Idaho students have to beg state legislature to let them learn about climate change

Lawmakers in Idaho are deciding whether to allow information about climate change into the state's science curriculum.

(CREDIT: Rajah Bose for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(CREDIT: Rajah Bose for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In Idaho, some students are begging politicians to let them learn about climate change.

“Years later, me and my generation will be the ones that will have to deal with the … effects on the earth due to climate change or anything else that might be going on, whether or not we are to blame,” Ilah Hickman, a 17-year old student in Boise who testified during a public hearing before the Idaho House Committee on Education, told politicians on Thursday. “Being put in such a role, I believe that we should be as prepared as ever to combat these changes.”

Idaho is the only state in the country where legislators have successfully removed climate science from the state’s curriculum, voting last year to reject five paragraphs from original science standards that mentioned both climate change and mankind’s role in creating the crisis. Those standards, however, had a one-year expiration date; Now, politicians have to decide whether to approve science standards that include mention of climate change and the role of humans.

“Science education shouldn’t be a political issue,” said Cassandra Kenyon, a senior at Timberline High School in Boise who spoke in support of adopting standards that include climate change. “Education is being censored due to political fears, and students are the ones that are suffering.”


Public hearings held on Thursday and Friday featured numerous students and teachers who spoke in favor of including climate science in the updated curriculum. Some, like Hickman, argued that learning about climate science was crucial for helping a younger generation learn about a problem that will impact the world they grow up in. Others, like Dick Jordan, a retired high school science teacher, argued that omitting accurate science from the curriculum would put Idaho students at a disadvantage in the workforce.

“We are here today not just for those students in classrooms across our state, but for Tomorrow’s nurses, farmers, lawmakers, teachers, bankers, and citizens who deserve the very best science, and science education, not some watered down, censored version,” Jordan said. “We can’t ignore science even when it makes us uncomfortable.”

But Republican lawmakers have opposed including climate science in the cirriculum, arguing that the science on climate change isn’t settled and that students shouldn’t be taught that humans are largely to blame.

“Geologic history shows that temperatures have gone up and down before, so that’s one of the challenges that some people have run into,” Rep. Lance Clow, a Republican member of the state’s Education Committee, said during Thursday’s hearing. “We know that solar activity, volcanic activity, things like that contribute. The implication of the standards right now is that it’s only human impact that contributes to rising temperatures.”


In reality, climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that human activity is the primary factor driving the current increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and resulting rise in global temperatures. A recent study, for example, found that temperatures experienced in the last decade across North America and Europe are unprecedented in the past 11,000 years. And while it’s true that Earth’s climate has undergone changes in the past, the rate of current changes are unprecedented in human existence, with concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing at a faster rate than any time in the last 66 million years.

The committee was scheduled to vote on whether or not to adopt the science standards on Friday; instead, Chairwoman Julie VanOrden (R) announced that the vote would take place at a later date.

While Idaho is the only state to successfully remove climate change from its science curriculum through legislative means, both Texas and West Virginia have restricted what students learn about climate change through their Boards of Education. In 2017, nine states considered legislative measures aimed at limiting the kind of scientific information that students could be taught. Alabama was the only state to successfully move its legislation through both state chambers, passing a resolution in May of last year that encourages “academic freedom regarding scientific evidence subjects” and allows teachers to present alternate sides of established science, such as creationism or climate change denial, as scientific fact.