B.C. is now being called upon to take a new initiative. Schools should ban all advertising for fossil fuels in their lessons.
The CampaignThe Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment was founded when Dr. Lori Adamson (a CAPE member and emergency physician in Salmon Arm) noticed that her seven-year old son’s homework had been branded and designed FortisBC, the largest natural gas distributor in the province.
FortisBC’s homework policy includes the homework. Energy Leaders program, which offers kindergarten to Grade 12 students free, ready-to-use lessons about “energy conservation, energy solutions and safety,” according to the company website. Lessons are available in English or French.
The lessons are heavily biased towards natural gases. CAPE claims that the lessons are heavily biased towards natural gas.
When asked for FortisBC’s response to these criticisms, Sean Beardow, the company’s communications manager, declined to comment.
Teachers and students have called these lessons fossil fuel propaganda.
“FortisBC is portraying natural gas in a very positive light, basically telling kids — very impressionable people — through their teachers that they trust, that natural gas is good and it’s helpful,” says Katarina Krivokapić, a Grade 12 student at Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver.
“I think we should keep corporations out of our classrooms, specifically corporations that have been complicit in the destruction of our environment and the exacerbation of climate change.”
Lessons repeat a line frequently used by Natural gas advocates: natural gas is the “cleanest” burning fossil fuel.
This is true if you measure carbon dioxide emissions from a smokestack. It’s important to also consider greenhouse gases like methane that are released during transportation and fracking. Natural gas can be defined as the sum of all these emissions. As bad as coalWhen it comes to warming our planet. This isn’t covered in the Energy Leaders lessons.
“Watching our communities suffer climate-induced impacts like the heat dome, intense wildfires, flooding and landslides, and then seeing our children come home from school with ‘science’ lessons designed by a fossil fuel company is disturbing,” reads the CAPE open letterB.C. Jennifer Whiteside, Education Minister. Sent earlier this month.
FortisBC’s lessons are a great resource for teachers. Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, says there aren’t many resources available for time-strapped teachers to use to talk about climate change and climate action. Although the BCTF endorses some resources via TeachBC, an online resource that offers free lessons and resources hosted by BCTF, more resources are needed, she states.
“There’s quite a bit of tension right now around resources and making sure we’re teaching around the climate emergency that we’re currently in and making sure the resources in our classrooms don’t come from a biased perspective,” Mooring says.
According to a CAPE press release about 2,000 B.C. These lessons have been downloaded to date by teachers. But that doesn’t mean all teachers have taught using these materials, Mooring says.
She suggests that teachers could choose and select elements from these lessons or use them to teach about biased sources.
As for advertising, Mooring says, “there shouldn’t be any implicit or explicit advertising in what we use in schools.”
Tara Ehrcke is a Grade 8-12 math teacher from the Greater Victoria School district. She wants to take it one step further by banning all corporate-sponsored lessons in B.C. classrooms.
Ehrcke says FortisBC is not the only company that produces lesson plans. They say they’ve also seen Visa produce financial literacy lessons, mining companies create geology lessons and Kotex create lessons about puberty and menstruation.
These free lessons are branded propaganda or advertising, according to them.
“Corporations don’t spend their money without a reason — they do it to get a point across. [FortisBC] wants to say natural gas is clean, natural and benign,” Ehrcke says.
Companies that want students to buy their products should not create lessons, they claim. “This is a form of advertising to a very captive audience, it’s quite insidious.”
Krivokapić says she was first introduced to lessons produced by FortisBC in Grade 4, when she was taught if she smells rotten eggs it means there’s a gas leak and she should leave the building.
She says she was too young at the time to be able to critically consider the lessons. She finds it “outrageous” that the lessons are still taught today.
Isabella Miskiewicz is a Grade 12 student at Esquimalt High School, Victoria. She is also critical.
Miskiewicz says she’s seen the number of natural disasters, the number of people getting sick due to climate change, and the number of teenagers suffering from climate-related anxiety rise over her lifetime.
She says her lessons on climate change were self-taught because there was “not a lot taught in school.” Schools teach media literacy on how to spot biased media or fake news, and how to judge sources, which she says she transferred into her own research on climate change.
In a Press release responding to criticism of its Energy Leaders program, FortisBC says feedback from teachers has been “overwhelmingly positive,” and that it’s required under the B.C. Utilities Commission Act to provide “efficiency education for students.”
The Act! a public utility must include “an education program for students enrolled in schools in the public utility’s service area.”
Beardow said in an email that out of 85 Energy Leaders lessons, 30 are focused on energy conservation and efficiency while 12 focus on safety. 43 look at different types of energy sources such as biomass, coal, geothermal and natural gas.
Beardow did not answer when asked to respond to Ehrcke, Krivokapić and Miskiewicz’s concerns that the Energy Leaders program was feeding children fossil fuel propaganda during a climate emergency.
In the press release the company noted it is “undertaking a thorough third-party review to make sure emerging energy topics that fit within the curriculum are appropriately covered.”
Miskiewicz states that lessons on climate change must be rooted in science, facts, and that it would be a good idea to follow climate scientists.
Mooring agreed, and said the BCTF told government there needs to be more investment in “appropriately sourced resources” for teachers so climate change and climate action can be more explicitly taught in schools.
Because having a fossil fuel company teach children about climate change isn’t working, Krivokapić says.
“It’s essentially wrong to push this narrative in schools, where children should be learning ways to tackle the climate crisis, not have programs that are advertisements for fossil fuels.”