By Katy Garmany
We were all delighted with the engaged audience of about 60 people who joined us in January at the AAS meeting in Seattle. The first half of the session involved a fun, role playing exercise on how to talk to a climate change denier, but I will focus on the second half in which we addressed the issue in teaching climate change at the astro 101 level.
I invited several people who are very involved in teaching climate change for an informal roundtable discussion: Ed Prather, Chair, AAS Education Committee; Travis Rector, member of AS Education Committee; Megan Donahue, co-author of an elementary astronomy textbook that several people have identified as very effectively including climate change; and Greg Rudnick, who teaches a section on climate change in his introductory astronomy class and is involved in KU sustainability teaching efforts. (This panel was not meant to be exclusionary; these are just people I was aware are doing this work!)
In the discussion, the question was raised of how to make progress when the obstruction to understanding is psychological, not rational -- it's not a question of missing ideas and information. Among the ideas that came up was that of inviting Katherine Hayhoe to speak at a future AAS meeting: she is a climate scientist and evangelical Christian, who communicates to Christian audiences about climate change from the perspective of an Evangelic. Hayhoe is featured in the documentary "Years of Living Dangerously", a 9-part series. Showtime is allowing the first episode on youtube as an advertisement for the whole series, which premiered in April, 2014.
The first episode directly addresses the political divide of opinion on climate change
Megan commented that students appreciate hearing the counter-arguments to the most common objections by climate change deniers.
We urged the audience to send us links to useful teaching material for the website. To this end I have begun posting some that I know about as well as some provided by various folks. We will offer these on the teaching page of this website. We have a sense that hands-on classroom activities are something that is most needed. A few that I especially like include:
- "The Modern Atmospheric CO2 Record : Students compare carbon dioxide (CO2) data from Mauna Loa Observatory , Barrow (Alaska) , and the South Pole over the past 40 years to help them better understand what controls atmospheric CO2. This activity makes extensive use of Excel.
- University of Colorado (Phet) interactive simulations. There are a lot of different physics related units here, but note the one on greenhouse gases,http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse
And we are excited to be planning a special session for next January's AAS meeting in Florida. Dr. Don Chambers, who is a climate scientist at U. Southern Florida and a lead author of the latest IPCC climate assessment, has accepted our invitation to speak at this session. His primary research focus is quantifying and understanding sea level variability, especially trying to separate natural climate variability from anthropogenic climate change. Hope to see you there!