Web of Deception: Environmental Miseducation

By Diane Alden
  • Thursday, October 1, 1998

The schoolchildren of Nevada and the United States are familiar with a concept known as the "web of life." Marketing this philosophy is a web of another sort. The Sierra Club, Audobon Society, National Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy—in conjunction with the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, Eastern foundations and the education establishment—provide questionable information to the nation’s school systems and call it "environmental education."

The Web Masters

Dr. Michael Sanera, a senior fellow at the Center for the New West, has done extensive studies on the content and quality of environmental education in the United States. His conclusion is that science textbooks "intentionally oversimplify and overemphasize information to get readers to take action on pro-environmental causes." Sanera examined 130 science textbooks and found egregious errors, a lack of balance and oversimplification. One textbook after another offer half-truths and dubious science as fact. For example, two- thirds of the textbooks fail to mention or provide adequate information as to the nature of a slight temperature rise over the last 100 years. The textbooks promote as fact the theory of global warning and fail to present both sides of the controversy.

Another example of misinformation may be found in Ecology: Earth’s Living Resource. This book and others like it boldly state that forests in the eastern U.S., particularly New England, have been decimated. The U.S. Forest Service itself determined that since 1850 there has been an increase from 50 percent of rural New England lands covered in forest to over 80 percent.

Sanera has documented hundreds of instances of misinformation promoted as fact by the green alliance and adopted in textbooks. The powerful green coalition begins promoting its agenda by indoctrinating teachers in the colleges of education. Sanera says, "the materials in teacher textbooks mislead prospective teachers by mixing science with advocacy."

Miseducating Teachers

Quick to pick up the new "discipline," the education establishment has incorporated environmental education into teacher training. Funded by grants from, among others, the U.S Department of Energy, the science website of the University of Nevada College of Education, the Nevada Science Project Home Page, shows what is happening to science education in Nevada and environmental science itself. In addition to the usual disciplines of biology, chemistry, geology and physics, the site offers a category for environmental science. Included in that category are links to such websites as the Envirolink Network Home Page and the World Resources Institute’s Environmental Education Project. Offered to teachers as a resource, these websites embody political advocacy as much as they do education or science. For instance, World Resources Institute’s website covers topics such as "Why the United States Needs a National Biodiversity Policy" and "How and Why Biological Resources are Threatened." The idea of a national biodiversity policy coincides with the United Nations’ Biodiversity Treaty signed by Bill Clinton in June 1993. In addition, the WRI "educational" material offers faux science—such as the Malthusian concept of overpopulation—presented as fact. Most reputable scientists have determined the overpopulation theory doesn’t hold up under analysis. The education establishment’s science perspective is revealed in two stated goals on the Nevada Science Project Home Page: "to enhance non-traditional ways of teaching science—with emphasis on process over content [emphasis added], and to explore the whole-language approach to teaching science." Since both deal with education technique rather than content it is not surprising Nevada and the United States are home to so many scientific illiterates.

Shedding light on the current state of science education, including environmental science, Dr. Stan Metzenberg, a biology professor at California State University, Northridge stated before the Congressional House Committee on Science that the National Science Education Standards "are based on the flimsiest excuse for research … less than half the science is peer reviewed." He continued, "[g]overnment developed national standards mean that scientific facts have little value, and children are being presented science which is written primarily by education specialists rather than scientists … federal funding is helping to create an entire generation of scientific illiterates."

Ranger Rick and the Nevada Connection

Ranking near the bottom in all academic disciplines, Nevada’s children are learning environmental science presented by an education establishment trained by the green alliance. Using resources developed by the environmental movement, the science presented as fact is often myth or half-truths. Recently, parents in Elko and Spring Creek were outraged by Ranger Rick, a publication for schoolchildren distributed by the National Wildlife Federation. Found in most elementary school libraries, the publication presented the following as facts:

  • If people bought less gold and silver, there would be less need for mines, and that would be better for the environment.

  • Because of gold mining, thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the western United States have been killed.

Any data to support these statements is missing. In actuality the current mining industry has worked diligently to clean up after itself. But according to Dr. Sanera and others, this isn’t about cleaning up the environment—it’s about controlling huge tracts of land and water in order to keep the green alliance happy.

The Web of Good Intentions

In March, seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced HR 3441, a bill which reauthorizes the Environmental Education Act. The rationale for the bill was to stress the importance of environmental education based on sound science and a balanced viewpoint. But Dr. Sanera says the bill is simply window dressing and does not significantly change the substance of what is called environmental education. The EPA and environmentalists have praised HR 3441, but think it doesn’t go far enough. If past experience is any guide, counting on the green alliance for fairness and balance is like expecting the fox not to eat the chickens. Unfortunately, one of the co-sponsors of the bill is Nevada Rep. John Ensign.


President Eisenhower once warned America about the "military-industrial complex." Apparently he didn’t foresee the danger to the republic of an environmental-foundation-government-education complex which promotes its questionable agenda by teaching dubious science, myths and half-truths.

D. J. Alden is a writer and researcher with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. She can be reached at dja@npri.org.

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