Climate change educational outreach at Davis High School
When is the best time to educate people about climate and their function within our environment? I would say that every time is a good time! My colleague Josephine Fong recently posted on her experience with middle school students, and here I will tell you about our experience with a group of high school students in Eric Bastin's Environmental Science classes at Davis High School. Alan Rhoades and I (Jorge Guerra) had the pleasure to present an overview of climate change to these students from the perspective of the fundamental science and our individual and societal roles.
|Our presentation started by challenging ourselves and the students to define climate change. We began by discussing a common definition of climate change provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
“Climate change in IPCC usage refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.”
Given what the IPCC formally defines as climate change, Alan and I took some time to contrast this with our personal definitions and those of the students. This exercise allows an individual to reflect on how all of us intuitively understand climate change. The students provided their thoughts reflecting what is most important to them when they think of climate change. These were specific events that have been linked to climate change such as: drought, polar bears, melting ice sheets, etc. While Alan and I sought to construct more general definitions based on our experience, it is clear that what we show below differs significantly from what theIPCC gives us, even for a pair of young climate scientists!
It is important to emphasize that climate change as a consequence of human activity is a phenomenon subject to serious scrutiny and one that has gained a broad consensus in the scientific community.
With an emphasis on the process that the IPCC has established in their assessments since 1988, our presentation moved to discuss some of the techniques used to understand climate change. We started exploring data and information on temperature, sea ice extent, CO2 concentration, spring snowpack, and ocean acidification by juxtaposing technical figures with images of places and situations affected by these changes. We followed this with an overview of radiation transfer in the atmosphere and how this process leads to an elevated global averaged surface temperature, the basis for the so-called “Greenhouse Effect”.
The subject of radiation poses a challenge to early education on climate change. Alan and I used analogy, metaphor, and as many hand gestures as we could imagine to convey the ideas of radiation, physical chemistry, and ultimately how these translate into an imbalanced energy input to the atmosphere. We also touched on some of the proxies used to derive climate observations such as tree rings, ice cores, sediment cores, etc. One objective of the presentation was to show students the diversity of disciplines necessary to study climate change.
We showed two animations of the general circulation; one from satellite data, and one from model data. When asked to tell them apart, the students (by show of hands) gave about an even split! One student commented that she was able to guess the model data correctly because it didn't look “random enough” and that the satellite loop was more “realistic.” Indeed, she touched on sophisticated problem in the construction of models: how to reproduce the true statistical properties of the real atmosphere in a model that operates over a truncated range of scales.
Lastly, we showed data on the production of CO2 globally by country and per-capita for countries with the highest output. Unfortunately, that message is not positive for citizens of industrialized nations, but it also conveys hope in the role of personal responsibility. An important goal of the presentation was to leave students certain that their individual choices do indeed matter and scale up to communities and into the world. In this sense, they were already well versed on some of the well-known alternatives that reduce CO2 waste. In thinking about climate change, the students are eager for solutions and they persistently asked “is it too late?” The answer is no, it is never too late to become diligent stewards of our environment and secure a healthy future for all life on Earth./table>/table>