Instead, its “education” department has approved a series of right-wing videos from Prager U, which draws much of its funding from some of the country’s biggest frackers.
On the list of crazy weather records this overheated summer, it’s possible that the single most extreme might have been a 101.1°F temperature measured by an ocean buoy at Manatee Bay in Florida in July. That appears to be the hottest temperature ever measured in the ocean; it’s in a murky and shallow stretch of the Keys, but across the entire Gulf coast temperatures are truly astounding. The average for the Gulf of Mexico this week is more than 88°F , crushing the average for the date across the last three decades by two and a half degrees; God forbid a hurricane gets loose in there any time soon. Coral reef researchers were reporting “100% mortality” at sites in the Keys.
So you would think that as Florida students return to school this fall, studying up on climate change would be a no-brainer—if physics and chemistry usually seem a little abstract, nothing could be more immediate than an ocean running at Jacuzzi temperatures. There’s so many ways you could study it, from the youngest students to high school seniors, and it would bring everything from history to economics alive. Some of it might be sad—I was deeply moved by this Diana Nyad piece about swimming in the ocean she’d known since she was a girl now that it was 100°F. But I was fascinated by her writing—read this one paragraph and think about the different directions a talented teacher could take it:
At age 9, after the Cuban Revolution, I searched the horizon to catch a glimpse of Cuba, this suddenly forbidden island. My mother pointed out across the ocean and said to me: “There. Havana is just across there. It’s so close that you, you little swimmer, you could actually swim there.” Later, after five attempts over 35 years, I finally did make that crossing. But I couldn’t have made that swim last month. In such hot water, the body heat I’d generate from the duress of the effort—a continuous 52 hours and 54 minutes—would quickly lead to overheating and failure. And danger. Hyperthermia would conquer even the strongest of wills.
But that’s not what Florida students will necessarily be studying this year. Instead, the state’s “education” department has approved a series of right-wing videos from Prager U, which draws much of its funding from some of the country’s biggest frackers. And they’re getting their money’s worth: The videos that Prager sends out explain, for instance, that “the planet has heated up and cooled since prehistoric times, even without the burning of fossil fuels.” Which, duh, but this time it’s—as every part of the scientific community agrees—because of the burning of fossil fuels. In one video, a Polish girl tries to explain to her classmates that like solar and wind energy that clean energy is in fact “unreliable, expensive, and difficult to store.” Which is no longer true: it’s now the cheapest power on the planet. By all accounts, Gulf neighbor Texas survived its epic heatwave earlier this summer precisely because it had so much solar and so many batteries hooked to its grid.
It’s not enough to carry water for the fossil fuel industry; the carriers would also like to imagine themselves as brave fighters against Nazism. To call it all shameless barely begins to scratch the surface.
The most obnoxious part of the Prager videos, though, is the preening they engage in. The Polish girl’s grandfather tells her not to worry that her friends think she’s old-fashioned for wanting to stick with coal; he compares her stand with the bravery of the Warsaw uprising. As a narrator explains, “Through her family’s stories, Ania is realizing that fighting oppression is risky and that it always takes courage.”
It’s not enough to carry water for the fossil fuel industry; the carriers would also like to imagine themselves as brave fighters against Nazism. To call it all shameless barely begins to scratch the surface. And the ugliness of it all is really amazing. According to Politico, a PragerU video about a child in Africa features a narrator calmly attacking solar and wind because “their batteries break down and become hazardous waste” and because it’s risky “to rely on things like wind and sunlight, which are not constant.” I have spent a fair amount of time in rural African communities which got power only because cheap solar became available, talking to kids who for the first time ever have light to read by at night. As one father in Cote d’Ivoire told me, “You can feel the effects with their grades now at school.”
But not in Florida’s schools, where anyone who watches this Prager nonsense will emerge dumber than before. And that’s galling, since the Sunshine State, throughout the lifetimes of these students, will need to be making a series of good decisions if it’s going to survive in anything like its present form. Already, for instance, major insurers are pulling out of the state; Newsweek reported that its residents might soon be “uninsurable.” But instead of starting to prepare students for the real world, the state will let them bathe in the warm water of denial.
Happily, there are educators at work in the state, and making a difference. Florida weatherman Jeff Berardelli may be the best example. From his post at WFLA, and across social media, he’s been telling the story of this summer in straightforward and useful terms. He gave an interview recently where he explained his thinking:
My job is to educate people about what I know, right? I live at the intersection between weather and climate, and specifically extreme weather and climate change. That’s my specialty. So, there are certain events that are going to take place and have been taking place that are going to be pretty alarming and I think it’s my job as a scientist, the person who kind of lives at the intersection of both of those things, to put it into context and give people perspective on it.
These are good teaching opportunities, these moments, when extreme things happen, they allow me to kind of educate people on the latest science, the latest studies… the latest facts about how climate change is impacting our extreme weather… My role is to act as both the scientist and also a communicator, because that’s exactly the field that I’m in.
This is not radical thinking, it’s not agenda-driven, it’s not partisan. It’s precisely the kind of teaching we used to take for granted in America.