PHOENIX - Saying students are getting only one side of the debate, a state senator wants to free teachers to tell students why some believe there is no such thing as human-caused "global warming."
More specifically, SB 1213 says school boards and officials cannot prohibit a teacher from helping students analyze and review the "strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories," which means teachers would be free to tell students not only that they believe global warming is a myth, but would open the door for teachers to argue for the scientific validity of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution.
The proposal by Sen. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, says school boards must create an environment "that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."
But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said that's what teachers already do. Based on similar measures in other states, Burges' bill points toward its origin, Morrill said.
The bill has all the markings of model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed organization, to suppress certain issues like global warming, he said.
Burges said she did not get the language from the Legislative Exchange Council, saying it came from Tennessee. But she made it clear she believes only the environmentalists' viewpoint is being presented.
"I just feel that our students are being inundated with things in classrooms," she said. "Students should be given all sides of the story," Burges said, something they may not be getting now.
"It actually says in the textbooks that if you don't believe in global change that you're very misinformed," Burges said.
"There should be an opportunity for teachers to step up to the plate and give their opinion, if they have scientific proof, that it isn't happening, that it's a natural phenomena, without retribution," she explained.
"I just happen to think that if a person believes that this is not man-caused or that man only contributes so much, then they should be able to stand before their class and discuss it," she said.
For example, Burges said, many schools are using "An Inconvenient Truth," a movie by former Vice President Al Gore on climate change, as evidence of the role of humans in global warming, without pointing out alternate theories.
But Morrill said, "The curriculum for teaching science is already balanced," he said. "If there's overwhelming evidence on one side, then within the science curriculum there's going to be a look at that evidence."
He said the Legislative Exchange Council and other business interests want to label the issue "controversial" to minimize all the evidence linking human activity and rising levels of greenhouse gases to climate change.
"The controversy is at the political level, not the scientific level," Morrill said.
Burges pointed out that nothing in her legislation requires teachers to present alternate theories if they do not believe in them. "It strictly is if the teacher would like to do it," she said. However, she noted, there are "numerous articles you can find that NASA has written about global warming and the impact of it" saying that "opposite side" is frequently ignored.
However, a quick read of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the topic of climate change questions Burges suggestion they represent an "opposite side." The space agency says "the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years," and cites five studies.
Burges also cited a petition signed by 30,000 scientists that says there is "no convincing scientific evidence" that human release of greenhouse gases will disrupt the planet's climate.
But critics have said the credentials of those "scientists" nowhere match those who see a link between human activity and climate change.
The list of "controversial" issues SB 1213 is designed to address includes not just global warming but also biological evolution and the chemical origins of life, opening the door to teaching alternate theories like "intelligent design."
Burges said she plans to remove those references as the bill goes through the Senate. But because that language is only in a "legislative intent" clause and would not become part of the law itself, removing them would not legally limit the legislation to only cover climate change.