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Saturday, April 12, 2008

James Hansen's letter to Houghton Mifflin on the high school textbook "American Government": Junk Science Taught in High School Classrooms!

People, do you happen to know if your child is being taught from this book?

Friends of the Earth has received a copy of American Government, published by Houghton Mifflin, which is used in AP government classes in high schools nationwide. The latest edition's chapter on "Environmental Policy" contains a discussion of global warming so biased and misleading it would humble a tobacco industry PR man:
  • "It is a foolish politician who today opposes environmentalism. And that creates a problem, because not all environmental issues are equally deserving of support. Take the case of global warming." (p. 559)
  • "On the one hand, a warmer globe will cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal communities; on the other hand, greater warmth will make it easier and cheaper to grow crops and avoid high heating bills." (p. 559)
Please note that researchers at the University of Illinois (smack dab in the middle of our agricultural heartland) have been studying the effect of higher temperatures combined with higher levels of CO2, and they have come to quite the opposite conclusion -- the effect will be of decreased productivity! This has been known by the scientific community since at least 2006.

And, what a joke! Avoiding high heating bills (yeah, in the winter!) -- what about the high electric bills for air conditioning while everyone fries in triple-digit temperatures like they did all summer last year?

Dr. James Hansen has written to complain about this in a letter (see below) to the publisher, using NASA stationery (people have actually complained about this -- I say, "More power to him! Finally, some of our tax dollars are being used for the benefit of the American people!"):

March 28, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Company
222 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116-3764

To Whom It May Concern:

Through the efforts of a public high school student, I recently became aware of the discussion of global warming and climate change in you textbook American Government (by James Q. Wilson and John Dilulio, Jr. Tenth Edition for Advanced High School Students). I am the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Colombia University. For more than three decades, I have studied the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the earth's climate system. On numerous occasions I have testified before Congress on the science of climate change. When I read the book's discussion of global warming (in chapter 21, on "Environmental Policy"), I was shocked to find a large number of clearly erroneous statements. These statements are aimed at giving students the mistaken impression that the scientific evidence of global warming is doubtful and uncertain. I hope that you will give significant and immediate attention to correcting these erroneous statements.

The textbook’s authors repeatedly attempt to cast doubt on the accepted science of global warming. Among other things, the authors state that "scientists do no know how large the greenhouse effect is, whether it will lead to a harmful amount of global warming, or (if it will) what should be done about it" (p. 560); that "science doesn't know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all: (p. 569); and that global warming is "enmeshed in scientific uncertainty: (p. 573).

Each of these statements is profoundly mistaken in ways that will mislead students about the facts and science of global warming. In recent decades the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence that the earth's climate is undergoing a period of significant heating, of which human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause. The scientific community no longer doubts whether global warming is happening. Scientific academies from across the globe, including the National Academy of Sciences, have stated unambiguously that human generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of well-documented global warming.

The most comprehensive scientific assessments of the causes and probable effects of global warming appear in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The IPCC's most recent report is summarized in the attached Summary for Policymakers. The IPCC report concludes that global warming is "unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level." The IPCC report further concludes that there is greater that a 90% probability that "Most of the observed increased in average global temperatures since the mid-20th century" has resulted not from natural causes, but from anthropogenic (i.e., human-induced) greenhouse gas concentrations. The report predicts that human-induced global warming will lead to rising seal levels, intensification of tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes), further increased in surface temperatures, and other disruptive changes.

I find it alarming that a widely-used textbook from a respected publisher would contain so many gross errors. I strongly urge that you update the textbook to reflect the broad consensus of the scientific community. Failure to correct the book's errors will leave students gravely misinformed about the fact and science of global warming, of the most serious problems that we as a society and as a species face.

Thank you for you attention to this matter. Please contact me if I can be of any further assistance.


James E. Hansen, Ph.D.

Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

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