The scientific consensus, however, has no equivalent political agreement. Instead, rejection of the link between human activity and climate change has become a near-universal stance in the Republican Party.
All this puts science teachers in an awkward position: Scientists insist that teaching the controversy—and not the consensus—is a dereliction of duty and a propagation of falsehood. But a powerful conservative coalition opposes any effort to standardize a consensus curriculum, and they've had success in blocking such a standard from taking effect.
The end result: a patchwork of climate instruction guidelines that largely leaves teachers to their own devices, facilitating massive disparities in global-warming education from school to school and state to state.
"There's a lot of variability in how this is taught right now," said Minda Berbeco, the National Center for Science Education's programs and policy director. "What's really troubling is a lot of students are not receiving accurate scientific information."
An effort to change that is under way, but has so far faced significant headwinds in a handful of red states. Last year, a coalition of scientists and educators released a set of academic standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that require schools to teach the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.
That academic framework—known as the Next Generation Science Standards—has won praise from high-profile scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society. They say teaching the consensus is crucial, especially as global warming begins to intensify.
Conservative organizations with tea-party ties, however, oppose the standards, particularly the part that deals with global warming. Truth in American Education, a network of tea-party and conservative groups, has come out against the standards. A researcher with Heartland Institute, a think tank that promotes global-warming skepticism, said the guidelines "impose alarmist global-warming ideas on children," and conservative advocacy organization the Wyoming Liberty Group said they "drive an eco-agenda."
The standards have so far been adopted in 11 states: California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, along with the District of Columbia.
But elsewhere, the academic framework has been rejected. In March, Wyoming lawmakers blocked their adoption. Two months later, an Oklahoma House committee voted to prevent them from taking effect. And South Carolina's Legislature passed a measure to prohibit the guidelines in the state before they had even been made final.
While the fight drags on, most of the existing standards that mention global warming provide little to no direction as to how it should be taught. And some make it exceedingly easy for educators to teach the controversy.