THE BLOG
09/17/2014 04:47 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

Taking Science Education Seriously

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas is dedicated to inspiring "scientific leaders of tomorrow." But as a climate scientist who teaches at Texas A&M, I was disappointed to read that the museum chose not to include any exhibits on climate change. Climate change may be the defining scientific problem of the 21st century, and we do young learners a disservice by remaining silent on it.

The science connecting fossil fuel pollution and climate change is unequivocal. Climate scientists agree that human activity and burning of fossil fuels will cause increasing temperatures and more frequent extreme heat events, changes in the distribution of rainfall, rising seas, and the oceans becoming more acidic. These impacts are serious and nearly certain. And then there's a raft of more speculative, but terrible, impacts, such as more intense hurricanes and thunderstorms, severe changes in agricultural productivity and freshwater availability, and many others.

Given this expert consensus, why is the Perot Museum staying silent on the science of climate change? It might be that they're afraid to tell people what scientists actually think. Right now, oil, gas, and coal producers can dump their waste into the sky and not be charged for it -- and if we get serious about reducing pollution, then we will need to price that pollution. For some, that idea is so repugnant that there's only conclusion: the problem must not exist.

As part of the strategy of rejecting climate science, these people "shoot the messengers." So they conclude, without evidence, that the entire community of expert climate scientists are part of a grand conspiracy theory -- and anyone who agrees with the expert scientists is similarly blacklisted.

Republican politicians know this all too well. Those with the nerve to actually tell their constituents the truth about climate change are likely to immediately be voted out of office -- as happened to Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), for example, who lost re-election to a Tea Party-backed challenger in 2010 after asserting that man-made climate change is real and requires action.

The Perot Museum appears to be afraid that climate change is simply too controversial. I'm sympathetic to the museum's dilemma, but I also know that the mission of a science museum is to educate the public about science. By avoiding talking about climate, the museum abdicates its educational responsibility.

The Perot Museum can correct this by appropriately describing the science of climate change and its connection to the burning of fossil fuels. I'd be happy to help the museum design this exhibit, or they could ask virtually any atmospheric scientist in Texas, all of whom agree with the mainstream view of climate science. In fact, my department at A&M and the Climate Systems Science Group at the University of Texas even have statements on our websites confirming our view of the science (TAMU's statement, for example, is here: Atmo.tamu.edu).

Learning about the science of climate change may be uncomfortable for some visitors to the Perot Museum. But sometimes reality is uncomfortable -- and visitors to the museum need to see that. When people in the future look back and evaluate how we responded to climate change, I hope they see that the Perot Museum had the guts to do the right thing.