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Minda Berbeco is programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
This week, President Barack Obama laid out his plan for addressing climate change within his final term in office. In addition to raising expectations for energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, he requested that American citizens work to educate others.
"Tell them what's at stake," he said. "Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future."
The president's words were strong and forward-thinking, but the U.S. government's recent actions regarding climate-change education have not been nearly so advanced.
The recent sequestration slashed federal funding for science education. This past spring, NASA demonstrated the impact sequestration will have on science education by halting many of its educational and non-media public-outreach activities until further review. Included in the cuts are all programs; events; workshops; permanent and traveling exhibits; speeches; presentations and appearances; videos and multimedia websites; external and internal publications; and "[a]ny other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs and activities."
If government science education initiatives are disappearing due to funding cuts, who will fill in the gap?
Left to fend for themselves, science teachers may look to the Internet to find supplementary materials to use in their classrooms. But science deniers are prepared for their searches, offering lesson plans and videos crafted to misrepresent established science in the service of various ideologies.
For example, upon hearing about a plan to include climate-change science in a new set of model nationwide science education standards, the Heartland Institute — a conservative think tank notorious for its defense of the fossil-fuel industries — revealed a plan to create an alternative curriculum for teachers questioning humans' role in global warming. Similar material is already available from other similarly minded think tanks, undercutting climate-change education through the use of outdated citations and poor science.
In a time of rising expectations for science literacy and the push of science denial into the classroom, the contributions of federal science agencies, such as NASA, for educational outreach have never been more important. Keeping these organizations' educational efforts funded will not just result in people's willingness to "speak up for the facts," but it will also create a scientifically literate population eager to speak up for our future.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com .