Idaho's House Education Committee has voted to delete several key references to climate change from its science standards… again.
The vote upholds a 2017 decision to remove five sections that reference climate change and human impacts on the environment, including a section called "Earth and Human Activity." Plus, this year, lawmakers took the decision even further and removed all 75-pages of the "supporting content" material.
These five sections would have obligated Idaho students to learn how energy, fuels and human activity affect the environment, including important teachings on air pollution from burning fossil fuels, on erosion from deforestation, and on habitat loss from surface mining.
A crucial section that was removed states, "Current scientific models indicate that human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, are the primary factors in the measured rise in Earth's mean surface temperature."
Looking at the science standards now, it is nearly impossible to find any reference to human-caused climate change. Still, Sherri Ybarra, the state superintendent of public instruction, said she doesn't think these deletions will harm science education.
"Schools will figure it out. The information will still be available. It doesn't need to be a state mandate," she told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Others are not so hopeful.
While it's true the current science standards do not prohibit educators from teaching their students climate science, science advocates are worried that in more conservative areas of the state teachers will actively avoid what they see as a politically "controversial" topic.
These concerns are not misplaced. Denial of climate change in Idaho is rampant and extremely partisan. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, only 24 percent of Republicans in Idaho agree with the scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change, which is the lowest percentage of any US state.
The science supervisor of the Boise School District, Christopher Taylor, explains that teachers need climate change in the standards to resist community pressure against its teaching.
"They will do what the state says."
The decision comes despite two public hearings, where all 28 teachers, students and parents who testified begged for new standards which would include basic climate science.
Ilah Hickman, a high school junior from Boise, was one of several students who testified in favor of the new standards.
"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," Hickman said.
"Being put in such a role, I believe that we should be as prepared as ever to combat these changes."
But those who stood up to protest the deletions were repeatedly reminded of their place by chairwoman of the education committee Rep. Julie VanOrden.
"We are not having a hearing on climate change," VanOrden is reported to have said.
"We're here to address the changes made in the standards, not climate change."
She even interrupted a Boise State geology professor during his testimony to remind him the revisions had nothing to do with climate change.
"But it is about education," said Dr. Matthew Kohn.
"You're out of line," said VanOrden, ending the professor's testimony.
The battle over science standards in Idaho is hardly finished. Now, a vote goes to the state's Senate Education Committee, who will have to approve or reject the standards altogether. For the sake of climate science and the future of science education, we hope it's the latter.