Are you are concerned about recent positions taken on climate change by political leadership in the United States? Do you agree with 97% of climate scientists who are convinced that human-caused climate change is an immediate, serious problem for our planet? Does it bother you that the issue of climate change has caused people to question the integrity of both science and scientists?
If you answered yes to any one of the questions above, I have a summer homework assignment for you:
Take the online course entitled “Denial 101x: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial”, led by John Cook at the University of Queensland in Australia. The course is hosted on the edX platform, and you can take it for free! During this course, you will hear from several of the climate scientists who have their sleeves rolled up and are actively working on the problem. This course will teach you the reasons why 97% of climate scientists are convinced that the problem of human-caused climate needs to be dealt with now. Because the course covers how to effectively correct scientific myths and misconceptions, you can even pick up some techniques for teaching, Finally, you will learn about several topics in climate science that naturally connect to the chemistry curriculum such as:
Isotopes: Isotopic studies have shown that the ratio of 12C/13C in atmospheric CO2 has increased in a manner consistent with the excess CO2 in the atmosphere originating from fossil fuels.
Density: A significant factor in global warming-induced seal level rise is thermal expansion of water.
Atmospheric chemistry / chemical reactions: As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere decreases.
Kinetic-molecular theory: Increased global temperatures means increased precipitation, which means increased snowfall. That’s right, more snowfall can be expected in some areas due to global warming. Who knew?
Gas laws: Warmer temperatures in the lower portion of the troposphere have increased, causing it to expand. Conversely, lower temperatures in upper regions of the atmosphere have shrinking.
Quantum mechanics: Infrared light emitted by the earth is absorbed by atmospheric H2O and CO2 molecules, even though these molecules do not absorb visible light from the sun.
Henry’s Law / Equilibrium: About one quarter of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuels is absorbed into the oceans, decreasing ocean pH.
Acid Base chemistry / Ksp: Lower ocean pH causes calcium carbonate in various organisms (coral reefs, sea shells) to dissolve.
Perhaps you feel a bit helpless about human-caused climate change. However, we science teachers need to recognize our great power regarding this important issue. We can teach future citizens and world leaders how to evaluate the evidence regarding our rapidly changing climate. We can help others recognize scientific myths, misconceptions, and science denial. Perhaps best of all, we can inspire the next generation of scientists who will go on to solve this problem.
It is my hope that science teachers of all stripes will work together to develop curriculum that will equip our students to do all these things and more (you can see an example of something I have tried along these lines in my chemistry classes here). I would encourage you to start thinking about ways to incorporate climate change and global warming – often – in your science classes. Taking the online course “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” will provide you with numerous tools to do just that.