Most Americans are reluctant to believe that climate change or global warming is real, despite insurmountable piles of evidence. The stubborn roots may possibly begin inside the classroom.
New research suggests that science teachers in the United States stir confusion when it comes to discussing climate change in school, often hampered by the conservative values in their community and their lack of knowledge on the topic.
In a study featured in the journal Science, researchers looked into the results of a survey that involved 1,500 public school educators across the country. About 70 percent of science teachers in middle school and 87 percent of biology teachers in high school devote time to climate change discussions.
However, the quality of those lectures significantly vary from teacher to teacher. Roughly one-third of science teachers who talk about climate change say the phenomenon is likely the result of "natural causes." In reality, 95 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change and global warming are driven by human activity.
Eric Plutzer, political science professor at Pennsylvania State University, said teachers are aware that climate change is a vital topic, but their findings show that the discussions have yet to be improved.
"Based on our survey, we think there's a lot of opportunities for them to do a better job," said Plutzer.
A teacher would suggest that climate change is caused by natural factors mostly because of conservative political identity, the study said.
Even those who believe climate change science may tend to teach potential natural causes as the source of the phenomenon in order to avoid upsetting conservative members of communities. A 2014 Pew Research Center report revealed the vast majority of American conservatives believe climate change isn't happening.
Plutzer said this leaves teachers in a difficult position.
"They often have to negotiate between the demands of scientific findings and the opinions and beliefs of students, their parents and other community members," he said.
Additionally, a lack of formal education on climate change among science teachers also contributes to confusion, the study said. Most of the teachers involved in the survey never took a class on climate change when they were in college. Textbooks are also out-of-date regarding climate change findings.
Lastly, the findings of the study suggest that the climate change discussion is getting similar treatment as the discussion on evolution, which has set off the "Science versus Faith" argument for decades.