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State board making national news over climate change standards

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By Jessica Farrish
The Register-Herald
 
West Virginia Board of Education members made national news Monday, the result of a vote at a December meeting to alter references to human-driven climate change in the latest state science curriculum standards.
 
WVBOE members made the changes to the Next Generation Science Standards blueprint for the 2016-2017 school year in an effort to create debate on whether greenhouse gas emissions by human activity is changing the planet's climate.
 
West Virginia Next Generation Standards is the state Common Core standards-based curricula for math and English.
 
“The science standards are not part of the national Common Core and did not rely on the Common Core for content. The Next Generation standards were developed at a convention of state education representatives from 26 states, including West Virginia, and 40 science standards writers.
 
One original ninth-grade science requirement challenged students to "analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.”
 
Board members voted to change the objective to read, “analyze geoscience data and the predictions made by computer climate models to assess their creditability [sic] for predicting future impacts on the Earth System.”
 
Similar changes were made to other curriculum standards in a move to encourage student debate on whether humans' greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, according to statements by state board members.
 
The move garnered national attention in the news website Salon on Monday, when the publication cited a report by West Virginia journalist Ryan Quinn. Quinn had reported that WVBOE member Wade Linger called for the changes. 
 
Local educators responded to the alterations on Tuesday.
 
Woodrow Wilson High School science teacher Bernie Bostick said that detailed, scientific information on temperature has been kept for only a little more than a century — a "drop in the bucket" when compared to the age of the earth.
 
That record does show a trend of global warming, he added.
 
"I believe there's global warming," said Bostick. "I think global warming goes in cycles.
 
"I also think that because of humans, we are accelerating global warming.
 
"Any time you add anything to a closed environment, or closed ecosystem, which the earth is, you make changes," he said. 
 
He said that during a recent church trip to Alaska, he and other visitors saw dated markers that displayed glacier recession, or the melting of glaciers due to slight but prolonged changes in climate, over the past century.
 
"It's pretty sobering when you see that," he said. "Nobody's stealing the ice. It has to be melting."
 
Bostick said that while he has "no doubt there's global warming," he stops short of blaming humans entirely for the shift in temperature. He said that other factors also play a role.
 
He added that he prefers for WVBOE members to take an information-driven approach to setting standards for the study of climate change.
 
"Why don't they bring it out in the open, and study it more, and try to figure out how to solve it instead of hide it and pretend it doesn't exist?" he asked.
 
The climate debate figures heavily in discussions on coal production and the environment in West Virginia. Some state politicians point to scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions contribute to global warming and climate change.
 
Other lawmakers say that the earth is in a natural phase of warming, pointing that data on climate hasn't been kept long enough to attribute climate change to human activity.
 
Greenbrier County resident and state school board member Thomas Campbell supported the alterations to the state science standards, according to the Salon report.
 
Campbell was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
 
In May, the Institute of Physics published the results of a study of 4,000 peer-reviewed, scientific article summaries and reported that 97 percent of scientists believe that recent climate changes are human-caused. 
 
The NASA website lists statements by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the American Medical Association and others which attribute climate change to anthropogenic contributions, or those factors caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
 
However, some in the scientific community disagree with the assessment that humans cause the majority of climate change. In 2008, the Heartland Institute of Chicago published a paper entitled, "Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate."
 
Scientists who participated in the Heartland study reported that solar changes and changes in the orbit of the planet determine climate changes.
 
Raleigh County West Virginia Education Association Co-President Marie Hamrick suggested the move to alter the current science standards was based on state politics rather than science.
 
"Politics have no place in determining what our students should or need to learn," said Hamrick. "Our state board's action comes as no surprise to me.
 
"This group thinks that they are smarter and wiser than the scientific community that designed the questions.
"They pay no attention to the experts in education, i.e., the teachers.
 
"The ones shortchanged are our students," she said. 
 
She charged that the state board has "absolutely no accountability to anyone."