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Plimer’s climate change book for kids underestimates science education (The Conversation)

The forces of climate science denial have geared down a level. Having failed in their attempt to confuse adults and stop the parliament adopting a timid first step in response to climate change, they are now trying to get at schoolkids, writes ACF president Ian Lowe.

Ian Plimer, a geology professor and expert mineralogist with no background at all in climate science, has published a new book, "How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents and Punters".

The book is being promoted by the Institute of Public Affairs, a propaganda unit funded by business to promote an extreme free-market ideology. Its web site doesn’t just deny climate science but also the need to return water to the Murray River, even the health risk of tobacco smoke. The IPA has also argued that we should waive the restrictions on admitting “guest workers” because expanding the minerals industry is too important to be slowed by minor considerations about workers speaking English, being healthy and fitting into the community.

Plimer and the IPA have been working together to spread misinformation about climate science for some time. Plimer has an appeal on the IPA web site, soliciting donations to help the cause of muddying the waters.

His 2009 book, “Heaven and Earth”, was an embarrassing collage of half-truths, misinformation and misquotes of respectable scientists. Climate scientist Ian Enting published a detailed rebuttal of its arguments, while there is now even a website Plimer vs Plimer, exposing the internal contradictions in Plimer’s case.

Plimer’s new publication purports to be an “anti-warmist manual” that arms children with “101 questions” to challenge their teachers. Plimer claims that his book aims to take politics and ideology out of science teaching. Given that, it’s remarkable the campaign is being promoted by the explicitly ideological IPA.

The book was also launched in Sydney by former Prime Minister John Howard, almost certainly the most ideological Prime Minister in our history. Howard stacked the ABC Board with ideologues and even championed the ridiculous attempts to re-write Australian history, playing down the dispossession of the original Australians.

Howard claimed that “People ought to be worried about what their children are being taught at school”. He said, “It’s a matter of real concern”. He attacked the teaching of climate change science as “one-sided”, presumably advocating the teaching of the uninformed superstition of denial to counter-balance the science.

Plimer said parents write to him saying that their kids are getting “environmental activism at school, rather than the basics of science”. Of course, if they do understand the basics of science, they will know that science proceeds by painstaking analysis of evidence, so they will understand why all the world’s major academies of science accept the evidence of climate change. They will also know that science works by considering the implications of the data they collect, which is why climate scientists are almost universally worried by the rate and scale of the changes they observe.

In my experience, school students do understand the science. I can’t imagine that anyone but a determined adult ideologue would be taken in by the sort of stuff in Plimer’s book. He says that the questions like “Is climate change normal?” will “embarrass poorly prepared teachers”.

They would have to be as poorly prepared as the IPA and Plimer not to know both that climate change has been a factor throughout the Earth’s history and that the scale and rate of change we are now seeing has no parallel in that history.

The irony is that the whole exercise purports to cleanse climate science of ideology and politics. What it is really saying is that the IPA ideology of free markets and unconstrained capitalism should be promoted in schools to counter the scientific evidence that we are straining the capacity of natural systems. Now that would be “a matter of real concern”.