EPA Chief: Teach Global Warming in Schools

Gina McCarthy wants children to have an understanding of climate science, but current policy leaves plenty of students without it.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 20: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy addresses a breakfast event at the National Press Club September 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. McCarthy announced that the EPA is proposing regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which requires future coal burning power plants to decrease 40 percent of their emission. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Ben Geman and Clare Foran
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Ben Geman Clare Foran
Aug. 8, 2014, 1:03 p.m.

En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy wants schools to in­clude cli­mate sci­ence in their cur­ricula.

Ir­ish Amer­ica magazine scored an in­ter­view with Mc­Carthy, who grew up in a Bo­ston area fam­ily with Ir­ish roots. In one ques­tion, she was asked wheth­er cli­mate change should be part of the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem.

“Very much so,” she replied. “I think part of the chal­lenge of ex­plain­ing cli­mate change is that it re­quires a level of sci­ence and a level of for­ward think­ing and you’ve got to teach that to kids.

“People didn’t have a sense of how dra­mat­ic cli­mate change really is, and what it means for all of us. So that’s been a chal­lenge. But what’s great about re­new­ables is that when you put a sol­ar pan­el on the roof of a school, you change the en­tire dy­nam­ic of edu­ca­tion for the stu­dents. It’s hands-on,” she con­tin­ued.

Among cli­mate sci­ent­ists and those who heed their con­sensus, Mc­Carthy’s sen­ti­ment is non­con­tro­ver­sial. The ba­sic con­clu­sion—that the cli­mate is chan­ging and that hu­man activ­ity is largely driv­ing it—is over­whelm­ingly sup­por­ted by peer-re­viewed re­search.

EPA spokes­man Tom Reyn­olds said via Twit­ter that Mc­Carthy sup­ports teach­ing cli­mate sci­ence in schools, just as she sup­ports teach­ing read­ing and math.

But Mc­Carthy’s com­ment comes amid a broad­er de­bate over the role of cli­mate in the classroom, and a patch­work of ex­ist­ing sci­ence stand­ards has cre­ated massive dis­par­it­ies in how glob­al warm­ing is taught in classrooms around the coun­try.

A co­ali­tion that in­cludes the Na­tion­al Sci­ence Teach­ers As­so­ci­ation and the Amer­ic­an As­so­ci­ation for the Ad­vance­ment of Sci­ence is seek­ing ad­op­tion of new stand­ards that would re­quire edu­cat­ors to in­form stu­dents that hu­man activ­ity is the primary driver of glob­al warm­ing.

But the ef­fort has faced push­back in con­ser­vat­ive states like Wyom­ing, where state le­gis­lat­ors voted to block ad­op­tion of the stand­ards due to con­tro­versy over the cli­mate-change pro­vi­sions.

Else­where in the in­ter­view, Mc­Carthy said that EPA’s pro­posed rule to slash car­bon emis­sions from power plants has been a boost to in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate policy talks:

“I just met with Ed­ward Dav­ey, the U.K. sec­ret­ary of state for en­ergy and cli­mate, and he told me that the tone and ten­or of the in­ter­na­tion­al dis­cus­sions has changed be­cause of the U.S. pro­pos­al on clean power plants and plan to cut back on car­bon emis­sions. It shows a strong level com­mit­ment from [the U.S.,] one of the largest green­house gases emit­ters, about mak­ing re­duc­tions that are ne­ces­sary.” she said.

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