Saturday, September 21, 2013

Climate Change Workshop, part 5.

Nicole Colston, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, gave the Saturday evening presentation at the climate change workshop sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. She got a master's degree in communication and held faculty positions as a debate coach. Then she found that she was really interested in climate change arguments, but recognized that she needed to know the science. So she came to OSU for a doctoral program in environmental science but is also a teaching assistant for in teacher education.

Nicole had been told that there were no schoolteachers who talked about climate change in class; but she found over a hundred even in her single survey. Nicole's survey showed that 81 of 125 respondents had experienced no "pushback" against teaching about global warming. This was about the same number who reported no pushback against teaching that the sun is the center of the solar system. Nevertheless, it is Nicole's personal crusade (and one of mine) to try to counteract climate change misinformation, primarily because it is deliberate misinformation. It is not sincere misunderstanding. As some writers have pointed out, there is an organize climate change denial (political) machine which, among other things, distributes free books to school superintendents saying that global warming is a hoax. These books are often quite openly abusive, e.g., a teacher shooting at Al Gore with a shotgun as he runs away with a pack of polar bears. Books supporting global warming do not, to my knowledge, use these kinds of tactics. You will find that Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway is firm but calm in tone and amply documented. Despite the barrage of misinformation, and the huge amounts of money spent by the Koch Brothers and the anonymous donor who funds about half the budget of the Heartland Institute, polls indicate (said Nicole) that 80 percent of Americans believe that humans are causing global warming.

Nicole then mentioned a number of resources and pieces of advice about how to help students understand global warming and how to avoid myths. For example, in Oklahoma, it does more harm than good to frame global warming in terms of criticizing the use of oil. (I do this, but for college students; it might be counterproductive for middle school students.) Also, don't pour on too much science; if students are confused, they may just disregard the subject and keep thinking what their parents and preachers have told them.

In order for climate science to make a difference in the world, it will need enthusiastic spokespeople like Nicole Colston.

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