Propaganda Posing as Environmental Literacy

Kids aren’t the only ones going back to school this week. Powerful environmental advocacy groups are joining them in the classroom. On June 21, the Maryland State Board of Education approved an “environmental literacy” graduation requirement at the behest of organizations that promote their far-left political agenda based on misinformation and anti-capitalist fervor.

According to the program’s curriculum, environmental literacy means turning children into central planners. For instance, it instructs students to “develop a strategy for fair distribution of a limited amount of energy available within a community” and to create a “plan for the fair consumption of goods” and to “eliminate … unnecessary consumption of goods.”

Maryland has not provided funding for the program, so it is very likely that the teaching materials will be provided free of charge by environmentalist groups.

One likely such provider is the No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI), an environmentalist group that has expressed its strong support for the new curriculum. NCLI advocates “major societal change … in response to global warming” – in other words, central planning and a deindustrialization agenda based on climate alarmism. This dovetails with the Maryland curriculum’s instruction to students to “explain how human impacts threaten current global stability and, if not addressed, will irreversibly affect earth’s [sic] systems.” The only piece missing is a deadline of environmental Armageddon to be proved false in 10 years.

The NCLI also peddles the long-debunked notion that population growth has made resources scarcer. It claims, “[T]he growing needs of the growing global population increasingly presses up against the limits of the earth’s [sic] resources and ecosystems.” History shows that just the opposite has occurred. As population has grown and technology has advanced, humans have been able to expand the productive capacity of agriculture and industry, enabling more people to be fed than ever before. Would anyone argue that an individual today has fewer resources at his disposal than a medieval farmer?

The curriculum describes fossil-fuel energy as an “unsustainable system” even though its efficiency has increased progressively as technology has advanced. Fuel efficiency in passenger cars nearly doubled from 1975 to 2000, according to the National Research Council. And with oil priced as high as it is now, it’s no surprise automakers are building cars that achieve more than 40 mpg.

Moreover, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, estimated world oil reserves have increased from 600 billion barrels in 1940 to 3.9 trillion barrels in 2000. If global oil supplies ever were to run low, the price of extracting oil would then become high enough to make other forms of energy affordable by comparison. In the meantime, it makes no sense not to use the most affordable energy source at our disposal.

Even worse, the new program threatens valuable time needed for the teaching of real subjects, including math, science and reading skills. John Franklin, a managing editor and project manager at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which supports “environmental literacy,” admits that the program detracts from class time devoted to teaching core subjects. A 2009 report by the Program for International Student Assessment that compared 15-year-old students among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries, ranked the United States 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. The last thing American students need is to take time away from core subjects to listen to green propaganda.

Consider the real-world effects of environmental misinformation. The curriculum purports to promote “environmental justice” by urging students to “[i]dentify a local environmental justice issue (such as the location of [a] toxic waste facility in the neighborhood) and propose possible solutions” – which generally involves lobbying against such a plant. Unfortunately, advocates of “environmental justice” usually end up harming those they claim to help.

That’s what happened in 1996 in Convent, La., a low-income, largely black community. Local residents and the NAACP welcomed the construction of a Shintech plastics factory that would have brought more than 2,000 well-paying jobs to the area, but the Sierra Club and Greenpeace – raising fears of dioxin pollution falling disproportionately on blacks – lobbied against it. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality stated that “dioxins were never detected … from these manufacturing facilities,” but the Environmental Protection Agency denied Shintech the construction permit anyway. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace got their victory, and 2,000 Convent residents were denied jobs.

Maryland parents should beware the innocuous-sounding allure of “environmental literacy.” They should let school officials and lawmakers know that they won’t stand for green zealots targeting their children for indoctrination.