I dread teaching climate change to my 9th grade biology students. After I've covered photosynthesis and the carbon cycle, I spend a day discussing how the human use of fossil fuels has added more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and how greenhouse gasses warm the climate.
Invariably, someone mentions the hypocrisy of Al Gore's jet travel. I squelch my desire to roll my eyes. Many kids who answer the unit test questions correctly later tell me that they still don't believe in climate change. On my most frustrated days, I contemplate skipping ahead to Mendel and his pea plants.
My students reflect America as a whole. In a recent issue of Newsweek, I read that only 34 percent of Americans believe that human activity is the cause of climate change. It doesn't seem to matter that the vast majority of climate researchers reached consensus on the problem more than a decade ago.
I've gone to teacher workshops at both the Exploratorium and Academy of Sciences, but the student response to my lessons has not changed. Last year, a religiously inclined congressman quoted Genesis during a hearing on climate change: "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."
His point, it seems, was that God would not permit His Earth to be devastated by climate change, an attitude some of my students apparently share. So this year, I'm asking my 9th graders a concluding question: "Does God work for us, or does He work through us?" I will point out that the Black Plague, famine, smallpox, polio and the ozone hole were "allowed" by God, but they were conquered by human ingenuity and persistence. God may have had a hand in both problem and solution, but we must choose to act.