Open Letter to Honourable Jennifer Whiteside, Education Minister of British Columbia: Ban Fossil Fuel Promotion in BC Schools
Honourable John Horgan, Premier
Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs
Honourable George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy
Dear Minister Whiteside,
Thank you for serving British Columbians as the Minister of Education during these challenging times. A global health pandemic, coupled with the immense challenges posed by climate change-induced extreme weather events, has had significant impacts on the education system in communities across our province over the last two years.
As we continue to witness the harmful consequences of expansion of the fossil fuel industry in BC, from the negative health effects of air pollution from fossil fuel combustion causing heart disease, lung disease, birth defects and cancer, to the effects of carbon pollution on climate change — extreme heat, extreme cold, flooding, landslides, and wildfires — we must consider the implications of the messages we convey to our learners, and their impact on future policy decisions and the health of our province.
As healthcare professionals and concerned residents of British Columbia, we are reaching out today to request that you ask all Educators and School Divisions in British Columbia to reject the use of the FortisBC Energy Leaders K-12 curriculum. This industry-focused curriculum is carefully constructed to promote and normalize the use of fossil fuels to children of all ages.
Just as cigarette and tobacco companies are not allowed to promote their products in our schools, fossil fuel companies should also be barred from promoting their products in schools due to the detrimental impacts of fossil fuels on climate change and human health, which are contributing to an existential crisis for humanity.
FortisBC, British Columbia’s largest natural gas distributor, has developed an online compendium of resources, marketed as a free K-12 online curriculum “developed by BC teachers and based on BC’s current curriculum.”
These lessons claim to be “bias-balanced”, but throughout the extensive lesson plans, projects, and slideshows for in-class, remote, and bilingual learning, the energy lessons fail to discuss viable options for clean and renewable energy. Rather, the lessons are solely focused on natural gas, normalizing its use and falsely touting it as a clean and renewable energy source.
As of May of 2020, over 2000 teachers had already registered with the FortisBC Energy Leaders program, and downloaded lesson plans from the FortisBC website1. These numbers have surely increased since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the wider use of remote learning.
In fact, some of our own children have brought FortisBC Energy Leaders materials home in their backpacks.
Embedded in these lessons is the message that “natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel,” with no mention of the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing, burning natural gas, or methane emissions on human health, climate change and the environment. Additionally, when fugitive methane emissions along the supply chain are factored in, some scientists estimate that its climate effects are comparable to burning coal.
Here are some examples of fossil fuel industry bias in these teaching materials:
- A Grade 12 science lesson on Workplace Safety under the heading “Career Life Connections” only discusses natural gas safety, how to maintain natural gas meters, how to handle a gas leak, who to “call before you dig”, and how to maintain gas appliances.2 There is no mention of the health hazards of fugitive emissions, methane discharges, or indoor pollution from gas stoves
- In Grade 12 Geology, students can play a game called “Natural Gas sequence cards.”3 The description of hydraulic fracking avoids all mention of the destructive, and polluting nature of the process
- A Grade 12 lesson cites “The Central Okanagan School District purchased natural gas school buses for their fleet and BC Ferries converted two of their largest vessels to natural gas.” 4
- A Grade 5 lesson about the rock cycle does not discuss geology, but instead shows at what depth natural gas is drilled.5 The text benignly states methane is “pumped” out of the ground, without any mention of the highly destructive process of hydraulic fracturing.
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.
Over 1700 articles and reports indicate that fracking for fossil fuels is associated with serious health consequences, such as birth defects, lung disease, and cancer.6 A recent study from Harvard showed that in 2018, air pollution from burning fossil fuels was responsible for 1 in 5 premature deaths worldwide.7 The acceleration of the harmful health effects of climate change in the last three years here in BC, primarily driven by carbon pollution from the fossil fuel industry, is palpable.
We believe allowing the promotion of and misinformation about fossil fuels to infiltrate our education system does a major disservice to the environment and human health.
Minister Whiteside, we call on you to ban industry-level promotion of fossil fuels in our schools. Industry-biased information in the form of teaching materials and lesson plans, and industry presence at teaching conferences and forums should also be prohibited.
Climate change and the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and combustion are a clear and present danger to families across the province. The World Health Organization has stated that climate change is the greatest threat to public health of the twenty-first century. We must ensure that our children’s education is consistent with the scientific evidence, and conveys messaging and concepts that lead us down the path to a healthy future, even as we currently battle COVID-19 every day in our work as health care providers.
Please commit to banning fossil fuel promotion and educational resources in our schools, in favour of science-based curricula on the environment and climate change.
(see the list of signatories on the right)
- Cision (2020) FortisBC adapts its BC-based school program to support students learning from home. Available at: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/fortisbc-adapts-its-bc-based-school-program-to-support-students-learning-from-home-856701568.html
- FortisBC (2020) Safety: Safety Backgrounder. Available at: https://energyleaders.ca/sites/default/files/lessons/20-036.45_EL_L12_Safey_Backgrounder_Press.pdf
- FortisBC (2020) Earth Materials: Natural Gas Sequence Cards. Available at: https://energyleaders.ca/sites/default/files/lessons/20-036.36_EL_L2_Natural-Gas_Sequence-Cards_Press_2.pdf
- FortisBC (2020) Earth Materials: Natural Gas Backgrounder. Available at: https://energyleaders.ca/sites/default/files/lessons/20-036.36_EL_L2_Natural-Gas_Backgrounder_Press_0.pdf
- FortisBC (2020) Natural Gas and the Rock Cycle. Available at https://energyleaders.ca/sites/default/files/lessons/Gr5_L3_infographic_0.pdf
- CHPNY, PSR (2019) Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), 6th Ed. Available at: https://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Fracking-Science-Compendium_6.pdf
- Vohra, K., Vodonos, A., Schwartz, J., Marais, E., Sulprizio, M., Mickley, L (2021) ‘Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem’, Environmental Research. Volume 195, April 2021, 110754 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.110754