Scientists and environmental advocates have pushed for greater transparency in addressing climate change in educational texts while the state of Texas continues to weaken guidelines in schools. As Texas is the 6th most polluted state in the country and holds a long history of poor environmental practice across its major cities, students are subject to a future liable to perpetuate the mistakes of the past.

Earlier in the year, the Texas Board of Education altered internal guidance and lowered standards for lessons on climate science, prompting a renewed effort from both advocate groups and academics to ensure science courses accurately cover the topic. As science texts have been given room to cover and emphasize “positive aspects of fossil fuels,” poor environmental practices are increasingly normalized during what scientists call a climate crisis.

Texas’ industrial history laid the economic foundation for the development of cities across the state and, likewise, the environmental repercussions have been vast. While schools potentially downplay negative effects from the use of fossil fuels, they also downplay the seriousness of systemic issues facing the most marginalized communities.

Dallas Weekly has previously covered Dallas’ systemic issues of poor air quality from high factory production and the subsequent environmental damage. We also covered common health issues in the area that corresponded with several pollutants in the air produced by both the Procter & Gamble factory, formerly at the WH Cotton Building, and the Ford factory, formerly at the Adam Hats building.

The Adam Hats building in Deep Ellum, formerly the site of the Dallas Ford Factory. The building saw production of both the prototype of the Model-T and the Ford F-150 Truck. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

As these buildings have lived on as landmarks and repurposed spaces for both public and private entities, Dallas’ industrial background is in constant recall when discussing both the city’s history and its current role. Similarly, other areas of Texas such as Galveston and Houston have deep connections to both the lumber and oil industries that are attributable to both environmental issues as well as economic prosperity.

Within the school board’s current guidelines, key aspects of Texas infrastructure are subject to misrepresentation. As climate change plays a massive threat to Texas specifically, taking measures to alleviate environmental instability are crucial. We are currently experiencing an aggressive heatwave that has in-turn brought many cities our hottest summer on record. As temperatures in the state have steadily risen by 0.5-1F over the past century, Texas is projected to get significantly hotter over the next seven decades.

As the climate continues to warm in Texas, heavier rainfall and hurricane winds are anticipated in coming years. As storms become more frequent and potentially more intense, hurricanes, tornadoes, and inland flooding pose a growing threat to residents. In the last 20 years, Hurricanes like Hanna, Harvey, and Ike caused deaths as well as incurring massive costs on Texas’ infrastructure, collectively causing almost 200 deaths and $150 billion in damages

Traffic on Main and Elm street in Downtown Dallas is constant. Additionally, Texas is the largest contributor to transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

As Texas did not require climate science to be taught before the year 2020, the state received an F from the National Center for Science Education for dismal standards on the subject. While the state subsequently allowed curriculums to feature materials and literature addressing climate change, the new changes instituted by the school board could potentially reverse some elements of the previous policy. 

While DISD in particular includes lessons explaining key factors and causes of climate change, textbooks are often required to provide doubtful secondary statements that could function as misnomers as part of Texas education standards. Katie Worth, author of Miseducation: How Climate Change is Taught in America, explains that as guidance on education in the country is left to states, geographical placement has the potential to drastically alter the course of a student’s education.

As well as featuring textbooks with foggy perspectives on climate change, thereby putting responsibility in covering the topic squarely in educators’ hands, poverty in the state naturally leads to less experienced or well-resourced teachers.

The Texas Education Agency reports that 10% of teachers in the state have left the profession each year in the last decade. As the retention rate weakens, a student’s performance is negatively impacted, affecting the quality of their education overall. This issue is worsened when teachers leave mid-year, leaving substitutes less equipped to prepare adequate lesson plans.

Nationally, 86% of teachers and 84% of parents support climate change education in schools. While educators and families each may have the desire for more straightforward message plans explaining climate change, the state has taken an increasingly aggressive stance in advocating for climate change denial. Textbook publishers are more than willing to accommodate lawmakers in the interest of maintaining business. As red states like Texas and Florida boast massive populations of around 30 and 22 million respectively, textbook giants like McGraw Hill would see heavy losses in sales if states chose alternative options.

W.H. Cotton Building, former site of the Procter & Gamble chemical plant. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

As education guidelines become looser and subject to greater interpretation on subjects like climate science, the quality of a student’s education takes a downslide. Education, in this respect, is not informing a growing individual’s understanding of their environment, their government, and other major factors guiding the construction of their reality. 

Texas is both subject to unstable weather due to climate change while also outpacing California to produce 193 metric tons of carbon dioxide from transportation alone, holding responsibility and its ramifications in each hand. If our students represent the next generation of Texans, their education is what informs our state’s future.