Phillips Petroleum Company Funds the Politicizing of Children on Environmental Issues

On Point No. 67

Phillips Petroleum Company provides the funds for the distribution of the “Wild About Life: Activity Guide” to the nation’s middle and high schools.  This guide was written by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  In addition to teaching students about the scientific aspects of biodiversity, this program aims to move students from “awareness to action.” 

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By “action,” the FWS program means “to emphasize political and personal skills—from lobbying, to use of mass media, to empathizing with politicians and other community change agents…to learning and practicing the skills of effective political advocacy within the democratic system.”  (Emphasis added by author throughout.)


In this program, kids learn that large changes are made in small steps.  “A series of small steps is what is necessary in order to effect change in this culture.  The combined impact of these small steps leads to the desired major change in behavior.”


While the Guide cautions instructors to “make absolutely sure that students have equal time access to all viewpoints and positions on all issues they encounter in class,” nowhere in the Guide are instructors provided help to do that.  No list of individuals or organizations where students can obtain views critical of the FWS is provided.  No list of web sites where students might gather information providing alternative information is provided.  The Guide only offers a list of addresses and phone numbers for the national FWS office and seven regional FWS offices.  Without help, busy and over-worked teachers are unlikely to find the time to put a list of alternative views together for their students, and it is unlikely that the FWS offices will give students much help in this area.


A case study example provided in this Guide demonstrates this point: Florida Light and Power (FLP) was hit by an EPA injunction halting the building of a discharge system from one of its power plants.  FLP asked a high school science class to review the situation hoping that it would receive a fair and unbiased scientific examination.  After discussions with both EPA officials and officials at FLP, the class strongly expressed the view “that the EPA policies and regulations which guided the injunction in the first place were excellent.  The students emphasized that this case in Lee County [Florida] should in no way weaken those regulations.”  According to the information in the Guide, the students did not consult any independent experts such as university scientists, public policy experts, or independent research institutes.  It is little wonder that the students decided to support the EPA position.  To them, it was a clear-cut case between an industry damaging the environment and the federal protectors of the environment.  Without additional  information from independent sources, this is not a quality educational project. 


It is clear that the FWS is developing, with the help of Phillips Petroleum, a cadre of skilled environmental activists to fight in favor of its environmental policies and its budget.  The FWS program is designed for students to “gain skills for political effectiveness in order to become more effective leaders….These are students who are likely to be change agents in their communities in the future.”  


The impact of this FWS program is three-fold: First, kids engage in political activities as officially sponsored, taxpayer-funded “school projects.”  Second, by emphasizing career education, this program works as an employee on-the-job training program, at taxpayer expense, for environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.  Third, students who are exposed to biased, one-sided presentation of agency-sponsored environmental information become adult voters who vote based on that biased information. 


Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the environmental movement has emphasized education as one of its primary strategic areas.  Unfortunately, many corporations fail to understand this and, in some cases, such as Phillips Petroleum funding the FWS program, are supporting the very programs which will lead to public policies that will diminish their opportunities to supply the public with the goods and services they provide.