2007 - 2021

The Benefits of Climate Change? Geography Lessons in Scotland

Some extraordinary content has emerged published in a Geography text book by Hodder Gibson for National 4 and 5 curriculum work. In the book written by geography teachers Calvin and Susie Clarke for National 4 & 5 it seems to make some extraordinary claims about the positive benefits of climate change that seem completely inappropriate and misleading. The the first section and first figure in the textbook in chapter 4 talks of the positive benefits of climate change?

Stating the obvious this does NOT reflect IPCC reports or global scientific consensus. It is extraordinary that this is being taught in Scottish schools. The realities of the climate crisis are well documented and the idea that the tradeoffs can be described in such terms as “warmer weather” is astonishing and disgraceful. Our education authorities are effectively gaslighting our children with disinformation.

According to this diagram the benefits of catastrophic runaway climate change include “sea transportation will be easier” (because we’ll have melted the polar ice caps) and “increased tourism because it will be warmer” (particularly in Russia it seems).


We contacted the publishers Hodder Gibson and the soon to be axed Scottish Qualification Authority. The SQA failed to respond but a spokesperson from Hodder Gibson told us: “The pages you have referenced are taken from a previous impression of this book. These were highlighted to us previously and we revised the pages significantly. You can view these updated pages online here. The previous impression (that you are quoting) was written in accordance with the course specification: “Candidates give detailed explanations of the potential effects, both positive and negative, of climate change on people and the environment in developed and developing countries.” See page 27–28 of ‘National 5 Course Specification: Approaches to Learning, Teaching and Assessment’.”

Hodder Gibson describe themselves as: “Scotland’s No.1 educational publisher. Trusted provider of teacher CPD and student revision events. Supporting teachers, students and parents from Early Level to Advanced Higher.”

I’m sorry but this doesn’t make any sense at all.

First of all you have the authors writing this content and thinking “this is what students in 2021 should be learning about climate change”, second you have a publisher seeing this material and thinking “this is fine”. Both the authors and the publishers seem to be hiding behind a national education body in Scotland who think it’s appropriate to frame a question such as: “Candidates give detailed explanations of the potential effects, both positive and negative, of climate change on people and the environment in developed and developing countries.”

Can you imagine being a young person at school trying to make sense of the world being presented with this?

How is this even possible?

We’ll be putting these issues to Shirley-Anne Somerville (Education Secretary), Michael Matheson (Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero) and Mairi McAllan (Minister for Environment). We’ll be demanding that whatever follows the SQA has a complete overhaul of its teaching on climate change. We’ll also be demanding that this content is withdrawn and that the authors and the publishers questioned about how they could possibly agree that this was a credible thing to present?


Comments (35)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    Niomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism at it’s finest!
    Jesus wept, if this is what’s being taught in schools, the human race is well and truly fuicked!

  2. SleepingDog says:

    Well, there have been projections of increased tourism in northerly latitudes as ghouls flock to see the last polar bear. Not sure I can see the positive in that. Something smacking of an “I’m alright, Jack!” northern temperate zone smugness. But it is hard to see any recognition of the planet as complex system of complex systems in that course material, which I though geography was supposed to recognize. It also seems a little dated and USAmerican. Well, oil seeps everywhere, these days.

    And I still haven’t quite finished Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W Louven. Could develop into quite a series, branching into new territories and new subject areas. It would be interesting to know just how influential the content in Scottish textbooks is in shaping young minds. And if kids would be marked down for dissenting from such positivity in their final question papers.

  3. Colin Robinson says:

    Why shouldn’t these considerations be exposed and evaluated in the classroom? Young people will encounter them anyway. Why pretend they don’t exist?

    1. Drew Anderson says:

      Examining the consequences of global warming is fair enough, framing some of those consequences as “benefits” is not.

      Politicians and the fossil fuel lobby are prevaricating over the issue, the last thing we need is for future generations (who will be the ones dealing with it) believing it’s not all bad. That’ll just give the politicos wriggle room, to put off their obligations for longer

      Net zero, by 2050, is not a solution. If, big if, it’s acheived that’s the point at which we stop making things worse. It’s only a small step, it does absolutely bugger all about getting us back to today’s conditions, never mind pre industrial levels of atmospheric CO2.

      Not that I expect a hard of thinking, perennial blowhard like you to accept this without arguing the toss.

    2. Not everything is the subject for ruminating and enjoying abstract argument.

      This is the equivalent of saying: “Your house is going to be burnt down and some of your family will die but at least you can cook some marshmallows”

    3. Colin Robinson says:

      Yet, here we are, ruminating and enjoying an abstract argument about whether or not young people should be exposed to the wrong kind of information.

      Why deny young people the similar opportunity to explore and evaluate for themselves the claim that there might be benefits to climate change/their houses burning down? Who knows, they might even arrive at the same conclusion that you have concerning those claims – that they’re absurd.

      But I suppose the ‘danger’ is that they might not arrive at the same conclusion that you have. That’s the risk you must accept in a free society.

      1. The reality of climate change isn’t a subject in which there are “conclusions”.

        You’re in danger of moving into the territory of Troll.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          That the reality of climate change is such that there’s no point in examining its implications might well be a conclusion that young people reach in their evaluation of the arguments around the issue.

          But, notwithstanding John S Warren’s view that autonomy is illusory in the digital age, how do you expect young people to develop as independent critical thinkers if they’re not going to get the opportunity to examine the issue in supportive learning environments?

          1. Drew Anderson says:

            How does asking children to look for illusory positives develop critical thinking skills?

            Surely the focus should be on preventing these “opportunities” from arriving, rather than making the best of a bad jod?

          2. Drew Anderson says:


          3. Colin Robinson says:

            By asking them to explore whether and why they’re ‘positives’ and how they weigh up against the ‘negatives’. At least, that’s what I’d do if I were teaching that module.

      2. David B says:

        Absolutely no issue with children evaluating for themselves but from that section of the assessment guidance this doesn’t look like an ‘evaluation’ question – learners simply need to provide a list of cons and highly dubious pros. Increased crop yields? Absolute tripe.

        Perhaps at some point it does say learners need to evaluate and form a conclusion but that’s not evident from the section of the guidance displayed above.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          ‘…that section of the assessment guidance this doesn’t look like an ‘evaluation’ question…’

          Aye, but that’s only because Mike has highlighted only the section of the resource that lays out the alleged ‘positive’ consequences of climate change, and not the section(s) of the same resource that lay out the comparative ‘negative’ consequences.

          The whole purpose of subjects like Geography is not to teach young people the ‘facts’ about matters like climate change, but to develop in young people transferable skills in gathering and examining evidence, evaluating arguments, and forming their own conclusions around the matter. You can’t do this by censoring what young people are able to discuss.

          1. David B says:

            Of course the textbook does have a ‘cons’ section too but my point is that the assessment criteria simply require “detailed explanations, both positive and negative.” That’s just a list of pros and cons – it doesn’t require the students to balance one against the other and form a conclusion. Perhaps some students will do that and really pick apart the spurious ‘pros’ that they are required to list, but that kind of critical engagement doesn’t seem to be encouraged in either the textbook or SQA guidance.

            I think Mike’s right to ask the question and I’ll be interested to hear what the ScotGov ministers come back with on this.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Any teacher worth their salt would use the resource to encourage and facilitate class discussion of the pros and cons of the matter and formulate their own conclusions. But maybe teachers do need less autonomy and more direction from the government on how they should teach.

          3. Drew Anderson says:

            Geography, in this context, is a science, of course it’s about facts (no parenthesis).

            Note: I am aware that Geography can be studied as an arts degree.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            No, Drew; in the context of National 4 and 5, Geography builds on the principles and practices for social studies and for science, with modules in both physical and social geography. https://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/files_ccc/RNQCourseSpecGeographyNational5.pdf

            In any case, science education nowadays is about hypotheses, and the framing and testing thereof, rather than about just the accumulation of facts.

          5. David B says:

            In that case Colin it would simply be a case of updating the assessment guidance to reflect what good teachers are doing anyway? I’m totally on board with trusting teachers and students to debate the matter sensibly and reach an evidence-based conclusion, but I think instructions such as “equal consideration must be given to the benefits” could run contrary to that aim – especially when the purported benefits they list don’t really stand up to scrutiny.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            No, they don’t stand up to scrutiny. This is why I’m puzzled as to why Mike thinks young people shouldn’t be allowed to scrutinise them.

          7. Niemand says:

            Did anyone look at the new version linked in the article? It is miles better and gets the balance right to me. So this argument is all a bit moot.

  4. Roland says:

    I honestly think most people look at it like this and have no idea what is coming. To some extent I understand- why lay on our children such desperate stuff. Increased tourism! Mass global migration, it won’t be fun..

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    As Rees-Mogg (stretched out on Commons sofa) would probably say on people flooded out of their homes “the common sense thing to do would be to buy a second home higher up”.

    Do they teach that the real root of the problem is murdering animals for food?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      No, but in RME, they teach young people how to determine for themselves whether or not eating animals is a problem.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    It does seem rather like a geography student being asked to evaluate the pros and cons of an ice age in terms of all-year-round skiing opportunities.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Yes, you’ve got, SD. They’re being encouraged to weigh the benefits (e.g. being able to ski all the year round) against the costs (e.g. increased risk of extinction) on the basis of the available evidence. The ability to make such evaluations is an important critical thinking skill to have.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Colin Robinson, so they can make better decisions, I suppose?

        There’s a documentary series The Crime of the Century, available on demand on Sky Documentaries, that has a sequence where a drug company VP of sales is explaining how he pitches over-prescription of opioids to doctors. He completely ignores analytical doctors, caring doctors etc and only focuses his efforts on what he calls the WIIFM group, whose only thought is: What’s In It For Me? I guess he’d be knocking on your surgery door, ‘Dr’ Robinson.

        So this is very like: Climate Change, What’s In It For Me? Or, Ice Age, What’s In It For Me? It’s a sales technique. It illustrates a certain (highly limited, extremely flawed, dangerously anti-intellectual) mindset. Our children are being conditioned into consumerism, as explained in This Little Kiddy Went to Market: the Corporate Capture of Childhood by Sharon Beder, with Wendy Varney and Richard Gosden.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          No, not ‘better’ decisions, or even the ‘right’ decisions, but their own decisions. The aim in a godless world is not to serve ‘Truth’, but to cultivate (in the words of A Curriculum for Excellence) ‘independent learners, confident individuals, active citizens, and effective contributors’ – i.e. autonomous individuals who are capable of making their own minds up (‘right’ or ‘wrong’) on any matter.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Colin Robinson, so… independent decisions are better, then?

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Well, I think so. But you might disagree. And in a godless universe, there’s no way of telling which of us would be right.

      2. John Monro says:

        Thanks Colin, it’s all too easy to patronise and underestimate the intelligence of our youngsters, a constant in societies since the ancient Greeks, and probably long before that. The cave dad who found his son experimenting with melting some funny sort of stone and getting a few teaspoonfuls of something yellow and shiny probably clipped him over the ear – what the hell are you doing, here’s your spear and flint, it needs knapping, thank you. Perhaps today we could call this the “Greta syndrome”.

        Some years ago, there was a large demonstration by university students outside the Palace of Westminster, I think related to tuition fees, and we heard echoing inside the chamber the patronising dismissal of these youngsters. I recall writing at the time that what we should do is pick 600 of the demonstrating students at random, clear the House, and make the students our MPs instead. There would be two immediate benefits. First, the average IQ of our representatives would rise a considerable number of percentage points, and second we’d have a House whose debates and actions might actually provide some hope for our future.

  7. Tom Ultuous says:


  8. Tom Ultuous says:

    Education in this country could be done much gooder.

  9. John Monro says:

    Surely it isn’t impossible that a warming planet might “improve” some parts in the sense of a longer growing season, or less uncomfortable winters. After all, didn’t Arrhenius himself suggest this after calculating the effects of CO2 emissions on the climate in his native Sweden in the late 1890s? He quite looked forward to a warmer homeland. But of course, would the consequent loss or changes in the pre-existing natural flora and fauna of these areas ever be considered an “improvement”? And it is true that the way the matter is framed as a statement that there could be environmental and economic benefits and that they (thus treating this statement as a given) should be given equal consideration is indeed ridiculous. Not knowing the Scottish education system, I don’t know what age this material is intended for. But it should be possible for a wise and informed teacher to lead a worthwhile discussion on these matters – and such youngsters should be just as capable of debating these matters as their parents or indeed as any of us commentating here, sorting the wheat from the chaff – after all it is going to be their future. There are just so many cynically promoted fallacies pertaining to global warming that Scottish youngsters have to face and understand and hopefully counter – this is just one more, and I’m sure they’re up to the task. At least it’s actually part of the curriculum!!

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @John Monro, this cost/benefit approach is reminiscent of Christian theologist Nigel Biggar’s ‘research’ project on the British Empire. And also of Monty Python’s Life of Brian’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. The problem is in the framing, and the implication that these effects are linear, independent, simple projections that you don’t need complex models for (the sort of thing which apparently a forthcoming IPCC will set out to counter by explaining tipping points better), but also the perspective of a well-off northern-hemisphere human (possibly an economist, tourist or farmer). No amount of cost/benefit analysis will redeem climatic convulsions from the prospective of the great many species which will undergo mass extinction, for example (in the same way that railways were not beneficial to people who underwent genocide at the hands of the British Empire). In both these cases, the scoring system or balance-sheet has been introduced by people who want to game the assessment and ‘win’, to allow foul deeds to continue.

      1. John Monro says:

        Thanks, exactly, it’s the framing of the argument, as I said in my post. A “benefit” for Thurso’s carrots and oat fields and having a few days of sitting out in the sun sipping the local wine, when the rest of the planet is going to the dogs and many thousands of climate refugees are landing on nearby shores is not really a “benefit” for anyone. So whilst the curriculum is misguided it isn’t something beyond young people to discuss, with the help of a good teacher, as we are doing here. I’ll repeat, there is still so much climate change misinformation that one extra for children and their teachers to get their heads around is not worth getting upset about. Your own argument isn’t something that needs confining to these pages, does it, it’s not beyond our youngsters to come up with something rather similar? Much worse would be if there were any significant numbers of climate sceptic teachers pushing their own agenda, or if the school had some sort of policy that climate change was “too political” to allow open discussion – a few bolshie parents could cause a school some difficulties.

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