VUSD takes trustees’ temps on climate change

Visalia Unified trustees are deadlocked on whether or not to use climate change in a policy about teaching environmental education

VISALIA – At least one Visalia Unified school board trustee says climate change isn’t happening and two others agreed they did not want to use the scientifically accepted phrase to describe changes to the Earth’s environment and humans’ effect on it.

The debate between board members on the issue came during approval of what should have been a routine update of board policy at its Oct. 12 meeting. Board Policy 6142.5(a) on Environmental Education was among 10 policy updates being considered by the Visalia Unified School District board at its Oct. 12 meeting. The item was on the consent calendar reserved for items considered routine and of little interest to the public or for board discussion.

The update included changing the phrase “climate change” to “environmental change” in the following line: “The Board believes that all students should understand ecological systems and the impact of human action on such systems, including, but not limited to, climate change environmental change. The district’s environmental education program shall promote environmental literacy and shall prepare students to be stewards of natural resources and live an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.”

Trustee Megan Casebeer Soleno pulled the item off the consent calendar for discussion arguing the phrase is not only a commonly used term around the world but also almost universally accepted among the international scientific community. She pointed out three physicists recently won the Nobel Prize for their work in climate change research.

“The change [from climate change to environmental change] came from a good place to try and avoid politicizing it but that is my request [to keep climate change in the policy text],” Soleno said.

Trustee Walta Gamoian described climate change as a political term and said it should be taken out of the policy for that and the fact the current warming and weather shifts happening now are simply part of a cycle of heating, such as the Mesozoic era of the dinosaurs, and cooling, such as glacial era or Ice Age. She implied human activity was no responsible for any part of the current heating period of the Earth.

“I don’t believe there is climate change happening in our world,” said Gamoian, who taught high school for more than 30 years and has a degree in biology.

Merrian-Webster defines the term climate change as “significant and long-lasting change in the Earth’s climate and weather patterns.” The definition does not mention the causes of climate change but most scientists agree the term implies there is a human effect on accelerating the current warming or greenhouse period, of the Earth. In it’s education materials, National Geographic, a renowned education-based institution, writes “The cause of current climate change is largely human activity, like burning fossil fuels, like natural gas, oil, and coal. Throughout Earth’s history, climate has continually changed. When occurring naturally, this is a slow process that has taken place over hundreds and thousands of years. The human influenced climate change that is happening now is occurring at a much faster rate.”

NASA’s Global Climate Change portal reviewed multiple, longitudinal studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals and concluded that at least 97% of climate scientists agree “Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

“It’s kind of a moot point for us,” trustee Jacqui Gaebe said.

In an interview after the meeting, Gamoian clarified her comments. She said she does not believe humans burning fossil fuels is the sole cause of climate change, but that humans probably contributed to accelerating the warming trend the Earth is currently experiencing.

“I do believe humans have an impact on the environment as humans certainly impacted this Valley from a marshland to almost a desert,” she said.

Two other board members agreed with the change from climate to environmental change, but did not go so far as to say climate change is not happening. Christopher Pope said environmental change encompassed climate change, and therefore made the phrase more broad and inclusive.

Joy Naylor said using environmental change was more consistent with the rest of policy which uses the word environmental six times but would have only mentioned climate once. Naylor asked to table the item until staff can provide the board with exactly what the term climate change would entail as part of the policy.

Instead, Gaebe motioned to keep climate change in the policy and approve it. Soleno seconded the motion and board president Juan Guerrero voted in favor while Naylor, Pope and Gamoian voted against. The motion failed deadlocked in a 3-3 tie as the Area 4 seat is still vacant following the resignation of John Crabtree on Oct. 1. Staff said they would bring the item back at a future meeting.

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