Portland School Board Bans Materials Questioning Human-Caused Climate Change

Published June 24, 2016

The Public School Board in Portland, Oregon unanimously approved a resolution banning textbooks and other teaching materials expressing any doubt or reservations concerning the claim humans are the primary cause behind global climate change and its dangerous consequences.

The May 17 decision was supported by environmental groups that claim the debate over the theory humans’ fossil-fuel use is currently causing dangerous climate change is over and the science is settled.

The resolution—introduced by Mike Rosen, a member of the Portland Public School Board—also instructs the superintendent and staff to develop a plan for offering “curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice” in all of Portland’s public schools, the Portland Tribune reported.  

Responding to the resolution, physicist James Wanliss of Presbyterian College said, “I’m appalled by the school board’s action.

“The decision to hide the fact there is still an active ongoing debate concerning the causes and consequences of current climate change will only contribute to scientific illiteracy among Portland’s students,” said Wanliss.

“They can suppress the truth, but they can’t change the facts,” Wanliss said. “The extent to which present climate change is the result of human actions, other natural factors, or a combination of the two, and whether the results will be on balance harmful or beneficial to humankind, are open questions, not settled science.” 

Environmental Groups Drive Resolution

Bill Bigelow—editor of Rethinking Schools, an online magazine, and co-author of A People’s Curriculum on the Earth—acknowledged that he had worked with several out-of-state environmentalist groups on the resolution, the Portland Tribune reported.

“A lot of text materials are thick with the language of doubt, and, obviously, the science says otherwise,” Bigelow told the Tribune.  “We don’t want kids in Portland learning material courtesy of the fossil-fuel industry.”

Bigelow was particularly disturbed that textbooks addressing climate change frequently use words such as “might,” “may,” and “could.” As an example of the kind of language he would like to see removed from the classroom, Bigelow cited a passage in a physical science textbook published by Pearson, which read: “Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, other sources may contribute to global warming.” 

Conflicts of Interest?

Critics of the ban have questioned whether Bigelow has a conflict of interest in the textbook debate—since he has a textbook that could be used to replace existing materials—but Bigelow denies this and says it wouldn’t be necessary to buy “new stuff.”

Similarly, Rosen, who introduced the resolution, is involved in an environmental education project called the NW Ecoliteracy Collaboration, which could potentially provide teachers under the new curriculum guidelines. Rosen, who works part-time for the Portland Audubon Society, informed the Tribune he put his work with NW Ecoliteracy Collaboration “on hold” to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“The Portland school board is replacing education with indoctrination,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.