America's science teachers may not be teaching their students about climate change correctly. A new survey backed by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) suggests that one-third of K-12 teachers in the United States are "climate change deniers."

Though many science teachers allot substantial time to tackle climate change in the classroom, at least one in three teachers discuss climate change denial. Teachers may claim that climate change is not caused by humans, challenging what 95 percent of climate scientists say.

"Worse, half of the surveyed teachers have allowed students to discuss the supposed 'controversy' over climate change without guiding students to the scientifically supported conclusion," said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director.

What The Survey Found

In the first ever nationwide survey tackling about climate change instruction in the classroom, more than 1,500 middle and high school science teachers responded to a survey. The survey tackled on the knowledge and teaching practices of science teachers on climate science.

Results show both good news and bad news on climate change instruction in the classroom. Three in four science teachers allocate at least one hour of their discussion on climate change. Since most students in middle school take up science and 97 percent are enrolled in a general biology class, there is only a 3 to 4 percent chance that any student will miss climate change topics.

Teachers reported discussing issues of climate change specifically greenhouse effect, carbon cycle and consequences linked to global warming like the rise in sea levels and seasonal pattern changes.

On the negative side, 30 percent of science teachers tell their students that the latest global warming is due to natural causes while 12 percent do not tackle human causes.

"About one in 10 [teachers] seem to be denying a human role altogether," while the remaining 5 percent don't talk about causes at all," Eric Plutzer of Penn State, lead author of the study, said.

Climate Change Deniers Teach Climate Change

The problem comes from what teachers believe in when they discuss controversial issues like climate change. Teachers may also vary depending on what they know. 

Teachers may not be very knowledgeable on scientific evidence on the major causes of climate change. Roughly 50 percent said they would at least focus more on unrelated topics like pesticides, impacts of rocket launches and the ozone layer.

Limited training and indecision about climate science impacts their acceptance of climate change. Though only 2 percent denied that climate change is happening, 15 percent of teachers say that latest global warming is driven by natural causes. Another one-sixth thinks that both humans and natural causes are equally important.

What Needs To Be Done

Science teachers, who directly influence children, should improve their knowledge and training on the issue of climate change. According to the survey, fewer than half of science teachers said they underwent formal training or instruction on climate science in college.

Most teachers, however, said they are interested to continue education focusing on climate change.

"It's clear that the vast majority of surveyed teachers are hungry for additional professional development," NCSE's climate expert Dr. Minda Berbeco, said.

"Even half the teachers who deny the scientific consensus on climate change say they would take this training."

Photo: Graeme Maclean | Flickr

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