on Earth have caused past climate changes, these variations do not account for the current changes in Earth's temperature. One misleading example is an animation designed to manipulate the CO2 and temperature records of the Vostok ice core, making it appear that temperature always increased first, followed by an increase in CO2 which is not what the actual data show.

According to their own website, the Heartland Institute is a public policy conservative think tank based in Illinois that works to reduce taxes and government spending, expand school choice by providing public school funds to faith-based schools, eliminate the Common Core and the NGSS, eliminate medicare and medicaid, fight regulations on tobacco and alcohol, and promote hydraulic fracturing on public lands and in communities that don't want it.

Science is not a set of beliefs. Science is a way of thinking and understanding the world around us based on evidence. The amount of evidence supporting human-induced climate change is vast. Despite the Heartland Institute's claim to the contrary, scientists agree on climate change. NESTA encourages all teachers to conduct their own research by reading articles and examining the data from NOAA, NASA, and other reputable science organizations that are creating resources for teachers to use in the classroom.

Here are some links to high-quality, vetted collections:

The Climate Literacy Energy and Awareness Network (CLEAN) collection contains 748 educational resources that have been through an extensive pedagogical and scientific review. It also contains the best climate change science activities from NESTA's Windows to the Universe project. Search the CLEAN collection for Windows to the Universe to explore these 20 stellar resources.

NOAA is a source of timely and authoritative scientific data and information about climate with the goal to promote public understanding of climate science and climate-related events. NOAA makes data products and services easy to access and use, providing support to both the private and public sectors, and helping people to make decisions with the best information possible.

The NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project (CSEP) provides formal and informal educators working with elementary through university age students with sustained professional development, collaborative tools, and support to build a climate-literate public actively engaged in climate stewardship.

The mission of NASA's Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet is to provide the public with accurate and timely news and information about Earth's changing climate, along with current data and visualizations, presented from NASA's unique perspective.

The Teacher Friendly Guide to Climate Change from the Paleontological Research Institute focuses on scientific aspects of climate change: how climate works and why scientists think it's changing, and the science and engineering behind the steps that would mitigate climate change and enable humans to adapt to climate changes that do occur.

Here are some responses and position statements from other organizations:

NSTA responded with this letter. If you received the unsolicited materials from the Heartland Institute, they encourage you to send them in for recycling. In return, you can receive access to NSTA's e-book, Ocean's Effect on Weather and Climate.

The National Center for Science Education, NCSE, released three flyers addressing the Heartland Institute's recent mailing.

The National Association of Geoscience Teachers' Position Statement on Teaching Climate Science

The American Geophysical Union's position statement on climate change entitled Human-Induced Climate Change Requires Urgent Action

The American Meteorological Society has published two statements on climate change and the teaching of climate change: 1) Policy Statement: Climate Science is Core to Science Education and 2) Information Statement: Climate Change

The Geological Society of America's Position Statement on Climate Change

« Previous Page