Grappling with climate change
October 30, 2017
Mr. Goodman, the Earth Science teacher at Bellwood-Antis High School, faced a moral dilemma when he graduated college not unlike one American people face every day.
With a background in Geology from Bloomsburg University, he could have potentially worked in the oil industry after college. However, he didn’t think he would have felt good about himself for doing so.
Because of his background in science, Mr. Goodman has an understanding of fossil fuels, like oil, and he feels the numbers show they are harming our planet through a phenomenon called global warming, which has led to climate change’.
Across the nation, this subject of debate that has been spinning into classrooms. It is a true dilemma that sometimes causes teachers to use caution in informing students about it, and in some ways Bellwood-Antis High School is no exception.
The numbers don’t lie
“(Teaching about climate change) is not any more difficult than any other big topic. There is a lot of background knowledge that must be understood in order to grasp it,” said Ms. Alice Flarend, who teaches Physics at B-A, along with Energy and Environment.
However, she also agrees that there can be challenges in teaching the subject.
“Like all large topics, there are a lot of misconceptions about how our planet operates. I encourage my students to ask questions, analyze data, and bring up ideas they’ve heard or even their own,” she said.
Within the science community, climate change is believed to be the major factor in the warming of the general global temperature. The last three years have produced the three hottest recorded years in history.
The problem high school teachers face is that not everyone believes climate change is real or a serious problem, and that belief is closely tied with politics.
For those who do identify this event as a real problem, they believe key man-made phenomena are responsible. NASA says it is because of ‘the greenhouse effect’, which is caused by CO2 emission, which in turn come from the consumption of fossil fuels for energy.
In other words, there are certain gases are stuck in the atmosphere, and they are preventing the heat radiating from Earth from escaping into space, much like a blanket traps in warmth. The built-up heat is making the Earth warmer. Our reliance on fossil fuels, like coal, for energy has greatly increased the greenhouse effect.
Ever since the 1980s, the global mean surface temperature has spiked. As of now, we are at a 0.6 degrees Celsius anomaly difference. This can directly relate to the amount of fossil fuels we have been using, in which has spiked since the 1950s.
Ninety-seven percent of active climate scientists agree the warming trend is the result of human activities, according to NASA’s web page called “Vital Signs of the Planet.”
However, there are people who do not believe this is true.
Politics play a role
Politics do take a large role in the debate.
“I equate it to when corporations would say nicotine was not addictive, and we found out it was,” said Mr. Goodman.
Some simple positions of disagreement include the conflict on whether or not climate change caused by human activity.
According to TakePart, an online newsletter that covers world challenges, the primary cause of climate change is “…the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—primarily carbon dioxide. Other human activities, such as agriculture and deforestation, also contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.”
This is not thoroughly conceived as true to some groups of people.
Most criticisms lay in ideas that state that “the sun is warming up the earth” and that “it is no problem because the climate has changed before,” according to Skeptical Science. There have also been proposals of global wobbling, among other justifications for the change in temperature.
“It cuts into politics because people’s jobs are affected by it. If you make your money by taking coal out of the ground, why would you want to give up your jobs? I can’t blame them for feeling that way,” said Mr. Goodman. “On the other hand it’s our planet. I hope people see the big picture.”
Science must take the lead
Though this is a tense debate with varying points of evidence on each side, and it can be a very complex subject for teachers due to sensitivity students may have based on their political background.
A recent article published in the New York Times detailed the story of a teacher who struggled with climate change because many students saw it as part of a larger culture war, which attacked their very values.
Bellwood-Antis High School chemistry teacher, Ms. Carrie Clippard, believes that one should be careful when teaching about climate change. Her two cents are that teachers should be the ones overseeing the curriculum, due to the risk of misrepresentation.
“Although teachers value the input of the community, it is the responsibility of those trained in science to oversee curriculum development in science, due to risk of censorship, pseudoscience, faulty scholarship, etc. Educators must be cautious in ensuring that the existing body of scientific knowledge is not misrepresented,” she said.
She also hopes that those outside of the process of educating do not feel disrespected.
“The challenge is to determine the best way to alleviate that that conflict- mainly through communication and education.”
In total, Bellwood-Antis teachers strive to respect the fragility of climate change, but also to provide informative and useful information about the subject.