The media are full of stories about global warming. Hurricanes, we are told, are stronger and more prevalent due to global warming. Summers are warmer as a result of global warming. We are lead to believe that there is scientific consensus global warming is human caused.
This is scary stuff. As if that is not enough, there are people out there trying to convince your children they are bad people because they contribute to global warming. Every time they ride in a car, use a computer or take a bath, they are bringing the Earth closer to its demise, they are told.
“The Down-to-Earth-Guide to Global Warming,” a new book for kids co-authored by Laurie David, producer of the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” tells this story in all its cartoon glory. On first glance the book is beautiful. It is full of color and kid appeal. The problem is the book is also cartoonish in the way it plays with reality. Big errors are glossed over as fact.
For example, in her efforts to show kids that they are the cause of global warming, David explains the correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and temperature change as measured by ice cores drilled in the Antarctic. So far, this is using the science of the day. Few scientists would argue with the correlation; the two seem to consistently move together over time. The question is one of causation.
Now, anyone who has taken a statistics course has heard the term “correlation is not causation.” Just because two actions occur together does not mean that one caused the other. Which came first is an obvious question. Another is asking what else is occurring that may be causing the changes. This is also true for CO2 and temperature. There could be, and in the case of global warming there unquestionably are, other actors that influence change.
David tells her young readers that because there is a correlation between atmospheric CO2 levels and temperature change, CO2 is the cause of the change in temperature. She supports her hypothesis with evidence from a graph showing a line for each. Again, as many scientists have shown, there is a correlation; the two rise and fall together. But “correlation is not causation.”
Making matters far worse, David has mislabeled the points on her graph. Oops! She points out that atmospheric CO2 levels tend to increase before temperature changes. This is correct, according to her diagram. But once you realize that her labels are reversed her hypothesis is defunct.
Correcting the labels on the graph would show that temperature change tends to lead the atmospheric levels of CO2; temperature begins to rise, CO2 levels follow hundreds to thousands of years later. Cause and effect would lead one to believe that because temperature changes first, it is causing the change in atmospheric CO2. But again, “correlation is not causation.” We still haven’t looked at what else might be going on, and yes, scientists disagree on the magnitude of other impacts like the sun, clouds and air particulates to name just a few.
Despite the fact that her entire hypothesis has been blown (by page 18!), David goes on to tell about the tragedies caused because kids and their parents emit too much CO2 into the atmosphere. Characters like Sponge Bob and the Wicked Witch of the West, not to mention Sheryl Crow and NFL superstar Reggie Bush, have been enlisted to reinforce for kids the terrifying story about how they are ruining the world. Laurie David tears their hearts with stories of dying polar bears and penguins. She leads them to believe that if the storms don’t get them, malaria will, and on and on.
This is flat-out indoctrination, an effort to scare kids into believing the sky is falling so they fall in line to do what mega-rich movie stars and politicians tell them.
I’ve had it! This is an untrue story and one I don’t want my own children worrying about at the age of 8 or 12, the age level the book is intended to influence. So I’ve done something about it. I’ve researched the questions for myself and my children and have put them together in a factual, not flashy, book for kids and parents to read together. I don’t want to indoctrinate your kids; I want to teach them. I don’t want to teach them to think like I do, I want to teach them to think for themselves. I want to teach them to look at the facts and ask inquiring questions. I want to teach them separate fact from fiction.
There is more information available in the world today than ever before, and it’s hard to know what to believe. Kids need to think critically in order to get the facts straight. Presenting them with beautifully packaged information proven to be false, as Laurie David has, is not elevating the debate about global warming – and yes, there is one. But don’t take it from me. Find out for yourself.
Holly Fretwell is an adjunct professor at Montana State University and author of the children’s book “The Sky’s NOT Falling: Why It’s OK for Kids to Chill About Global Warming.”