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By Suzanne Goldenberg

Most kids in the U.S. are taught lessons on climate change that do not rise to the level of a sound science education, according to new research.

A survey of 1,500 teachers found most pupils spend only an hour or two in an academic year learning about climate change in middle and high school—and much of what they are taught is confusing or simply wrong. 

Only 38 percent of American schoolchildren were taught lessons adhering to scientific consensus that climate change largely results from burning fossil fuels, the researchers found. 

Some 30 percent of teachers spent less than an hour on climate change in the last year, and in higher grades, much of that time was spent going over old material without introducing more advanced material.

Seven percent attributed recent warming patterns around the world to natural causes—which is simply wrong—while four percent of teachers avoided talking about the cause of climate change altogether.

Another 22 percent said their lessons mentioned the scientific consensus but said there was significant disagreement among scientists, which is also incorrect.

The findings suggest that younger generations—those most likely to experience the havoc and stress of climate change in their lifetimes—are not getting the education to best serve their needs or help them handle difficult situations in the future.

“We don’t think that is good preparation for citizens to be effective in advocating for policies that are going to be critical to their own generation and their children and grandchildren,” said Eric Plutzer, a political scientist at Penn State. 

The lack of teaching and the mixed messages about climate change leave schoolchildren more susceptible to disinformation about climate change spread by political or corporate interests once they enter adulthood, the researchers said.

The energy industry has spent millions funding climate denial and supporting Republicans in Congress who deny global warming is occurring. And Republican candidates for president refuse to acknowledge climate change exists.

Indeed, researchers found that many teachers themselves were confused about the causes of climate change. Only 30 percent of middle school teachers and 45 percent of high school teachers said that human activity was the main driver of climate change, the researchers found.

Their findings are in line with other studies which have found systemic failings in the teaching of climate change. A Stanford University study of science textbooks used in schools last year found them clearly sprinkled with misleading material.

Fewer than half of teachers reported receiving any training in climate science, said Josh Rosenau, National Center for Science in Education.

“The scientific community has not made sure that teachers are kept up to date with those advances,” he said, adding that there should be continuing education programs on climate change for teachers.

As dangerous weather continues to increase around the world, it has become imperative that the next generation is prepared for what lays in store for them.

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