Teacher-friendly guide to climate change

I do not remember how, but somehow we recently learned of The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change. This splendid Guide is actually one of a series published by the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York.

The PRI is crowd-funding the Guide with the intention of reaching “all high school science teachers, nationwide.” You may contribute here. As I write, it seems that their goal is to collect $86,000 within the next 203 days; they have so far raised approximately $45,000 (I do not know when the campaign started).

The book is available free as a PDF, but you may also purchase a hard copy for $25. I have the PDF, and I infer that the hard copy is printed in black and white, because the color figures all direct you to the PDF to see the figure in color. I assume, without evidence, that their intention is to distribute hard copies of the book, as opposed to the PDF.

I also assume, without much evidence, that the book is at least in part a response to a disinformation campaign by the Heartland Institute, but the book is somewhat coy about that and merely notes in an FAQ (did I remember to say that there is a comprehensive set of FAQ’s at the back of the book?),

The “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” is sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a US-based conservative think tank best known for fighting government regulation of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. Heartland has campaigned to downplay threats posed by second-hand smoke, acid rain, and ozone depletion, as well as against the Endangered Species Act. The Heartland NIPCC also issues periodic reports, timed to coincide with the release of IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessment reports and formatted to look like them. NIPCC reports are authored by fewer than 50 individuals and the most recent report cites only 72 papers, mostly written by the NIPCC authors.

Well, I have sort of buried my lead. What about the book itself?

I have read nearly half the book, somewhat selectively, and I will probably finish it eventually, but that is no reason to wait. I am far from an expert on climate change, but the Guide looks to me like an excellent addition to what you might call the semi-popular literature. It is well formatted and, in particular, leaves a wide margin on each page in order to highlight, for example, definitions of terms. Those terms that are highlighted in the margin are set in boldface, but occasionally some highlighted terms are instead defined within the text. I thought that some of the terms probably did not need defining for science teachers, but probably is better to err on the side of defining them than not. Every page in Chapter 4, “Climate and earth history,” conveniently includes a little table that shows the geologic timescale, with the period under discussion highlighted (though some periods mentioned in the text do not appear in the table).

Each chapter has a different principal author, but they all read very easily. There are signs such as inconsistent use of SI unit symbols and locutions like “[a] million km3” and “3.5 degrees C” that the book had no single, professional editor, but on the whole it flows smoothly. Each chapter concludes with what looks like a useful set of references (but remember, IANAX). At the very bottom of the PDF file, incidentally, following the figure credits and a blank page or two, is a figure that someone must have banked there and forgotten.

The first chapter could have hit a little harder and discussed a little sooner why climate change is such a serious problem, but as the chapter says, we all have biases. I could have done without most of the second chapter, which read like jacket blurbs, but on the whole the book seems well organized, beginning with an explanation of climate (as opposed to weather), climate change over geological times, and finally why recent climate change is different. Subsequent chapters, which I have not yet read, discuss climate change in the US, mitigating climate change (including geo-engineering), and adapting to it.

I do not want to go into any more detail, but I will point out that those few areas that I am already conversant with are presented clearly, if occasionally I thought a step was left out. At the risk of being exceedingly picky, Figure 3.3 makes it appear as though the long-wave radiation emitted by the earth is reflected by a single layer at the edge of the atmosphere, when in fact it is absorbed and re-emitted in all directions at all altitudes.

Bottom line: Download the book, read it, comment here, but above all remember to contribute here.