Saying students are getting only one side of the debate, a state senators wants to free teachers to tell students why they believe there is no such thing human-caused "global warming.''
The proposal by Sen. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, requires school board to create an environment "that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.''
But the key to SB 1213 says state and local school boards and officials cannot prohibit any teacher from helping students analyze and review the "strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories'' being taught. And that means teachers would be free to tell students not only that they believe global warming is a myth but would open the door for teachers to argue for the scientific validity of "intelligent design'' as an alternative to evolution.
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association said that, on its surface, SB 1213 simply spells out what science teachers already do: teach students to think critically. But Morrill, citing similar measures in other states, said there's more here than meets the eye.
"It appears to be part and parcel of an ALEC, written by corporate interests, to suppress certain issues like global warming,'' he said, citing its similarity to model legislation crafted by the business-backed American Legislative Exchange Council.
Burges said she did not get the language from ALEC, saying it came from Tennessee. But she made it clear she believes only the environmentalists' viewpoint is being presented.
"I just feel that are students are being inundated with things in classrooms,'' she said. "Students should be given all side of the story,'' Burges said, something they may not be getting now.
"It actually says in the textbooks if you don't believe in global change that you're very misinformed,'' Burges said.
"There should be an opportunity for teachers to step up to the plate and give their opinion, if they have scientific proof, that it isn't happening, that it's a natural phenomena, without retribution,'' she explained. "I just happen to think that if a person believes that this is not man-caused or that man only contributes so much, then they should be able to stand before their class and discuss it.''
As proof, Burges said many schools are using "An Inconvenient Truth,'' a movie by former Vice President Al Gore on climate change, as positive evidence of the role of humans in global warming without pointing out alternate theories.
"That's such a bunch of hogwash,'' Morrill responded.
"The curriculum for teaching science is already balanced,'' he said. "If there's overwhelming evidence on one side, then within the science curriculum there's going to be a look at that evidence.''
He said ALEC and other business interests want to label the issue "controversial'' to minimize all the evidence linking human activity and rising levels of greenhouse gases to climate change.
"The controversy is at the political level, not the scientific level,'' Morrill said.
Burges pointed out that nothing in her legislation actually requires teachers to present alternate theories if they do not believe in them.
"It strictly if the teacher would like to do it,'' Burges said. "It's not forcing them to do anything.''
She said, though, there is contrary evidence out there that is not always being presented.
"There's numerous articles you can find that NASA has written about global warming and the impact of it,'' she said. "So there is the opposite side out there.''
But if Burges is relying on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to rebut Al Gore and others who have similar beliefs, she may be disappointed. NASA's web site discussion of climate change says that "the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years, citing five studies.
It also says for 650,000 hears atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have never been above 300 parts per million until 1950. NASA lists the current figure as above 380 ppm.
Burges also cited a petition signed by 30,000 scientists which says there is "no convincing scientific evidence'' that human release of various greenhouse gases will disrupt the planet's climate. That same petition says there is "substantial scientific evidence'' that higher levels of carbon dioxide actually will help plants and animals.
Others have said the credentials of those "scientists'' nowhere matches those who see a link between human activity and climate change.
The list of "controversial'' issues SB 1213 is designed to address includes not just global warming but also biological evolution and the chemical origins of life, opening the door to teaching alternate theories like "intelligent design.'' But Burges said she will alter the language as the bill goes through the Senate to remove those specific references.
But because that language is only in a "legislative intent'' clause and would not become part of the law itself, even removing those other issues from the list would not legally limit the legislation to only climate change.
Morrill compared Burges' bill to legislative efforts in the 1980s to make it illegal for teachers to take any sort of action that would undermine what a parent teaches a child.
"If a parent of a student teaches a student the earth is flat, it is not the responsibility of the science teacher to correct that,'' he recalled of the measure. "Well, of course it is.''