Global Warming Another Emerging Topic

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Global warming is a key subject that many educators and scientists say should be, but isn't, taught in every school. And as with other emerging sciences, there remains a need, they say, for more materials available for teachers to incorporate into their lessons.

"It's not a formalized part of the curriculum," said John Rudolph, associate professor in the Department of Instruction and Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It is more of an individual teacher's initiative."

But when Laurie David, the producer of the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," narrated by former vice president Al Gore, wanted to distribute 50,000 copies to schools across the country, the National Science Teachers Association said it wouldn't help her.

Scientists think the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil has led to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise. The National Academy of Sciences has reported that there is conclusive evidence that human activity is causing the Earth to warm and that there is cause to take prompt action to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the air.

Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said he would put global warming at or near the top of the list of must-teach subjects, along with the science of HIV/AIDS.

In an interview, Wheeler said David had asked for an endorsement of the film, as well as its distribution, and that would have violated the association's rules. David said she asked only for distribution help and would have been happy to have the association include a note explicitly stating that it was not endorsing the movie.

She accused the association of rejecting the movie because it feared losing continued donations from the petroleum industry, which argues that global warming is not a manmade phenomenon. She noted that the science teachers organization had distributed videos underwritten by a petroleum company.

Wheeler said his association does not allow any donors, including oil companies, to dictate its activities.

Scores of teachers from across the country e-mailed David in support of the movie, asking for copies. And at least 15 organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Gardening Association, the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the United Steelworkers, have contacted her to offer distribution help.

David said she has decided not to go through any specific organization but will make the DVD available free to the first 50,000 teachers who request it. If demand exceeds supply, she said, she will try to find private funding to pay for additional copies to distribute.

"Our teachers deserve better than what they are getting," David said.

Jim Wanamaker, a biology teacher at Lewiston-Porter High School in Youngstown, N.Y., agreed. He wrote in an e-mail:

"I personally have led class discussions on global warming for several years, being sure to emphasize the lack of consensus on the topic, and the (relatively) short time span of data that we are dealing with, yet stressing the significance of the possibility.

"Having a chance to review at least some segments of 'An Inconvenient Truth' with my students will allow the students to make their own educated decisions about their own lifestyles and the effects that they may have on our planet's future."

-- Valerie Strauss

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