Should fossil fuel companies teach kids about climate change?

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A new initiative is asking BC schools to ban all fossil fuel advertising in their classrooms.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment campaign was sparked when Dr Lori Adamson, a CAPE member and an emergency physician at Salmon Arm, noticed her seven-year-old son’s homework was branded and designed by FortisBC, the province’s largest natural gas supplier. distributer.

The homework is part of FortisBC’s Energy Leaders program, which provides K-12 students with free, ready-to-use lessons on “energy conservation, energy solutions and safety,” according to the Company Website. Lessons are available in English and French.

The lessons are strongly geared towards natural gas. CAPE says the lessons exclude the negative impacts that hydraulic fracturing, or hydraulic fracturing, and methane emissions have on climate change, human health and the environment.

When asked for FortisBC’s response to those criticisms, Sean Beardow, the company’s director of communications, declined to comment.

Students and teachers have called the lessons fossil fuel propaganda.

“FortisBC presents natural gas in a very positive light, basically telling children – very impressionable people – through their teachers that they trust, that natural gas is good and useful,” says Katarina Krivokapić, a grade 12 student at Point Gray High School. in Vancouver.

“I think we should keep corporations out of our classrooms, especially corporations that have been complicit in destroying our environment and worsening climate change.”

The lessons repeat a line often used by natural gas advocates: natural gas is the “cleanest” fossil fuel.

This is true if you measure the carbon dioxide emitted from a chimney. But it’s also important to consider greenhouse gases, like methane, that are released during fracking and transportation. When these emissions are added together, natural gas is as bad as coal when it comes to warming the planet. This is not mentioned in the Energy Leaders lessons.

CAPE has previously raised awareness of the negative health effects of living near fracking sites and cooking gas in your home.

“Watching our communities experience climate-induced impacts like heat dome, intense wildfires, floods and landslides, and then watching our children come home from school with ‘science’ lessons designed by a fossil fuel business is disturbing,” reads the open letter from CAPE. to BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside sent earlier this month.

So why would teachers turn to courses produced by FortisBC? Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, says there aren’t many resources available for time-strapped teachers to use when talking about climate change and climate action. The BCTF endorses some resources through TeachBC, an online website with free downloadable lessons and resources hosted by the BCTF, but more is needed, she says.

“There’s quite a bit of tension right now around resources and making sure we’re teaching around the climate emergency we’re in right now and making sure the resources in our classrooms don’t come from a biased perspective,” says Mooring.

A press release from CAPE says about 2,000 BC teachers have downloaded these lessons so far. But that doesn’t mean all teachers taught using these materials, Mooring says.

Teachers could choose elements from these lessons or use them to teach biased sources, she says.

As for advertising, says Mooring, “there should be no implicit or explicit advertising in what we use in schools.”

Tara Ehrcke, a grade 8-12 math teacher in the Greater Victoria School District, wants to go further and ban all company-sponsored lessons in BC classrooms.

FortisBC isn’t the only company producing lesson plans, says Ehrcke. They say they’ve also seen Visa produce financial literacy courses, mining companies create geology courses, and Kotex create courses on puberty and menstruation.

They say these free courses should be considered advertising or brand propaganda.

“Companies don’t spend their money for no reason — they do it to get a message across. [FortisBC] means that natural gas is clean, natural and benign,” says Ehrcke.

Lessons shouldn’t be created by companies that want students to ultimately buy their products, they say. “It’s a form of advertising aimed at a very captive audience, it’s quite insidious.”

Krivokapić says she was first introduced to lessons produced by FortisBC in grade 4, when she was taught that if she smelled rotten eggs, it meant there was a gas leak and she should leave the building.

At the time, she was too young to think critically about lessons, she says. She finds it “scandalous” that the lessons are still being taught today.

Isabella Miskiewicz, a grade 12 student at Esquimalt Secondary School in Victoria, is equally critical.

Miskiewicz says he’s seen the number of natural disasters, the number of people get sick from climate change, and the number of teenagers with climate-related anxiety increase in his lifetime.

She says her lessons on climate change were self-taught because there were ‘not a lot of lessons in school’. Schools teach media literacy on how to spot biased media or fake news, and how to judge sources, which she says has transferred into her own climate change research.

In a press release responding to criticism of its Energy Leaders program, FortisBC says feedback from teachers has been “overwhelmingly positive” and that it is required under the BC Utilities Commission Act to provide “effective education to students”.

The law states that a public service must include “a program of education for students enrolled in schools within the service area of ​​the public service.”

Of the 85 Energy Leaders lessons, 30 focus on energy conservation and efficiency, 12 on safety and 43 on different types of energy sources including biomass, coal, geothermal, hydro, gas natural, nuclear, oil, solar and wind power. Beardow said in an email.

Beardow did not respond when asked to respond to Ehrcke, Krivokapić and Miskiewicz’s concerns that the Energy Leaders program was fueling children’s propaganda about fossil fuels during a climate emergency.

In the press release, the company said it is “undertaking an extensive third-party review to ensure emerging energy topics that fit within the program are properly covered.”

Miskiewicz says lessons about climate change should be grounded in science and facts, and following climate scientists would be a good place to start.

Mooring agreed and said the BCTF had told the government there needed to be more investment in “appropriate resources” for teachers so that climate change and climate action could be taught more explicitly in schools.

Because asking a fossil fuel company to teach kids about climate change doesn’t work, says Krivokapić.

“It is essentially wrong to push this narrative into schools, where children should be learning ways to deal with the climate crisis, not to have curricula that are advertisements for fossil fuels.”  [Tyee]

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