Lots of educational research shows that the most effective learning occurs when the teacher and learner are both engaged, and communication occurs in both directions. Unfortunately, the most widely-used educational practice involves a monologue, wherein a single speaker provides information to an audience of passive listeners. In “A Global Warming Primer”, Jeffrey Bennett provides a different template for conversation about the most pressing global environmental issue of our time. His approach harkens back to a tradition of religious education, the “catechism”. A catechism is a prescribed exchange of questions and answers intended to indoctrinate children or converts, teaching them the tenets of the faith. The questions are predetermined by the church and the answers are intended to be accepted and preferably memorized by the learner. The catechism is the same as it was last year as it was a couple of hundred years ago. This doesn’t work that well in science, where the questions arise in the mind of the inquirer and the answers are based on data and reason. Acceptable answers can change over time, as more data is collected and models interpreting them evolve and improve.
Bennett’s little (hundred page) and inexpensive book anticipates the questions that would likely arise in the mind of a student or a person skeptical that climate change is real or that it is caused by human activity. His question-and-answer book addresses all of the Big Questions: How do we know the climate is changing? How do we know that the changes are largely caused by humans? Is there anything we can do about it? The seventy-some questions in the Primer are organized in four sections: The Basic Science, The Skeptic Debate, The Expected Consequences, and The Solution. The result is a very convincing, understandable explanation of the problem. In my opinion, the best part is the extensive use of graphs, maps, cartoons, and photographs that help to show “How do we know that?” Another terrific resource for presentations about climate change is the great ACS Climate Science Toolkit on the Web: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/climatescience.html, which I enthusiastically recommend.