‘Propaganda to infect children’s minds’: Climate misinformation textbook mailed to 8,000 US science teachers

The book claims to show that “earth is not experiencing a climate crisis”

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Thursday 06 April 2023 22:12 BST
Hopes and fears on the island facing climate change | On The Ground

A thinktank, with a long history of denying climate change and spreading misinformation, has mailed thousands of copies of a pseudoscience textbook to US schools.

Climate at a Glance for Teachers and Students, illustrated with graphs, charts and citations, claims to be the latest data and research “to show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis”.

However, a lengthy and detailed fact-check found that the book was filled with misleading claims. The fact-check was carried out by news organisation AFP and a number of scientists, including some from groups which Climate at a Glance cited as sources.

Susan Joy Hassol, director of the non-profit science and outreach project, Climate Communications, said the book was “full of disinformation”.

“It is outrageous that such propaganda was sent out to more than 8,000 US middle and high schools with the goal of infecting the minds of children,” she told The Independent in an email.

The book was shipped to more than 8,000 science teachers in February, according to a Heartland Institute press release.

One report said that five schools received copies in Wyoming, a conservative-leaning state with a large oil and gas industry presence. The book was sent to schools in 30 states, Heartland confirmed to The Independent, following publication of this article.

The unsolicited mail drop is a fraction of Heartland’s 2017 misinformation campaign when hundreds of thousands of copies of a booklet were sent to American teachers.

A review of that booklet, by the fact-checking site Climate Feedback, found that on the science of climate change, “it could hardly score lower”.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, told The Independent that the latest campaign seems like “a tacit admission that this is not a winning strategy”.

“I think teachers are generally a little leery about receiving unsolicited material, and also the material is not particularly well-geared for use in the classroom,” he said.

He noted that teaching climate change is now part of state science standards and other forms of guidance.

“Teachers are learning more about climate change and they’re less vulnerable to a propaganda campaign of this sort,” Mr Branch added.

Ms Hassol also said that confidence in teaching students about climate change has been increasing.

“As a result, the vast majority of teachers are not fooled by this nonsense, and promptly dump the materials in the recycling bin,” she told The Independent. “Therefore, I would not expect this campaign to have much effect. It may instead be viewed as a last ditch effort by a dying industry.”

In an email to The Independent, Jim Lakely, vice president and director of communications of Heartland Institute responded to the AFP fact-check.

“A lot of it doesn’t fact check anything and doesn’t even respond to the facts in the book,” he wrote.

Climate at a Glance spans a range of topics including sea level rise, snowfall, polar bears, wildfires and heatwaves.

On hurricanes, the book claims: “The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found no increase in the frequency or severity of hurricanes despite modest warming.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the IPCC and other leading scientific bodies state that the number of hurricanes which make landfall in the US has not significantly increased.

However, scientists are confident that the proportion of tropical cyclones reaching very intense levels of Category 4 and 5 are increasing due to human-caused climate change.

One recent example is 2022’s Hurricane Ian, which killed 150 people and caused $113bn damages to Florida after it rapidly-intensified before slamming into the state.

In the email, Mr Lakely said that the individual sections were up-to-date at the time of publication, which was before the latest IPCC report. He also quoted Heartland’s president James Taylor as saying that “any more recent assertions from the United Nations are contradicted by the raw data”.

Heartland first began selling the textbook on Earth Day 2022. It has received 4.6 out of 5 stars in 169 global ratings on Amazon, though The Independent is unable to confirm the legitimacy of every review.

“This is a great book - something all kids should read - adults too! It made a great read. Kids need to understand the weather is not going to kill them and life can be great, they will live past 2030 or 2050. All grandparents buy one for your grandkids, all teachers got one for your students. The sky is not falling - get the message out!” reads one review.

The dissemination of teaching materials denouncing global warming to American schools has been part of Heartland’s strategy for at least a decade.

As the impacts of the climate crisis become harder and harder to ignore in communities across the US, the misinformation tactics have morphed from outright denial into obfuscation and delay.

The non-profit Heartland Institute was set up 1984 with a mission “to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions”. The organistation doesn’t disclose how it is funded but has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past from the fossil fuel industry and its allies, including $676,500 from ExxonMobil, DeSmog reported.

A 2012 article in The Economist noted that Heartland lost $825,000 in expected donations, along with a number of supporters, after putting up a billboard in Chicago which compared belief in human-caused climate change to the ravings of Unabomber terrorist Ted Kaczynski.

This article has been updated after a response from The Heartland Institute

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