Somehow, teaching facts has become controversial.
That’s really the level to which some in Wyoming have sunk. Some legislators, residents and members of the state Board of Education think science teachers shouldn’t tell students the truth about climate change because, they say, it’ll reflect poorly on the state’s major industries.
However, one important group seems to have little interest in pretending nothing is happening, and that’s the major industries themselves. Their actions show they’re well aware that what they do affects the environment, and they are preparing to deal with it. These companies – energy giants like BP, Shell and ExxonMobil among them -- realize the Earth is changing and are basing multi-decade projections and business decisions on the expectation of climate change. If the companies themselves are acting on this, it’s safe to say they won’t mind if our children learn about it, too. The Next Generation Science Standards, which the board sent back for further review this month, seek to accomplish that.
In its plan, BP points out that although emissions are expected to grow between now and 2013, if we continue to add renewable energy sources into the mix, it’s reasonable to expect that emissions won’t always increase in tandem with total energy use. The company also fully expects countries to continue tightening policies on emissions because of climate change.
Shell, meanwhile, puts it flatly: “Stresses on our environment are increasing.” It shows consumers two options. In the first, policymakers continue to sweep the issue under the rug, paying little attention to efficiency until supplies tighten up. In the second, forward-thinking local efforts to cut down on emissions gain traction, and we put a premium on innovation. This, Shell says, represents our best hope for a sustainable future.
Halliburton wouldn’t have donated $3 million to a planned University of Wyoming energy research complex if it didn’t consider the research to be done there, which will include how to extract energy more efficiently as well as sustainably, worthwhile. It’s in the industry’s best interest to acknowledge what the scientific community knows: Human activity, including the use of industry extracted fossil fuels, causes climate change. Even if an individual chooses to put his or her head in the sand, there's no denying that a significant majority of Americans believe the scientific consensus on climate change. Wyoming workers must be ready to serve those energy customers, regardless of personal beliefs.
We’re in a critical region during a critical era. We’re making significant discoveries about the world and our impact on it. And we’re in Wyoming, a hub of energy exploration and industry. Faced with all this, we have two choices, quite similar to the ones Shell lays out in its projections: We can ignore it, pretend nothing is changing and let our descendants inherit the problem. Or we can accept that our actions come with consequences and seize the opportunity to lead in the quest for solutions.
Coming up with solutions, however, has to start in schools. As promising as the University of Wyoming’s research plans are, higher education is too late. Public schools owe children a fact-based education, not a lesson in why they should feel guilty about how several Wyomingites make a living.
Anyone who stands in the way is denying our children the chance to be part of the vanguard of well-informed Wyomingites with the potential to figure out how to harness the state’s energy resources in an environmentally responsible way. It’s disappointing that the state isn’t interested in joining the energy companies and being part of the solution, but it’s reprehensible for it to deny that chance to our children.