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One-sided teaching that gives students eco-nightmares


WHY do students suffer from eco-anxiety? Could it be their angst is derived from educators teaching from texts which are often unscientific and possibly politically motivated? Educators follow Government curriculum guidelines and academic research. These are supported by books and research papers often based on computer simulations rather than evidence. The simulations predict that increased use of fossil fuels will produce sufficient emissions to over-heat the planet by 2030/2035/2050 (the dates change as predictions are unmatched by observations).  

The Department of Education (2014) curriculum on environmental science includes a study of ‘the production of carbon dioxide [CO2] by human activity and the impact on climate’ (page 64). Humans are responsible for 3 per cent of CO2 emissions. There is no mention of Mother Nature’s remaining 97 per cent. Incomplete information permeates the curriculum and into the ‘Together for our planet’ schools pack. The pack content is designed to support the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis rather than challenge the simulations on which it is based. It doesn’t acknowledge that temperature rise precedes CO2 increases by 500-800 years and that computer simulations exaggerate Earth overheating by approximately three times more than is recorded in observations.

Fear is also spread by academic journals which publish only one side of the AGW hypothesis. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals gives credibility to academics and their institutions, and improves university research rankings. Universities allocate paid hours to research-active academics depending on journal publishing: no publishing means no awarded hours.  The peer-reviewed process builds on journal core knowledge – a process which prevents challenges to the AGW core. This perpetuates groupthink and confirmation bias. (A new journal would be needed to challenge core knowledge.) If researchers challenging AGW are unpublished, the resultant lack of credibility will mean removal of research hours.  Consequently, only AGW papers are published, increasing students’ eco-anxiety. Publishing with other peer-reviewing organisations (such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs)) doesn’t rank in academic reputation-building irrespective of the qualifications held by their reviewers. Some of those reviewers could also be academic reviewers on other topics. Only academic journals have authority in academe; NGO publications do not.

Academics contend with pressure from their peers to conform to the groupthink which is, in turn, cascaded to students who endure peer pressure from other students. Academics should deliver students who can make challenges, think critically and possess the breadth of knowledge needed for debate. The current AGW texts, asymmetrical journal articles and trigger warnings on (or removal of) material which might upset students, don’t support critical skill development.  Besides, with the European Union’s reclassification of nuclear and natural gas as green’, and the UK likely to follow, the Government’s policies are outpacing and undermining their educational texts.  Is this a tacit admission that ploughing resources into AGW is wrong? Or is it a pragmatic policy change overriding a confected crisis in which Governments never really believed? (A re-run of Covid and Partygate perhaps?) There is no indication of a change in teaching materials to support this policy U-turn. It might have been avoided if both contrary and supportive NGO research been considered in policy formation – i.e. ‘red team’ and ‘blue team’ contributions.  Currently it appears that contributions from just one team (the pro-AGW team) have been accepted and incorporated into policy and education. Authors of research could test the accuracy of their computer simulations by processing historical data and include the results alongside new predictions. Such direct comparisons would or would not verify the simulations and avoid much of the inflammatory, fearmongering headlines which reinforce student eco-anxiety.

If educators continue teaching unchallenged and biased climate knowledge, they do a disservice to students, humanity, civilisation and ultimately, truth. Current teaching fails students and explains their eco-anxiety. Educators have a duty to end their suffering.

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Dr Deborah Ancell
Dr Deborah Ancell
Dr Deborah Ancell is the author of Clipped Wings, which examines the mixed economic effects of social and environmental sustainability on the airline industry.

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