How to Teach Grown-Ups about Climate Change: A Review

Book cover

I hope I am not entering my second childhood, but I just read a splendid book aimed at third through seventh graders: How to Teach Grown-Ups about Climate Change. A picture book, no less, written by Patricia Daniels and illustrated by Aaron Blecha, with a foreword by Michael Mann, the discoverer of the “hockey stick.” I have not been a (5 ± 2)th grader, nor have I had one, in a very long time, but I am going to guess that the material is suitable for that age group, though possibly a bit hard for a third grader.

Someone once told me that if you want to get the attention of a fifth grader, just say “fart.” Sure enough, on page 27, the authors write,


They explain, though, that cow burps inject a significant amount of methane into the atmosphere, and methane is a very significant greenhouse gas. Fifth graders will also be interested to know that sea snot is plugging harbors in Turkey.

I am getting ahead of myself, but the book is well illustrated and has a myriad of infographics, many of them headlined IT’S A FACT! These infographics are shown as a cloud emitted by a burping cow. A nice discussion on information, misinformation, and disinformation shows you how “your grown-ups” can check any claim they think is suspicious: by going to an encyclopedia, a reputable news source, or a scientific authority. They are also advised to ask who paid for the message and what they get out of it. I might have added, trust dot-gov and dot-edu websites more than dot-com and dot-org websites, in that order.

This is a technical book in some sense. It begins by asking whether your grown-ups might be clueless. If so, here is what you need to teach them. The book then goes through the history of climate change, explaining that we damned well know that it is human caused. It explains precisely what fossil fuels are and how burning them injects CO2 into the atmosphere. Beginning with Eunice Foote, who predated even John Tyndall, the authors explain how we know that CO2 traps heat. I was surprised that there was no history between Arrhenius and Greta Thunberg. (I was also somewhat dismayed when they called Foote, the woman, by her first name; they would never have called Arrhenius “Svante.”)

An infographic on how we know it is hot details the different measuring systems that we use to discern the average temperature of the earth. Another infographic shows the hockey stick and explains that the temperature was pretty steady between 1100 CE and the mid-twentieth century, when it began to rise precipitously.

Is it too late? No, and boxes shaped like leaves explain WHAT YOU CAN DO in response to various problems. Other boxes, similar to the one we saw about cow farts, respond NOPE! to various misconceptions and explain precisely why they are misconceptions and should not be believed.

The weather now is often “weird,” so they coined the term global weirding. Global weirding is responsible for temperatures of 47 °C in northwestern United States and nearby southwestern Canada on the one hand, and 40 °C warmer than normal in Antarctica (the temperature at one station in Antarctica reached 18 °C in 2020, about the same as Los Angeles on that day). Additionally, we are seeing heat waves in cities, droughts and wildfires, and severe hurricanes, all above normal or what was formerly normal. Some plants and animals will survive all this, and some will not.

The authors are optimistic about our own survival and note that we can tackle global weirding in two ways: personal choices and changing the system. They advise you to do both: change to LED light bulbs, tell your grown-ups not to idle their cars, reduce their consumption of meat (in particular, beef), and so on. But also get your grown-ups to work toward changing the system, as by introducing renewable energy sources, including geothermal, and manufacturing electric cars and trucks, for example. I was gratified to see that they are suspicious of carbon sequestration, in part because the oil industry plans to inject CO2 and use it to extract more oil. They likewise take a somewhat dim view of geo-engineering.

Finally, they offer some advice to your grown-ups when they try to influence friends and acquaintances: find things you have in common; do not argue with doctrinaire climate deniers; do not be “doom-y” and make people want to give up; and do not shame people who, for example, eat beef and drive behemoths. All to my mind good advice, provided sometimes that you can bite your tongue hard enough.

The book ends with a quiz that you can give your grown-ups, as well as more detail on What You Can Do. It has a good glossary and what looks like a good index.

Appendix 1. The book is of course timely, but perhaps moreso because of the roughly simultaneous announcement of a book by Ken Ham and Jessica DeFord, The Truth [sic!] about Climate Change. I have not read this book, but I think all you need to know about it is this sentence written by Ms. DeFord,

Climate alarmists will not solve the problem of man’s sin by switching to alternative energy or reducing carbon emissions that they believe are caused by human activity. [Emphasis added.]

and Mr. Ham’s reminder of Genesis 8:22,

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease [KJV],

which he interprets as a promise. (I guess he does not believe that God helps those who help themselves , because, after all, it is not Biblical.)

Appendix 2. Physicist’s last inch. I found two explanations that were possibly misleading and could be caught by a bright seventh grader. First, electrons are not knocked off the solar cell. If they were, they would have nowhere to go, and the cell would become positive and attract them back. Instead, electrons are made free to move within the cell and therefore generate a current (holes too, but never mind; that would be too complicated). Readers of PT may be interested to know, incidentally, that China has built an array of solar cells in the shape of a panda.

Second, the term heat is used imprecisely in the discussion of “how the atmosphere works.” Again, a bright seventh grader might notice. Specifically, the “heat” that falls on the earth is mostly visible light. The “heat” that escapes into space is mostly infrared radiation, so they are not the same thing. The atmosphere is more or less transparent to visible light and more or less opaque to infrared radiation. It blocks much of the loss of “heat” by absorbing infrared radiation. That could have been made clear in a sentence or two.

A greenhouse, incidentally, does not work primarily by the greenhouse effect. Rather, it mostly reduces heat loss by convection. It is therefore very different from the atmosphere, but I would not quibble over that point.

Thanks to Glenn Branch, whose review you may read here, for some assistance. Another reader, who wants to remain anonymous, exclaimed, “Sounds wonderful! I want to read it.”