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Campaign calls for ban on ‘fossil fuel promotion’ in B.C. schools


FortisBC says its free lesson plans for teachers were prepared by an outside company to ensure they were balanced

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A new campaign is calling on Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside to ban curriculum developed by fossil fuel companies from B.C. schools.

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The B.C. chapter of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment published a letter to the minister on Wednesday calling for a ban on industry-developed teaching materials and lesson plans, citing the example of a FortisBC program that provides teachers with free, classroom-ready K-12 lesson plans as an example of “industry-level promotion” of fossil fuels in B.C. schools.

The program, called Energy Leaders, was developed by FortisBC and offers lessons and education material on energy solutions, conservation and safety that are “based on B.C.’s current curriculum,” according to its website.

Dr. Lori Adamson, an emergency doctor in Salmon Arm who spearheaded the campaign, said she was shocked when she realized the school materials her seven-year-old son brought home one day were designed and promoted by FortisBC.

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“It’s bold propaganda,” Adamson said. “To see a fossil fuel company providing these biased materials to my child about what science is, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Slide from a lesson plan developed by FortisBC for grade seven students.
Slide from a lesson plan developed by FortisBC for grade seven students about the effect of greenhouse gases on the earth. Photo by FortisBC

Adamson said she has been presenting her concerns to school boards around the province. At one presentation to the education policy planning committee of the Victoria school board “the members of the board and trustees were completely shocked,” she said, “to see how bold the information was and what propaganda it was.”

“The fossil fuel industry has no place in B.C. classrooms,” the B.C. Teachers’ Federation president, Teri Mooring, said in a statement. “We will continue to expect the B.C. government to work with teachers and invest in developing unbiased, science-based climate education resources, including training for educators to support this curriculum.”

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She added that the union “has long been concerned about corporate advertising and presence in schools, and has policies against the commercialization of public education.”

According to a 2020 press release from FortisBC, over 2,000 teachers had already registered with the Energy Leaders program and downloaded lesson plans from the website. The press release was promoting newly released lesson plans that parents could use for home learning during the pandemic.

In its letter to the minister, Physicians for the Environment noted several examples of “fossil fuel industry bias,” including a Grade 5 lesson called “Natural gas and the rock cycle” that states methane is “pumped” out of the ground but makes no mention of how natural gas contributes to climate change. A similar lesson for Grade 12 students goes into more detail  but makes no mention of either climate change or the health and environmental risks posed by fracking.

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Another assignment asks Grade 6 students to discuss the various options for heating a new school, including natural gas, oil, electricity and geothermal. The lesson, titled “Perspectives in energy” stresses that “No one perspective is ‘right or wrong’” and that “Some perspectives will include those that might be held by businesses, government, local residents, construction workers, environmentalists.”

Nicole Brown, who speaks for FortisBC, said the company disagrees with the criticism.

“Throughout the program, there is well-varied discussion that touches on various types of energy and energy issues,” she said by email

Brown said Energy Leaders was developed with B.C. teachers and Kidnetic, a private education company, to make sure that lesson plans were “bias-balanced.” Kidnetic developed the materials, she said, and FortisBC employees reviewed them.

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FortisBC is the province’s largest natural gas distributor, with $1.7 billion in revenue in 2021.

In a response to emailed questions, Whiteside said her ministry does not review or endorse outside resources like the Energy Leaders program.

“We are reviewing this issue to ensure classrooms are free of corporate priorities,” she wrote, “so students can continue to learn in an unbiased environment.”

ngriffiths@postmedia.com

twitter.com/njgriffiths


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