Vancouver, March 2, 2022 — Today the B.C. committee of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is releasing its open letter to Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside, backed by close to 100 health, educator, student, environment and community organizations, to end fossil fuel promotion in the province’s schools.
Dr. Lori Adamson, an emergency doctor in Salmon Arm, had been experiencing a difficult few months. On top of the strain from the COVID-19 pandemic, record-breaking heat and wildfires over the summer, as well as severe flooding in the fall, had brought the reality of climate change home in a new way. So when she realized this winter that the educational materials her seven year old had brought home were designed and promoted by FortisBC—the province’s largest natural gas distributor—she was deeply upset.
“I was shocked when my son brought fossil fuel propaganda home in his backpack. I’ve seen the effects of climate change right in my ER. People are dying of heat stroke and being displaced by flooding and landslides. We’re losing entire communities to wildfires, and the mental health impacts are hitting us like a tidal wave. Fossil fuel companies need to take responsibility for their role in the climate crisis, not promote their products to my child,” said Dr. Adamson.
With the support of CAPE and diverse community partners, she has spearheaded a campaign to push back against FortisBC’s Energy Leaders lessons, calling on the Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside, to ban fossil-fuel sponsored curricula from schools. In lockstep with CAPE’s fossil fuel ad-ban campaign, the initiative argues that just as tobacco companies are barred from promoting their deadly products in schools, fossil fuel companies that drive health-harming climate change and air pollution should be subject to the same regulations—collecting almost 100 organizational endorsements to date.
Teri Mooring, President of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), offered, “The BCTF has long been concerned about corporate advertising and presence in schools, and has policies against the commercialization of public education. The fossil fuel industry has no place in BC classrooms, especially as we face an unprecedented climate crisis. We will continue to expect the BC government to work with teachers and invest in developing unbiased, science-based climate education resources, including training for educators to support this curriculum.”
FortisBC’s Energy Leaders curriculum features classroom-ready K-12 lessons targeted at overworked B.C. schoolteachers who lack up-to-date educational resources on energy. Promoted at trade shows and via workplace e-mails, over 2,000 teachers had downloaded the lesson plans by the spring of 2020, which contain numerous statements minimizing the harmful impacts of natural gas on the climate and environment. The words “Natural gas, when burned, emits the least CO2 compared to coal and oil. It is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel,” are featured in a Grade 7 lesson plan emblazoned with the company’s logo. However, it notably fails to mention that many scientists consider natural gas a driver of climate change as bad as coal due to the industry’s fugitive methane emissions. The lessons also fail to discuss viable options for clean energy, instead solely focusing on natural gas, normalizing its use and falsely touting it as a clean and renewable energy source. Local and global health harms of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which supplies the province’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry with gas, are also left unmentioned.
The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report this week that emphasized the far-reaching adaptation measures needed to stave off the worst effects of global heating, as well as the clear need for healthy, functioning ecosystems to support human well-being, make this campaign even more timely. During LNG extraction and transportation processes, fracking and its infrastructure pollute the air, land, and water in northeast B.C., use vast quantities of freshwater, overtake valuable farmland and worsen the health of families, farmers and Indigenous peoples locally and downstream. Alarmingly, research and local reports from physicians link increased rates of cancer, lung disease and negative pregnancy outcomes to nearby fracking. Furthermore, gas stoves widely used within the province contaminate indoor air with nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants, increasing the risk of asthma exacerbations in children and other health conditions.
Students themselves are also speaking up about the need for lessons that convey unbiased information about the science of energy and climate change. Katarina Krivokapic, a Grade 12 student at Point Grey Mini School and co-organizer of the Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference, declared: “Our education system should be providing us with ways to tackle the climate emergency, not making it worse. Programs promoting fossil fuels should not be allowed in our schools.”
CAPE and its partners call on B.C.’s Ministry of Education to end the use of fossil fuel industry-sponsored educational materials in schools and support the call of the BCTF for the development of an independent, evidence-based climate literacy curriculum for the province’s public schools. CAPE’s open letter to Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside can be found here.
For media inquiries, please contact:
National Communications Director
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)
BC Teachers’ Federation
604-871-1881 / 604-340-1959