The most insidious revelation to arise from the pilfered Heartland Institute documents was the confirmation that the think tank was sponsoring an effort to systematically lobby K-12 schools to teach climate science as a controversy, not as scientific fact. The best analogy is probably the nationwide effort spurred on by some evangelical groups to get teachers to teach intelligent design or creationism alongside evolution.
While it's true that there is some controversy over just how much warming the planet will undergo as a result of the greenhouse gases humankind has dumped into the atmosphere, there is of course no serious debate over whether the fundamental process is occurring. That gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap heat is just basic physics, and there has been a measured warming of around 1˚F that is roundly attributable to the industrial pollution we've caused over the last century.
But the Heartland Institute, an organization whose goal is to campaign against the existence of climate change (most specifically to prevent the enacting of policies that would reduce industrial pollution), is working to see to it that children don't learn that basic bit of science in school.
Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress has exposed their campaign:
Internal documents acquired by ThinkProgress Green reveal that the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers, Microsoft, and other top corporations, is planning to develop a “global warming curriculum” for elementary schoolchildren that presents climate science as “a major scientific controversy.” This effort, at a cost of $100,000 a year, will be developed by Dr. David E. Wojick, a coal-industry consultant.And how much climate change denial does $100K a year buy you? Brad Plumer explains in the Washington Post that Wojick will develop "modules" for "classroom discussion". It's unclear exactly how the modules will be distributed, or if they'd be officially sanctioned by school districts. But Plumer explains the damage they could do regardless:
Heartland could do what creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have been doing for years and simply mail out supplemental materials to educators far and wide. “There will be teachers who are sympathetic to the skeptic view or who think the material looks useful, and they’ll say to themselves, okay, I’ll bring this into the classroom,” [Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education] explains.And teachers that are on the fence, when confronted with such material, may just skip over climate science altogether. Which is a frightening prospect, to say the least.
Even if these materials turn out to be wildly inaccurate or out of sync with a state’s science-education standards, keeping tabs on their use would be quite difficult. “In almost all cases,” Rosenau says, “there are no policies that would prevent a teacher from using such material.” Quite the opposite: A few states, such as Louisiana, have non-binding laws that urge teachers to embrace “supplemental” material on heated topics like evolution and climate change.
For its part, the Climate Reality project is pushing back, and made this video of what the Heartland Institute's vision for American science education would look like if it came to pass:
Let's hope that it doesn't.