The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday voted to reject a set of public-education standards that cast doubt on the existence of man-made climate change.
The decision arrives amid vocal criticism from science and education activists who have denounced alterations to the standards intended to spark debate over the human role in global warming.
Last month, the state Board of Education voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, an academic framework that calls on teachers to teach man-made climate change in public-school classrooms.
The Next Generation standards instructed students:
Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
At the request of a board member who does not consider global warming settled science, however, the board altered the standards prior to their final adoption to cast doubt on the existence of global warming and the role of human activity in changing the planet's climate.
This is how the earlier excerpt was altered:
Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise and fall in global temperatures over the past century.
But on Wednesday, the board reversed itself once again, returning to the original, unedited standards and reopening them to public comment. The new West Virginia science standards will take effect in the state during the 2016-17 academic year. A final vote to adopt the standards is slated for March.
The vast majority of climate scientists say their research concludes that human activity is causing changes to the climate, as do the vast majority of published, peer-reviewed studies on the matter. The public, however, is less united on the issue, and West Virginia's fight over climate education parallels a battle being fought across the country.
The Next Generation Science Standards were released in 2013 and developed with input from 26 states and support from organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the American Meteorological Society.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have so far adopted the standards, but there has been fierce opposition in states such as Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming, where legislators have sought to ban the academic framework. National political groups such as Heartland Institute contend that academic standards that teach climate change as settled science "impose alarmist global warming ideas on children."
Last March, the Wyoming Legislature moved to block adoption of the standards in the state amid controversy over the climate content. The Legislature is now debating whether to roll back that ban.
At West Virginia's Board of Education meeting Wednesday, activists on both sides of the education debate pleaded their case.
The West Virginia Science Teachers Association criticized the changes made to the standards, saying that the board had not notified the association prior to making the edits. "Science was compromised by these modifications to the standards," Libby Strong, the association president, said in a statement. Climate Parents, an organization dedicated to ensuring that the scientific consensus on climate change is taught in schools, also called for the changes to be stripped from the final standards. The group delivered a petition signed by more than 3,500 individuals, including concerned parents, to the board at its meeting on Wednesday asking for corrections to the academic framework.
Marc Morano, a former staffer for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a prominent climate-change skeptic, was on hand to argue that the altered standards should be kept in place.
"I'm here to applaud the West Virginia changes ... these changes are basically fostering an open debate and they are against indoctrination to tell kids that there is no debate and you cannot dissent," Morano said.
According to The Charleston Gazette, changes to the standards that cast doubt on global warming were made at the request of board member Wade Linger after he said he does not see man-made climate change as a "forgone conclusion."
Below are examples of the original language and language that was altered following Linger's objection.
Here is an original passage from the ninth-grade standard:
Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.
Here is the altered version that will now be withdrawn:
Analyze geoscience data and the predictions made by computer climate models to assess their creditability [sic] for predicting future impacts on the Earth System.
Here is another passage from the original standards:
Debate climate changes as it [sic] relates to greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.
Here is how that passage was altered, a version that will now be withdrawn:
Debate climate changes as it relates to natural forces such as Milankovitch cycles, greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.