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.