Wyoming Students Won’t Learn About Climate Change

A move by state legislators may prevent Wyoming from adopting the proposed ‘Next Generation Science Standards’

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A coal train in Wyoming. Matt Cadwallader

Coming up with a classroom curriculum is hard: no one teacher can keep up to date on every subject, advances in education theory and new teaching styles all on their own. Science and engineering change so quickly that they're particularly hard to keep ahead of. That's why school boards and other groups work together to design teaching standards that teachers can turn to.

But in Wyoming, says the Casper Star-Tribune, state legislators have moved to block new, proposed teaching standards for science. For more than four years, the National Research Council (a branch of the National Academy of Sciences), the National Science Teachers Association, Achieve and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have been working together with various states to develop the Next Generation Science Standards, a science curriculum for K-12. Nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted themWyoming is the first state to block the new standards.

The legislators' explanation: they don't agree with the realities of climate change, and they don't want Wyoming's children to learn about it. The Casper Star-Tribune:

"[The standards] handle global warming as settled science," said Rep. Matt Teeters, a Republican from Lingle who was one of the footnote's authors. "There's all kind of social implications involved in that that I don't think would be good for Wyoming."

Teeters said teaching global warming as fact would wreck Wyoming's economy, as the state is the nation's largest energy exporter, and cause other unwanted political ramifications.

But that first objection, at least, is not correct. The underlying science of climate change—the heating effect of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and the human responsibility for emitting those gases—is not up for debate. Not teaching children about the science of climate change won't stop the climate from changing.

What is open for debate is how cities, states and countries should go about mitigating the drivers of climate change and building for our changing world.

Dealing with climate change may indeed pose a threat to Wyoming's role as a “powerhouse producer of coal, natural gas, and petroleum”—the “unwanted political ramifications” that Teeters alludes to.

But maybe not. Some energy analysts think natural gas could become a bridge fuel, a lower-pollution energy source that would let the country reduce coal consumption as it builds renewable energy capacity. In that future, Wyoming's prodigious shale gas industry could grow in prominence.

Wyoming, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration, also “has among the best wind resources in the nation.” Wyoming has so much wind power potential that other states are looking to set up farms on their turf. Right now, how climate change will affect Wyoming's economy is far less settled than the science.

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