(Washington, Paris) A textbook sent to schools by a controversial American think-tank is riddled with misleading claims about climate science. An attempt, according to activists, to “infect” young minds.

Prompting outrage from activists and teachers, but applauded by climate skeptics, the Heartland Institute this year sent the book to more than 8,000 American teachers to “present facts” they said were ignored or misrepresented by experts and the media.

The Climate at a Glance for teachers and students, whose content has been verified by AFP, follows another mass mailing of books in 2017, demonstrating a desire to cast doubt on scientific evidence on the crisis that threatens the planet.

“It is outrageous that such propaganda has been sent […] with the aim of infecting the minds of children,” Susan Joy Hassol, director of the association Climate Communication, told AFP.

The book’s 80 pages, which rely on data, charts and footnotes citing conventional sources like government and international agencies, come across as a legitimate reference.

But according to scientists who spoke to AFP, the book is riddled with misleading claims. In particular, he insinuates that the rise in the level of CO2 has a positive impact on crops and coral reefs, that the decline in snow is negligible, that the rise in water levels is not accelerating and that heat waves are less severe. .

“We have confidence in our data,” its editor, Heartland Institute chief climatologist Sterling Burnett, told AFP.

The publication of the book follows an uptick in climate denial in the United States since July 2022, when President Joe Biden won needed support for a major climate spending bill.

Mr. Biden, who encourages Americans to embrace electric cars and renewable energy, provokes scorn from skeptics who see their lifestyle and values ​​under threat. Yet studies show that many Americans accept the reality of climate change.

The opacity of funding for the Heartland Institute, founded in 1984, leads activists to suspect that it acts in the interests of the fossil industry. If he does not disclose his main funders, he already declared in 2012 to have received funds from the charitable branch of the oil giant Koch Industries.

The secret is also kept about the 8000 recipients of the book. Asked by AFP, Burnett claimed “not to be in charge of mailings”, and transferred the request to the institute’s communications department, which did not respond.

“I would bet the mailings have been strategically distributed in certain electoral districts to support certain politicians who continue to deny or mislead about climate change,” suspects Kate Cell, climate campaign manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The scale of the shipment is smaller than the hundreds of thousands of copies sent in 2017. Glenn Branch, deputy director at the National Center for Science Education, sees it as a “tacit admission” of the ineffectiveness of Heartland’s strategy .

Science teachers have become “better prepared to explain climate change, and are becoming all the more wary of climate-skeptical content,” Branch told AFP.

Still, reviews on online ordering site Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. “All grandparents should get one for their grandkids, all teachers should get one for their students.” The sky isn’t falling, spread the word! wrote one reader.

AFP could not confirm that these comments were independent of the institute.

“It’s very sad, to put it mildly,” Jeffrey Grant, a science teacher in Illinois, told AFP. “I plan to use their graphs to show my students how not to put data together to support their science demonstrations. »