Wyoming's House of Representatives approved legislation Monday by a 39-21 vote that paves the way for public school educators to teach students that the climate is changing as a result of human activity.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. John Patton, repeals a measure that prevents the Wyoming State Board of Education from adopting a science curriculum that treats man-made climate change as scientific fact.
Wyoming lawmakers enacted the ban as a footnote to a state budget approved last March after then-Rep. Matt Teeters, a Republican, argued that teaching students that human activity—including the burning of fossil fuels—contributes to global warming would endanger the state's coal-mining heavy economy.
The bill to end the 2014 ban now heads to the Wyoming Senate. If the Senate passes the measure, it will land on the desk of Republican Gov. Matt Mead, who approved the earlier ban on the climate science standards and questions the existence and causes of global warming.
There are currently large discrepancies in how climate change is taught in public schools, and Wyoming's climate science fight has become a flash point in a national debate over how the subject should be covered in the classroom.
Even though an overwhelming majority of scientists say climate change is real and is caused by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels, public opinion on global warming remains sharply divided.
The effort to undo the ban on climate science in Wyoming has attracted support from science education activists such as Climate Parents, an organization that supports teaching climate science in classrooms, and the National Center for Science Education. But the legislation has also drawn criticism from Truth in American Education, a network of activists with tea-party ties.
The bill drew support and criticism from Wyoming lawmakers during debate Monday and throughout last week. Backers of the legislation argued that students have a right to learn the most up-to-date science. "We don't burn books in this country. We don't try to tell people how to think," Republican House Speaker Kermit Brown said Thursday. "Education is our friend. Ignorance is our enemy."
Critics countered, saying that climate science casts a negative light on fossil-fuel production and that teaching it in classrooms could prove detrimental. "Do we want our children to believe that their fathers and mothers, particularly in my county, are polluting and destroying the Earth because of the energy industry that they have their jobs with?" Republican Rep. Scott Clem said on the House floor.
Patton, the sponsor of the legislation, defended his bill, saying that teaching climate science does not conflict with energy production in the state. "It's not against the economy," he said. "Working for knowledge ... that is progressive, that is what we are in the state of Wyoming. This state is very, very proud of its educational system. It's not broken."
Controversy over adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of academic guidelines developed with input from 26 states and backing from organizations such as the American Meteorological Society and the National Science Teachers Association, has arisen in a number of states.
West Virginia voted to reject a version of the standards that had been edited to cast doubt on the existence of man-made climate change earlier this month.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards to date, but there has been fierce opposition in states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, where legislators have taken steps to ban the academic guidelines.