Paula Bennett: National would consider removing climate curriculum

Peter Williams 20/01/2020

National says it might make changes to a new resource being rolled out to schools to help with teaching climate change, or perhaps withdraw it altogether.

The resource, rolling out this year, presents data and information from scientific bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NIWA and Government departments like Statistics NZ and the Ministry for the Environment. It doesn't change the current curriculum, but aims to make it easier for teachers to do their job.

The Opposition has expressed concern over some of its contents, particularly information on the meat industry's environmental impacts and what to do with students who express scepticism about humans' impact on global temperatures, which have been rising for decades

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett on Monday told Magic Talk the Government has failed to make it clear that not all teachers will use the voluntary resource.

"There are a number of parents that are upset about how it's going to be handled," she told host Peter Williams, who himself has called the scientific consensus - that humans are causing climate change - "nonsense". 

"This is voluntary," Bennett continued. "Climate change being taught in our schools is not necessarily a bad thing - it is about our future and young people need to understand it better. We don't like elements of what's being suggested should be taught, and there does need to be a way for the young people to have a discourse that can create that debate of what the future looks like for them. 

"Whether we withdraw it or just make some real changes to it, but I think it's been handled so badly."

Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw told Newshub last week there had been high demand from teachers for more help teaching climate change.

But Bennett said there was "misinformation" in the resource about the meat industry's impact on the environment. New Zealand has a large agricultural sector, and numerous studies have shown it takes far more resources to produce meat than the equivalent amount of plant-based food, and the amount of emissions released is far greater.

But New Zealand's agricultural industry is also highly efficient by international standards. Some studies have found it's more efficient to produce meat in New Zealand and ship it to the UK than it is to grow meat there.

"It's ridiculous. There's some absolute parts of it, and that's one of them," said Bennett. "It's just feeding into the hype and hysteria without the research behind it. We all know we've got some of the best produce in the world - why on Earth wouldn't we be encouraging our children to have a balanced diet, which is what they're being taught in other aspects of the curriculum? ... Don't get me going on that one."

A 2018 study, however, found even the most environmentally-friendly meat was worse for the environment than the most-damaging plant-based food.

But Bennett says kids the resource is aimed at - aged 11 to 14 - are "smart" and should be given the "counterarguments" to what the scientists claim.

"I think it's important that our kids are encouraged to the discourse of all of the different sides of it so they can make up their own minds. It certainly seems to me there is some misinformation through it - there will be controversy and I think the controversy should be embraced and let our young people decide and debate it themselves in the classroom. Not just teach it from one angle and one side, which is what this looks like."

National signed the Government's landmark Zero Carbon Bill, which aims to make New Zealand carbon-neutral by 2050.  But the party has also vowed to overturn the near-total ban on new oil exploration, and make amendments to the Zero Carbon Act- including reducing New Zealand's commitments to emissions reduction if other countries don't reduce theirs, and take more notice of economic impacts.

Magic Mornings with Peter Williams / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley