Monday, March 26, 2018

Juneau schools leave room for debate in climate change curriculum

The Juneau School Board is considering adopting new curriculum for middle and high schools — based on growing national science standards. The model has been adopted entirely in 19 states, and one of the core ideas is teaching students about climate change.

The standards don’t shy away from attributing it to an increase of human activity. But how that’s taught in the classroom could be up to interpretation.

In the past five years, the way that science is taught in the classroom — across the nation — has shifted. Pop quizzes are still a thing, but the Next Generation Science Standards challenge students to think systematically.

“You still have the content there, but the focus has changed,” Ted Wilson said. He helped oversee the new curriculum for the Juneau School District, which includes activities that encourage place-based learning.

Another key part of the science standards is that students graduate with an understanding of earth and human activity, and that includes learning about climate change. The standards don’t mince words: What caused climate change to accelerate? It’s us.

The Juneau School District is borrowing some core ideas from the new standards.

But Wilson says how those ideas are taught in the classroom is up to the teachers. There’s no school district policy on climate change. Wilson’s advice is to stick to “it’s happening.”

“The aspect of how much of it is human-caused — because there is still a lot of controversy about that — is to teach it as this is one stream of thought,” Wilson said.

One stream of thought, Wilson says, that humans contributed to our most recent climate change.

“To present it like that,” Wilson said. “And for students to come away with their own opinions whether they think humans have made that impact or not.”

But Glenn Branch, a deputy director at the National Center for Science Education, says there are clear facts about who’s causing climate change to ramp up. His nonprofit advocates for evidence-based science in the classroom.

Branch says there’s a social controversy over climate change. But there isn’t a scientific one.

Scientists all over the world have studied this. And the overwhelming majority have reached the same conclusion: humans are largely to blame. It’s not an opinion, Branch says. It involves climate models and math.

Branch says that doesn’t leave room for avoiding the facts or debating them.

“It’s inappropriate,” Branch said. “Both because it reinforces a false conception that there’s a legitimate scientific debate about climate change, and also because it misrepresents the nature of science.”

Still, Branch says states are trying to navigate this all across the country. With topics that can be perceived as controversial, like climate change, he says it’s understandable school districts don’t want to make waves.

Branch says there are social issues that can be debated, like carbon taxes. However:

“You certainly don’t have it about issues such as human impact on climate change or the shape of the earth,” Branch said.

But Ted Wilson doesn’t take issue with climate change being presented in the classroom like a debate. Has human activity accelerated it or not? He says that regularly happens in history class or language arts.

Where does Wilson draw the line? Would flat earth theory be something he’d consent to someone teaching in a science classroom?

“As far as something that they’re asking students to debate, they could,” Wilson said.

Bottom line, Wilson says, is students should be able to think critically. And then decide on their own how to interpret the world, whether it’s flat earth theory or climate change. Regardless of what’s accelerating warming, how can we adapt? That’s the takeaway, he says.

“I think in our political climate, we don’t want teachers to be seen as people that are trying to push an agenda,” Wilson said.

Teaching students about climate change is part of the state’s science standards. But a spokesperson from the Alaska Department of Education says it’s largely up to the school districts to decide how that’s done.

Next year, the department will be able offer some new guidance. The state is currently updating its science standards. After being reviewed by teachers, parents and industry, it will be posted for public comment in 2019.


Global cooling

Poland clamps down on environmental defenders ahead of UN climate talks

The notoriety of the next IPCC climate conference (COP24 in November) is already infecting the host country, which is a heavy user of its own coal for electricity generation. Maybe COP should read COPS? They clearly suspect trouble is likely.

Poland recently passed a bill that bans spontaneous protests and allows police surveillance at this year’s world climate summit, reports

Civil society groups say Poland wants to silence environmental defenders.

There are still eight months to go until the international community meets for the UN climate talks in Poland’s Katowice, but the host is already causing controversy.

Poland has passed a bill specifically for the UN summit which, according to environmental groups, will exclude members of civil society from the Paris Agreement process and endanger activists who have been threatened in their home countries.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed the bill at the end of January, but it has gone widely unnoticed by the international community so far. It bans all spontaneous gatherings in the southern coal-mining city of Katowice between November 26 and December 16, spanning the entire period of the annual world climate change conference.

It also submits registered conference participants to government surveillance. It allows authorities and police to obtain, collect and use personal data of attendees without their consent or judicial oversight.

Now, a group of more than 100 environmental, women’s and indigenous organizations have signed a statement calling on Poland to repeal the law, arguing that it is a crackdown on human rights.

The bill “is setting a dangerous precedent that undermines basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and of speech, and the right to privacy,” says the statement published by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

Limited participation

Poland still allows demonstrations that are registered with local authorities in Katowice before the summit. But it restricts all spontaneous protests, activities and assemblies during the 24th ‘Conference of the Parties’ summit (COP24).


China struggles to kick its coal habit even as it pledges to increase renewable energy use

China is the world's biggest polluter, consuming more coal than the rest of the world combined.

It is now taking global leadership in combating climate change and has pledged to drastically cut its use of fossil fuels.

Central to that plan is to increase renewable energy by 20 per cent by 2030.

But many question whether the rhetoric is matching reality.

In the middle of China's coal heartland of Datong, solar panels fill the hilltops as far as the eye can see.

The project, called Top Runner, employs cutting-edge technology. And its success will, in part, determine how far and how fast solar energy can be rolled out across China.

The project is totally wireless and its conversion rate of sunlight to electricity is as high at 17 per cent. So far enough power is generated for 65,000 homes.

Pu Chengjun, who helps manage the project from Three Gorges New Energy, says it has the potential to transform the local area.

"The structure of energy and economy will be adjusted. It will change from coal mining, heavy industry to clean energy, new energy, solar energy. It's a model project," he says.

Communities in Datong have been destroyed by rampant coal mining. The water table has been poisoned and the land has subsided. Only small amounts of land can be used for agriculture.

Many villages that once lived off the riches of coal now lie derelict and abandoned.

Mr Pu believes solar energy can revive the area's fortunes.

"It will provide about 1,000 jobs a year in construction and maintenance and the company pays rent of more than half a million dollars a year to the locals for land that was useless," he says.

Nationally, solar only generates about 2 per cent of China's electricity and wind power a little more than 3 per cent, but much more is in the pipeline.

China says it will be the world's biggest investor in renewables and has pledged $400 billion by 2030.

But the problem is much of the electricity is not getting onto the grid. It is being squeezed out by coal, which provides three-quarters of the nation's energy needs.

Coal is cheap, and China is self-sufficient. And that has created a dependency. Coal is firmly entrenched and much of China's business and political elites are making billions from it.

Yuan Ying, the manager of climate and energy at Greenpeace China, says the coal culture will be a challenge to change, and top decision-makers down do not regard solar as a viable alternative yet.

"The whole power system is pivoted around coal, a lot of employment, a lot of incomes, a lot of GDP growth is relying on the coal industry. In the provinces the local officials prefer coal," she says.

Many of the massive showcase renewable projects in the outer provinces are too far away from the energy-hungry cities and industrial centres of the east, and transmission lines and the grid haven't been upgraded to utilise the power.

Ms Yuan says the situation is improving, but 20 per cent of renewable power that is generated is being lost.

"In western parts large amounts of energy produced by solar and wind is wasted and not integrated into the grid, that brings a lot of losses for the companies operating the renewables," she says.

The other issue is cost. Renewable energy is still expensive compared to coal.

Those in the solar industry in China, like Huang Xinming from JA Solar, say it is only a matter of time before technological breakthroughs bring lower prices. "It won't take too long, maybe five years," Mr Huang says.

"Then it will be a low-cost, clean and stable fuel of the future. In the last decade it's already dropped from $5.00 to 40 cents a watt."

Whether China can recast itself as the world's leader in clean energy will depend on how effective energy reforms are, and how fast the coal culture can change.

But the Chinese public, usually apolitical, may be the biggest drivers in the country's energy transition as they are demanding a cleaner, safer future.


Australia: Raising big dam wall plan 'would flood 50 Aboriginal heritage sites'. Greenies furious

Greenie hatred of dams is as implacable as it is irrational

A proposal to raise the Warragamba dam wall would flood 4,700ha of the Blue Mountains world heritage area, destroying more than 50 recognised Aboriginal heritage sites and wiping out pockets of threatened plant species, conservationists have said.

The $670m plan to raise the dam wall by 14 metres was announced by the New South Wales government in 2016 as a strategy to prevent catastrophic flooding in outer-western Sydney.

It faces strong opposition from conservationists and Gundungurra traditional owners, who say WaterNSW has made it difficult for them to engage in a consultation process and has underestimated the number of cultural heritage sites that will be lost.

Kazan Brown, a Gundungurra woman who has nominated to be part of the Aboriginal consultation group on the project, said she was given four days’ warning of an information session on 20 March. The briefing was held in northern Sydney, more than a three-hour drive in peak-hour traffic from Brown’s home in Warragamba.

Infrastructure NSW said the briefing was “not a mandated part of that consultation process” but invitations were issued to “registered Aboriginal parties”. Four groups accepted but due to “personal circumstances” none turned up.

A second meeting will be held at Katoomba on 27 March.

Brown said raising the dam wall would flood more than 50 Aboriginal heritage sites. A significant number of sites were flooded when the original dam was built.

“They [WaterNSW] are saying that it is going to save more sites downstream,” she said. “But they are talking about different cultures. Everything that is behind the dam wall belongs to the Gundungurra and Dharawal people and everything that’s downstream belongs to the Darug.”

Among the sites at risk behind the dam wall are rock art sites, burial sites and ochre deposits in a cave on the waterline.

Brown said the Gundungurra people could not afford to lose any more heritage sites. “We lost a lot when they first flooded the valley,” she said.

Infrastructure NSW said it was still assessing the impact on Aboriginal heritage sites.

Ecologist Roger Lembit was involved in environmental assessments of a proposal to raise the wall by 23 metres in 1995. A spillway was built instead.

Lembit said he was “very surprised” to see another proposal to raise the dam, especially after the Blue Mountains received world heritage listing in 2000.

“You would think that world heritage meant something,” he said.

The new inundation area includes Camden white gum (Eucalyptus benthamii), which is nationally is listed as vulnerable, and Kowmung hakea (Hakea Dohertyi) which is listed as endangered.

It also contains “highly unusual” mixed ironbark and cypress pine forests, areas of dry rainforest and a substantial number of old growth trees.

The proposal would also flood 65km of wild rivers and streams, according to the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, which will launch a campaign to save the wild rivers on Monday.

The 142m high dam wall was completed in 1960. It fences in Lake Burragorang, a 2,000 gigalitre lake on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains that provides 80% of Sydney’s water supply.

It guards the Hawkesbury-Nepean valley, which was identified by the Insurance Council of Australia as the most flood-prone area in NSW.

According to the Hawkesbury-Nepean valley flood risk management strategy, which recommended the dam wall be raised, up to 134,000 people live and work on the floodplain. That number is growing as Sydney sprawls westward.

The strategy said raising the dam wall would create “airspace in the dam to temporarily hold back and slowly release flood waters coming from the Warragamba river catchment”, which would reduce the flood risk by 75%.

The proposal was developed in response to the 2011 Brisbane floods, which were triggered by a release from the Wivenhoe dam.

It has already received $58m in state funding and is undergoing ecological assessment. If approved, construction will begin in 2020.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


1 comment:

Spurwing Plover the fighting shorebird said...

The Green Nuts are coming earlier each year they fall they roll then they sprout and grow Stupid Weed