"Recent changes in the seasonal timing of biological events have been linked to warmer temperatures.", caught my eye on my twitter feed(@ClimateCentral) this morning. I thought it might lead to a good blog topic for the day discussing the observed changes in the arrival of spring over the last few decades. Birds arrive earlier, flowers bloom earlier, etc. However, when I investigated further another topic came to mind and that was the importance of the "translator" in this often confusing world of climate science. Twitter led me to an abstract of the article entitled Out of Step (Heffernan, 2010). It opened with; "Recent changes in the seasonal timing of biological events such as flowering and migration have been linked to warmer temperatures. Now a study shows that such seasonal shifts are becoming increasingly common in the UK and could wreak havoc across ecosystems as they disturb the delicate balance of nature." Still understandable, and intriguing I thought, but I wanted to get back to the original source.
The abstract led me to the original journal article in Global Change Biology (Thackeray et. al, 2010) entitled; Trophic level asynchrony in rates of phenological change for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. I probably don't need to share the first few sentences for you to get a sense of how the article was written. I also want to be clear that I am not devaluing the importance of scientific journals. Every discipline has its lingo and language which is important when communicating with colleagues. What I do want to highlight is the important role science writers, journalists, science museums and non profits play as translators and communicators. That is not to say there aren't scientists that aren't also fantastic public communicators of science. Dr. James Hansen, and E.O. Wilson are a few of my particular favorites. Real Climate blog is also an excellent example.
For those of us in education this presents a fantastic opportunity to challenge our students to find out how the "know" what they know, based on magazine, newspaper or online articles. Ask your students to choose a climate science based news item and ask them to trace it back to the original source or sources. Do they understand the original article? Does it seem to have been accurately translated? Did the author of the item they started from take some license to interpret more than merely make the language more understandable? Finally, ask them to try and "translate" a scientific article themselves. Break out the dictionary, and online sources and challenge them to do their own science writing.
Find more music like this on Climate Change Youth
At the end of last week the buzz in the climate change media coverage was about a new study that came out in Friday's edition of Science . Andrew Revkin breaks down the study well in his blog that day, but essentially the study states that methane gas is being released from Arctic sea beds. Methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is stored in Arctic permafrost, but with the melting associated with climate change this methane is being released. Later that day, it was brought to my attention that the same edition of Science contained an article on energy effiicieny and potential solutions through the behavioral sciences. This example is not unique, but illustrates a great learning opportunity for students and teachers following climate change through mainstream media. Discuss with your students how they respond emotionally to a headline of "Methane leaking from Arctic at Alarming Rate", vs. "Hope for Dealing with Climate Change found in Behavioral Sciences." Encourage students to research beyond an article they read in the local or national newspaper or magazine back to the sources the articles cite. Ask them to find another article or study released on the same day, that may have changed the tone of climate change coverage that day. Lessons 4 and 5 in our grades 3-6 curriculum focus on how climate change is being communicated and could be useful to to higher grade level teachers as well.
The most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change estimated that the global average sea level will rise between 0.6 and 2 feet (0.18 to 0.59 meters) in the next century (IPCC, 2007). More recent reports estimate the possible rise of 1 meter by 2100. (see here full artlce) These predictions are difficult to understand without a visual illustration. The following image from the Data Blog of the UK Guardian does a great job of simply illustrating what a meter of more could mean in reference to common landmarks.
- Topic Climate Change Science
- Expert Kristen Poppleton, WSF Director of Education
- Resource Type Blog
...or so it is written in a resolution passed in the South Dakota legistlature this week. (full text of resolution) This is just one of the resolutions and bills discussed in a New York Times article this morning that asserts that "critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools" The article asserts that "the linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general."
Similar to critics of teaching evolution in the schools, critics of teaching climate change argue that it should be taught as merely a theory and both sides presented to students. In my experience as a climate change educator for the last ten years, I have changed my teaching strategies in response to the scientific community. The first few years it still seemed appropriate to facilitate debate among students over whether climate change was a natural phenomena vs. human induced. It is not however appropriate any longer, as the great majority of the scientific community has consensus that climate change is happening, and it is human caused. Today if I am working with a group of students or teacher that is interested in using debate related to this topic, it is still possible, but instead I choose debate over solutions for dealing with the problem. Our Citizen Climate curriculum, faciliates a discussion over solutions using Pacala and Socolow's (2004) Stabilizations Wedges activity. In addition, our Grades 3-6 Curriculum gives students at the elementary level the opportunity to come up with solutions in their own school.
You can view our full profile at the Charities Review Council.