Teaching Climate Change – part 3, online resources

This is part 3 of a multi-post series on my experience teaching about climate change. To read part 1 which deals with my overall course philosophy, click here. To read part 2, which deals with the external readings and discussions I used in class, click here.

The internet is full of lots of crap, that isn’t much of a secret. Information about climate change is no different. If you know a little science, it is navigable, but if you are a student looking into things for the first time, it can be tough.

I decided to come up with a list of reliable internet sources for climate change information. Many of these I found while looking for help putting lectures together, and most of them I still use, especially when arguing about climate science. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’d welcome more suggestions.

I put links to these sites on the course webpage, and then I emailed them to the students at the end of the class. These are the kinds of resources that are helpful, especially a few years down the line when you’ve forgotten some of your favorite scientific arguments. As a kind of an aside, one of my great victories as a teacher was with a non-traditional student I taught a few years ago. He was a great student, he did the reading, came to class, asked questions, and most importantly, was one of the few people I’d ever met who actually wanted to make an informed decision. He described himself as a “climate skeptic” early on in the semester, but one who’d done a lot of research and had some very tough questions for me. He asked, I answered, we discussed, and by the end of the semester he was a total convert, realizing why there was a scientific consensus (because the evidence is overwhelming). Anyways, I bring this up because he now argues with anyone who denies climate science, and often uses these sites to back up his claims. Fightin’ the man, one non traditional student at a time.

Grist.org  – How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic : This site is one of my all-time favorites. The story is that the author, Coby Beck, compiled referenced and scientifically accurate responses to some of the most common claims that denialists make. I love this site for a few difference reasons. First, many denialists act as if their one-liners are really going to stump a scientist. I’ve heard many of these in a variety of venues, including the argument that climate scientists ignore atmospheric water vapor in their climate models (which they don’t), or that the recent rise in temperatures is due to increases in the brightness of the sun (which is isn’t). Denialists are tremendously unoriginal, and the vast majority of the “tough questions” I’ve been asked about climate science can be addressed on this page. I even had an assignment where students looked through  few recent editorials by buffoonish denialists and highlighted the errors using this site. The site is great because it references it’s sources, something I like to have modeled by the students.

RealClimate.org : This is a more burly and scientifically rigorous treatment of climate questions. It is run and moderated by actual climate scientists, people who’d put me to shame in their climate knowledge and skills, and is meant to be engaging. Internet comment sections are usually collections of the worst of humanity, but at RealClimate they are actually in-depth, back-and-forth discussions. This site is especially useful when you want to jump to the next level of climate literacy.

NOAA’s CO2 Movie : This is amazing. It is a downloadable movie that illustrates 800,000 years of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. It is color coded based on source, and is one of the most effective teaching tools I’ve used. It is even handy for teaching students graph-reading skills, something many introductory students need help with. I typically discuss climate change at some point after I’ve discussed volcanism, so I always have them try to spot the CO2 anomaly associated with the largest volcanic eruption of the last 100 years (there isn’t one, natural CO2 is dwarfed by anthropogenic sources).

NASA GISS Surface Temperature Data : Many denialists claim, or at least imply, that the data and methods used by climate scientists is secret and manipulated. This site contains temperature records from thousands of sites around the world, often stretching back over 100 years. A colleague of mine created an assignment based on this data where you have the class construct a global temperature anomaly curve for the last 100 or so years. We are trying to write this up for the Journal of Geoscience Education, so I won’t go into it in detail right now, but it is pretty straightforward. You have them download data, process and normalize it, and then compile it as a class. It is simple, and it illustrates that many of the basic and fundamental conclusions of climate scientists are not black-boxy at all. Don’t believe me? Check out this version, I did this with a class of 17 introductory students, each responsible for downloading and processing 2 long-term records from each continent. I’ve included the official IPCC curve for comparison. Not perfect of course, but not bad considering this is the first earth science course many of them have ever taken, and all we had available to us was Microsoft Excel and some free public data.


The Discovery of Global Warming – A History : This site, hosted by the American Institute of Physics, is part of their history of physics web resource. I find it important to place modern climate science in historical context, emphasizing that this isn’t some newagey thing invented by tree huggers.

NOAA Climate Change Indicators : I like this site because it compiles some of the more useful figures for teaching and understanding climate science. Not too in-depth, but handy.

SERC – Teaching About Climate Change : This is more a resource for instructors, but I like to hand it out anyways (since many of my students are education majors and bound for the classroom). SERC is one of the best first-stops when designing a course.

Wikipedia’s Page on the Scientific Position on Climate Change : It is actually called the Scientific Opinion on Climate Change, but that is misleading. Regardless, I make the point that every major scientific organization in the world has issued a signing statement in support of the IPCC, and this site lists and links to most of them.

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2 Responses to Teaching Climate Change – part 3, online resources

  1. Torch 1342 says:

    Remember when climate change was called “global warming”. Did your kind change the title so you can justify warm and cold temps and explain them both as climate change? The truth lies somewhere in between. There is data on both sides of the argument, climate change is just another way to control all aspects of other peoples lives. I don’t believe it, and your kind will never convince me of it. The sun goes through cycles, and Duh, so does the weather. We had more hurricanes in recorded history in the 1920s, and our carbon emissions were 10 percent of what they are now. So, in short keep dreaming climate alarmists, drive your crappy hybrids and breathe in your smug opinions and exhale. Maybe that’s what is causing your climate change.

    • Yes, you are right that science does change as new information is gathered. Remember when doctors endorsed cigarettes? Remember when radiation was used to treat everything? While it is convenient to use this tactic to dismiss all science you dislike, it isn’t correct. Since you decided to comment without actually engaging in science, I’ll only waste a little bit of time replying. I am actually amazed at how predictable and baseless your comment was. It is obvious you know nothing of earth science, even confusing weather and climate, something my 18 year old introductory students even know better than to do. I’ll address a few things though.
      1. Scientists started using the term “climate change” because every time there was a cold snap somewhere a chorus of ignorants would start whining. The world is getting warmer, that data is plain and obvious, and had you read my posts and followed any of the links you would have seen that data. Climate change is a better term, because as the average global temp increases, it is expressed in a variety of ways. Most places will, on average, get warmer. But that doesn’t mean that every place is warmer every day. The recent cold snap in the southeast, for example, is in a world that is still warmer than average today.
      2. Hurricanes are caused by a lot of things. The best analogy I’ve read is the athlete on steroids analogy. The chance of large storms, hurricanes included, increases in a warmer world. That doesn’t mean that all storms are caused by climate change.
      3. The sun goes through cycles, you are right. In fact the sun was getting less bright during the early 2000’s, when we recorded 9 of the 10 warmest years ever measured.

      I try to keep this blog about science, and I’d ask that if you wish to comment on any of my posts, you are welcome, but comments insulting me and laying bare your ignorance of basic science, let alone basic earth science, because you hate hybrid cars or think that people who study things are smug, won’t be accepted. Bring up a valid scientific point, make sure it hasn’t already been answered a billion times on grist.org/skeptics, and we can move on from there. You know, adult, grown up conversations, not 12 year old name-calling.

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