Report: Texas' Proposed New Textbooks Offer False Information, Climate Change Denialism

Proposed textbooks in Texas are under attack for their politics Danny Nicholson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Texas public schools will teach its students from kindergarten through grade 12 false information regarding climate change and ozone depletion if a series of proposed textbooks pass a Texas Board of Education vote in November.

The proposed textbooks were written to include the sentiments of the Heartland Institute, a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch brothers, which denies human-driven climate change. In one proposed sixth-grade social studies textbook, an exercise asks students to compare two passages. One is written by two Heartland Institute employees, who are not scientists, and the other by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which compiled the findings of thousands of scientists.

"Scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing. They do not agree on what is causing the change," the Heartland Institute passage reads. "Scientists who study the issue say it is impossible to tell if the recent small warming trend is natural, a continuation of the planet's recovery from the more recent 'Little Ice Age,' or unnatural, the result of human greenhouse gas emissions."

A report compiled by the National Center for Science Education pointed out these and other passages throughout the series that directly contradict the overwhelming majority of scientific literature.

"This entire section is misleading," the NCSE report reads. "Scientists do not disagree about what is causing climate change, the vast majority (97%) of climate papers and actively publishing climatologists (again 97%) agree human activity is responsible."

A proposed textbook asks sixth graders to choose between commentary from the Heartland Institute and a passage from a U.N. report on climate change. National Center for Science Education

Brian Belardi, spokesperson for McGraw-Hill Publishing, the textbook company that wrote the books, had no comment on the passage comparing the Heartland Institute to the U.N. panel, but said the company was just fulfilling state requirements.

"We develop products that are designed to meet the education standards of that specific state or region. The points [in the NCSE report, as well as another report by the Texas Freedom Network] mostly stem from our alignment with the Texas educational standards," Belardi said. "I don't want to say it's a difference in opinion, but it's a difference in philosophy between Texas' standards and these groups [who oppose the textbooks]."

In a proposed K-5 social studies textbook, NCSE writes that the only mention of climate change is also factually incorrect.

"Scientists believe the Earth is absorbing more of the sun's harmful rays....Some scientists say it is natural for the Earth's temperature to be higher for a few years. They predict we'll have some cooler years and things will even out," the textbook reads.

NCSE writes that this passage is nonsense.

"We are not aware of any currently publishing climatologists who are predicting a cooling trend where 'things will even out.'"

The report also points out two inaccuracies with regard to basic facts about ozone depletion. An "Environment and Society activity" section of a grades 6-12 textbook, "Fossil fuel emissions have also caused a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica."

But burning fossil fuels does not contribute to ozone depletion. Rather, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), once used widely as aerosol propellants, cause this effect.

Active Social Studies Review screenshot
A screen shot of the proposed textbook image and text shows factual inaccuracy about ozone depletion. Fossil fuels do not cause ozone depletion; rather, CFCs do. National Center for Science Education

A public hearing on the proposed textbooks is ongoing at the Texas Education Agency today. After a series of committee meetings this week, the textbooks will face a Board vote in November.

A staffer at the education agency said the public hearing is packed: "Sounds like we may be here till the wee hours of the morning."