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The School Fight Over Climate Change Is Growing

Texas’ Board of Education is voting on whether to “promote’’ fossil fuels in schools.

A teacher and students.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Fights over school curricula have become issues du jour, and today officials in Texas are voting on what kids in that state will read about climate change in their school textbooks. The problem, according to the AP, is that the textbooks in their current form are “too negative towards fossil fuels.”

Wayne Christian, a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas in the state (you thought it was going to be trains, didn’t you?), is pushing the Texas State Board of Education to “choose books that promote the importance of fossil fuels for energy promotion.” Board member Aaron Kinsey, a Republican and an oil executive himself, seems to like that idea, saying that the photos in textbooks right now are too negative towards oil and gas.

Democrats and educational groups, meanwhile, are trying to push the board in the other direction. The National Science Teaching Association sent a letter to the board urging them not to “allow misguided objections to evolution and climate change impede the adoption of science textbooks in Texas.” Republicans have a majority on the board, however, so the outcome of the vote is fairly easy to predict.

Texas is just the latest state to be embroiled in an argument over how to present climate change to schoolchildren. Back in August, the state of Florida approved the use of videos made by The Prager University Foundation (PragerU) — a conservative group backed by fracking billionaires that pushes out right-wing “educational content” and tried and failed to sue YouTube for restricting its videos — in state classrooms. Kids in that state can now be treated to a teacher playing videos that extol the benefits of coal and plastic, for example, or state that wind and solar power are simply not powerful enough for modern energy needs.

This is all part of a large conservative playbook to push back against “woke” ideas like critical race theory and climate change. In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin created a hotline for parents who detected critical race theory in their kids’ classrooms. An Indiana bill prohibits teachers from discussing "anti-American ideologies,” but doesn’t define what those ideologies are. The so-called “don’t say gay” law in Florida bans classes about sexual orientation or gender identity through third grade. And across the country, conservative activists are wielding book bans to excise content they deem unacceptable.

In an FAQ on its website, PragerU makes clear that it “is not an accredited university, nor do we claim to be.” New Hampshire and Oklahoma have both also approved PragerU content for use in their schools, as a result of intense lobbying by the company. Next in its sights? Texas.


Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read More

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A coral reef in color and black and white.
Heatmap illustration/Getty Images

Coral reefs are a thing of wonder, both organism and underwater infrastructure that houses thousands of species of fish. They are also, as you might already know, in grave danger. Climate change is contributing to massive waves of coral bleaching around the world, from the Great Barrier Reef to the ocean off of Florida, where an extreme oceanic heat wave this year turned mile after mile of reef a ghostly white.

We’ve known about coral bleaching for years, but a new report out Wednesday draws fresh attention to corals’ plight, including reefs — along with ice sheets, rainforests, and ocean currents, among others — on a list of imminent climate “tipping points.” And if they go over the brink, the consequences could reach far beyond the ocean floor.

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