VUSD settles on climate change for curriculum

Visalia Unified school board narrowly votes to keep the phrase climate change in its environmental education policy

VISALIA – Visalia Unified continued its debate on whether or not to use the term climate change to describe its curriculum on environmental education. With two new board members since the original discussion took place in the fall, the school board narrowly decided to keep the term despite at least two trustees who said the term was just a theory and not a fact at the Jan. 11 meeting.

“Climate change is not a fact. It’s like the Theory of Evolution, it’s a theory,” Gamoian said, who taught high school for more than 30 years and has a degree in biology.

While it is true climate change is a scientific theory that is not the same as saying it is purely theoretical, which scientifically, would be called a hypothesis. Scientific theories are hypotheses which have been tested and proven, to a far greater degree than the next best hypothesis to explain a phenomenon. In other words, scientific theories are as close as the world gets to scientific fact until a better, more proven theory takes its place. Universal Gravity is also a theory, but at this point the scientific community, and the world, consider it a scientific fact, or at least the closest thing to a fact we can comprehend given present day knowledge and tools.

Gamoian clarified her statement later saying, “I think humans have a huge affect on the environment and I think if we blame it on climate change we’re absolving our responsibility to protect our environment. Just to simply say, it’s because of burning fossil fuels, is not responsible. That’s why I thought it was very important that we said environmental change instead of climate change.”

Gamoian made a different argument at the board’s Oct. 12 meeting when she said “I don’t believe there is climate change happening in our world.” She went on to say climate change was 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 not responsible for any part of the current heating period of the Earth.

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 its 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.”

“There is widespread data on the fact that climate change has affected our state, students, Central Valley, as rising temperatures through the years, blistering summers,” the board’s newest trustee, Randy Villegas said. “I would like for us to reinstate this sentence.”

Trustee Jacqui Gaebe reminded the board climate change is the accepted scientific term, for nearly all of the world’s scientific community, and it is the term currently used in the state standards.

“We are a learning institution and I think following standards is important,” Gaebe said.

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.”

Gaebe asked Andre Pecina what the district’s curriculum department recommended. Pecina said his department relies on what the state framework’s terminology and those used in state standards. Pecina said the term climate change was agreed on by a state committee created in 2015. The committee, comprised of university experts as well as public school teachers and administrators and “they drafted the language and the language that they put in there is climate change.”

Trustee Joy Naylor agreed with Gamoian, also calling it a theory but couched her statement by saying it is a theory “everyone agrees with” according to the textbooks but that “we don’t always go with just the curriculum,” Naylor said.

Naylor, Gamoian and Villegas did agree adding a sentence back into the policy stating “the quality of life for future generations, will depend on everyone’s willingness and ability to solve today’s environmental problems and prevent new ones from developing” instead of just saying “our students’ willingness and ability.”

Trustee Megan Casebeer Soleno made a motion to keep the term climate change, which had been recommended for removal per the board’s October discussion, and to add a line about everyone working to combat climate change and not just future generations. Gaebe seconded the motion. The motion carried 4-3, with Guerrero and Villegas joining Soleno and Gaebe in favor. Trustee Cataline Blair sided with Gamoian and Naylor. Having a full board broke the 3-3 tie over the issue from the Oct. 12 meeting, which is why the issue was continued to January.

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