Guest Opinions

Idaho students need to learn about climate change

Climate change doubles wildfires

A new study out of the University of Idaho and Columbia University shows human-caused climate change doubled size of wildfires in West.
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A new study out of the University of Idaho and Columbia University shows human-caused climate change doubled size of wildfires in West.

Last December, I concluded teaching the semester of “Earth’s Climate” at Boise State University, as usual, with the topic of current climate change. Each time I teach this culminating lecture I get a little choked up because I display photos of my children, my nieces, my nephews and other kids who are dear to me, and I ask the question, “What kind of world will they inherit?”

The science behind climate change is not new. The greenhouse effect was first recognized in the late 19th century. In the 1960s, C.D. Keeling confirmed that atmospheric carbon dioxide was on the rise. In 1989, Ronald Reagan became the first president to acknowledge negative human impacts on climate when he signed the Montreal Protocol, a landmark environmental treaty.

Nearly 100 percent of scientists agree that the Earth is warming, and more than 97 percent of these scientists point to humans as the cause. The scientific community understands how the greenhouse effect works, how human activities increase atmospheric CO2 through burning of fossil fuels, agricultural practices, deforestation, cement production, etc. Paleoclimate research reveals that millions of years ago, high atmospheric CO2 warmed the Earth and triggered catastrophic extinction. This leads to the conclusion that if climate-induced extinction occurred in the past, it could happen again today.

This is why I was extremely disheartened when I learned that the Idaho House Education Committee recently voted to remove climate change education from the new K-12 Science Standards. The State Department of Education, a State Board of Education subcommittee and a team of highly qualified Idaho science teachers developed these standards. Nevertheless, Rep. Scott Syme R-Caldwell, spearheaded the motion to remove climate change curriculum from the standards because it does not address “both sides of the debate.”

This prompts the question: Why is climate science a political debate? When did the health of the planet and our children’s future become a partisan issue? It is not the politician’s job to suppress deeply concerning scientific evidence, but to seek to understand it, and help develop solutions for current and future generations.

Idaho students deserve better. They deserve a thorough education in natural sciences that includes evidence-based climate science, an education that does not exclude the causes and effects of climate change or the role that humans play. They need to know how to become stewards of the Earth and that making small changes in their everyday lives can mitigate climate change. Our children deserve an education that provides scientific knowledge that inspires them to become leaders in innovation and development of clean-energy technologies in a highly competitive job market. They deserve a scientific education supported by credible data. This is why I emailed Rep. Syme to request data that supports “the other side of the argument” and addresses “the positive impacts humans have on the environment.” Because the notion that there are two sides to this argument is simply unsubstantiated. At this time, I am still awaiting a response from Syme.

Kerrie Weppner is a Research Associate in the Geosciences Department at Boise State University, where she teaches Climate and Environmental Science courses. Weppner moved to Idaho at age 11, and is proud of the science education she received in Idaho.