America's K-12 Science Teachers Tripping Up on Gateway to Climate-science Knowledge

Up front, the expert scientific community is near unanimous: climate change is occurring and human action is driving this change.  Simple truth:

"Over 97 percent of climate scientists have independently concluded that human-caused global warming is happening."

As three leading science communication experts put in a US News & World Report OPED,

In the history of science, there have been few instances in which almost all experts in a particular field were in complete agreement.

Climate change is one of those instances.

Now for the troubling point.  Too many -- under the withering propaganda attacks on climate science financed by the Kochs, Exxon and others of their ilk -- do not understand this.  And, this fact -- that scientists have strong agreement on climate science -- matters.  And, it even matters across the political spectrum.

A "Gateway Belief" is a piece of knowledge, a fact that -- if known -- opens the door for greater and deeper understanding of an issue. When it comes to climate change, across the political spectrum, this one point (that over 97 percent of experts say humanity is driving climate change) is such a gateway belief.

increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus is significantly and causally associated with an increase in the belief that climate change is happening, human-caused and a worrisome threat. In turn, changes in these key beliefs are predictive of increased support for public action. In short, we find that perceived scientific agreement is an important gateway belief, ultimately influencing public responses to climate change.

In other words, want greater support for climate mitigation and adaptation action, a good starting point: educate people about the substantive (overwhelming) climate consensus.

Those resistant to action on climate change have long understood this -- no wonder that they attack "97 percent" and trot out their pet anti-climate science talking head(s).

Sadly, far too many across the English-speaking world do not know this gateway belief.

Recently released research shows that a particularly troubling group is tripping over this gateway:

Only 30 percent of middle-school and 45 percent of high-school science teachers in the U.S. are aware of the fact that nearly all climate scientists are convinced that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

And, things get worse.

Here's the kicker: The authors explain that although many science teachers themselves believe that climate change is happening, because most are not aware of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change many opt to teach "both sides" of the so-called climate debate, mistakenly giving students the impression that the basic facts are still contested, rather than conveying the fact that there is a deep and well-established consensus among climate scientists.

"Both sides" is clearly not solely a problem in traditional media "he says, she says," all sides should be reported, tradition.

Not surprisingly, political ideology impacts teachers approaches to climate change. Further to the (and the redder the school district, I would suspect), the more likely "controversy" and "both sides" will make its appearance in the science curriculum.

97 percent, however, could well be the most effective tool against this.

one of the few facts that speaks to both conservatives and liberals in a powerful way is information about the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

Purple, blue or red: knowing 97 percent "strengthens other important key beliefs that people hold about climate change".  And, most powerfully, among conservatives.

Knowing about scientific consensus is powerful in other fields.  After all, there is a reason why "4 of 5 dentists agree" is embedded in the social landscape of a generation of TV watchers.  And, sowing doubt is powerful too.

Tobacco companies have long understood the psychological consequences of sowing doubt: As long as people think there is disagreement among the experts, most won't act.

Sadly, rather than 97 percent being understood by 97 percent of Americans, the real figure is about 1 percent who know this.  E.g., it is far from only school teachers who are tripping at the gateway.  However, teaching teachers "97 percent" and getting them to teach their students that might be a way get beyond 1 percent and have fewer Americans tripping on the gateway and falling flat on their face when it comes to climate science knowledge.