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Heartland Institute activist on climate-change curriculum: Teach the ‘controversy’

Zachary Roth
The Ticket

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A Thai farmer walks on a dried field. (Apichart Weerawong/AP)

Last week, documents said to come from a conservative think tank, Heartland Institute, shed light on its strategy to cast doubt on the science of climate change. Part of its tactic: a strategy memo mentioning plans to develop a school curriculum aimed at countering "the alarmist perspective" on the issue.

The group, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, has called that memo a fake. But the activist described as leading the curriculum project, Dr. David Wojick, confirmed his lead role in the effort to Yahoo News, and called climate change "one of the greatest scientific controversies in history."

On Monday, Peter Gleick, a prominent environmental activist and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, admitted that he had received the strategy memo anonymously in the mail, and in an effort to confirm its authenticity,  used someone else's name to obtain the other documents from the libertarian Heartland Institute. He then passed them on to a group of journalists, bloggers, and issue experts in favor of mainstream climate science to fuel the controversy. "I offer my personal apologies to all those affected," Gleick wrote in an article on the Huffington Post.

Heartland said Monday night it is "consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps."

According to the strategy memo, Heartland tentatively plans to pay Wojick about $25,000 per quarter to produce a K-12  curriculum that casts doubt on whether man-made climate change is occurring. Students would be taught, for instance, that "there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather," says the memo.

In an email to Yahoo News, Wojick said he'd noticed a lack of online resources for teaching the "climate change science debate,"  adding that "almost everything teaches the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] view, with which I disagree." As a result, Wojick said, he approached Heartland with a proposal to "teach the basics of the debate, and fill the gap."

Wojick told Yahoo News he views it as an issue of teaching the controversy. "The fact is that while controversy is the life blood of the scientific frontier, the concept of scientific controversy is generally not taught in K-12," he wrote. "I regard the climate debate as one of the greatest scientific controversies in history. It is so great that it cannot be ignored and is even forcing itself into the classroom."

In reality, the science of climate change is largely settled. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, considered the world's leading scientific body on the issue, has confirmed in several recent reports that man-made climate change is occurring and poses a threat to the health of the planet.

In recent years, Heartland has released a series of reports, written by well-known climate-change skeptics, challenging IPCC's conclusions. But the great majority of climate scientists agree about the reality of man-made climate change.

Heartland has called the strategy document "a total fake," which "contains several obvious and gross misstatements of fact." (It has not challenged the authenticity of the other documents.) But Wojick's email appears to confirm his leading role in the education project. A spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.

The memo says that Wojick "has conducted extensive research on environmental and science education for the Department of Energy." And Wojick told Yahoo News he won a grant from the Department of Energy  "to develop an algorithm that estimates the grade level of science education content."

But in a statement issued last week, the Energy Department described Wojick as "a part-time support contractor for the Office of Scientific and Technical Information since 2003, working to help the office manage and organize its electronic databases."

It added: "He has never advised or conducted research for the Department on climate change or any other scientific topic, and the office he works for is not a research organization."

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