Guest Opinions

Idaho student: I experienced a backlash for using two words — climate change. Still, I speak.

Idaho State Capitol in Boise.
Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

On Feb. 1, I entered the Idaho Capitol to testify in front of the House Education Committee in support of the revised science content standards. I clutched my testimony in one hand, and in the other a thick, binder-clipped petition containing the names of more than 1,000 Idahoans.

Of the hundreds of standards previously approved, only these five standards referencing anthropogenic climate change were struck down. I knew my audience was the same elected officials that rejected the first incarnation of these standards in 2016. Every year since, these standards have been further developed by a diligent team of scientists and educators with the students’ best interests in mind, yet they continue to be met with skepticism.

Emboldened by the support of public comments (over 99.5 percent favoring the proposed standards), the petition I held that garnered over 1,000 Idahoan signatures in three days, and the absolute belief that students have the right to a holistic education, I sincerely believed my testimony would be heard.

In it I highlighted my experiences as a student engaging in inquiry-based learning. Unfortunately, during my testimony, the words “climate change” spurred an immediate reaction from Chair Julie VanOrden of Pingree. She immediately interrupted me by saying, “Excuse me ... but we need to talk about the standards themselves. If you would stick to that topic that would be great.”

Now, I had been researching, preparing, working with teachers, school district supervisors and scientists, to fully understand the docket being proposed. My testimony was carefully crafted to incorporate each revised standard. For instance, I emphasized the importance of maintaining our biodiversity because of our symbiotic relationship with it and the necessity of human mitigation in combating climate change. Therefore, with full confidence I continued, but once again I was interrupted.

Later VanOrden apologized for being misinformed about the topic, but I was stunned by the blatantly unprepared nature of the committee. Not only for censoring me when I was talking about the standards before them, but also for balking at the Idaho Board of Education, the team that worked on the standards, and the public at large, which supports these standards.

The next week the House Education Committee passed the standards on party lines, but removed 25 pages of content. This is a devastating blow to climate science education.

That day I experienced the backlash that just two words – climate change – can have in Idaho. Still, I continue to speak unabashedly. The lack of comprehensive climate standards is foremost a threat to ourselves.

We must be effectors of positive change by supporting the revised science standards in full that include references to anthropogenic climate change. Let us show the Legislature that we’re dedicated to our youth and committed to facts. We need to speak up and write to our senators. The members of our Senate Education Committee must follow our lead and work toward a better future for all.

Emily Her is a senior at Timberline High School. She leads the climate science standards initiative as part of the Climate Justice League, a subsidiary of the Idaho Chapter Sierra Club.