Scientists say that climate change has intensified the deadly wildfires raging through the Appalachian Mountains, but Tennessee state law gives teachers the right to tell students that the science is wrong.
According to a New York Times report on Tuesday, the wildfires have been responsible for at least three deaths and 14 injuries. Tens of thousands of people in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have been forced to leave their homes.
"The fires spread through Tennessee as much of the South has been enduring a crippling drought, even though rainfall this week offered some relief," the Times explained. "Wildfires, once a seasonal phenomenon, have become a consistent threat, partly because climate change has resulted in drier winters and warmer springs, which combine to pull moisture off the ground and into the air."
Although scientists are still debating the role climate change played in the latest fires, Scientific American noted this week that the "region is likely to keep warming, though, and that means that any future dry spells will be more likely to lead to drought, creating more fuel for fires to burn."
But students in Tennessee may never find out why the threat of wildfires is increasing in their state.
A 2012 law allows teachers to present alternative theories about scientific subjects like climate change and evolution. The law aims to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories," but opponents have warned that the bill is backdoor attempt to insert creationism and other junk science into public schools.
National Center for Science Education (NCSE) Director Eugenie Scott told Nature that the law is "a permission slip for teachers to bring creationism, climate-change denial and other non-science into science classrooms."