Republican lawmaker doesn’t want environmental justice taught in schools

An Arizona House Republican wants to remove lessons about the social and economic consequences of climate change from the statewide requirements for K-12 environmental education.

House Education Committee Vice-Chairman John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, introduced legislation this month that would strike “a discussion of economic and social implications” from the state’s current requirements for environmental instruction curricula. The only other requirement is that lessons be based on reliable and current scientific information. 

Fillmore described the bill as “ending indoctrination in the global warming programs,” but under the “reliable and current scientific information” condition for curricula, climate change would still be taught even if Fillmore’s bill passed, given that the overwhelming majority of reliable and current scientific information about the earth’s climate points to a global increase in temperatures. 

Neither Fillmore, nor his Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Gerae Peten, responded to repeated requests for comment. 

The legislature will take up Fillmore’s measure when lawmakers return to work in January.

The consensus among most researchers is also that the changing climate will have a disproportionate impact on those of disadvantaged social and economic status. The World Bank estimated in 2018 that more than 140 million people will be climate migrants by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meanwhile, set that number at 200 million; though “climate migrant” does not necessarily imply fleeing a natural disaster and sometimes implies preemptively migrating to avoid worse effects of climate change that would occur later. 

“Attempts to mute discussion on the social and economic implications of our changing environment undermines the very real ways in which climate change is shaping our future and impacting our daily lives,” said Laura Dent, executive director of Chispa Arizona, a Latino environmental justice advocacy group. 

“Latinos and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, and reflect the majority of K-12 students at our public schools. Arizona’s young people deserve to be equipped with the best education possible to succeed, and for that to happen, we need to understand the multiple ways the environment impacts our life.”

Last year, the state added to its lessons on life and earth science that “applications of science often have both positive and negative ethical, social, economic, and/or political implications,” reflecting the now-common idea that science interfaces with every other segment of society. 

Fillmore’s bill, if it becomes law, would directly contradict the current state standards on earth science, which include lessons about the climate. The Arizona Department of Education declined to comment on the legislation until Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman has the opportunity to discuss the bill with its sponsors, a spokesman said. 

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