A Short Course in Man-Made Climate Change (global Warming)

The goal of this Truth About Global Warming series is to communicate the science of climate change in a way that most people can understand, that is, without all the jargon and technical language that makes most people’s eyes glass over. So it is with great pleasure that I write this post to present a short course made available for all to see freely.

Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) was created in 2008 and is hosted at the University of Victoria in Canada. It’s mission is to “partner with governments, the private sector, other researchers and civil society, in order to undertake research on, monitor, and assess the potential impacts of climate change and to assess, develop and promote viable mitigation and adaptation options to better inform climate change policies and actions.” PICS has put together an extraordinary online short course called “Climate Insights 101.”

The first of four planned modules, Climate Science Basics, is one of the best communication tools I have seen on climate change. There are four separate lessons in the first module.

Lesson 1 provides an introduction to the importance of “Carbon Dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect.” You will learn how the greenhouse effect was first discovered, how it works, understand the importance of each of the major greenhouse gases, and how carbon dioxide acts as a forcer while water vapor acts as an amplifier (and what those mean).

Lesson 2 looks at “Mother Nature’s Influence,” including what natural forces do – and what they don’t do. This lesson explains how changes in the earth’s orbit, solar output, volcanic eruptions, and El Niño/La Niña effect – and don’t effect – climate, and how they effected it in the past. It also takes a look at the importance of ice core samples in understanding our historical climate.

Lesson 3 examines “Observable Changes,” that is, the observations that help us understand the warming of the planet. These include the melting of alpine glaciers, Arctic sea ice loss, and the dynamics of rising sea level and ocean acidification.

Finally, Lesson 4 is an “Introduction to Climate Modelling.” Here you’ll see what climate models are, and aren’t, as well as how they are used to understand both how climate changed in the past and project what is likely to happen in the future.

Each lesson is spectacularly clear and well produced. There are fabulous graphics, animations, and even music to highlight the points being made. Each lesson is broken down into sublessons on various topics, and viewers can skip ahead or go back by simply clicking on the section of interest. And unlike YouTube videos where people could lose interest or mentally wander off, each lesson in this series contains places where the viewer is required to interact to keep the course going. That helps keep the viewer’s attention. In addition, there are summaries of the information at the end of each lesson and a series of questions where viewers can test their knowledge. There are even alternative video sequences that automatically pop up depending on whether the viewer gets the right or wrong answer in the mini-quizzes.

One feature that I especially liked was the short interludes called “Clear the Air.” These sections presented some of the “misconceptions” that some people have about the role of volcanoes, the sun, or whether “the climate is cooling” (hint, it didn’t), then provide the scientific evidence to set them straight.

All of this results is an extraordinary online course. It can be taken all at once in sequence or visited in sections as time permits. Either way, the viewer will come away with a much clearer understanding of climate science. The bottom line – the planet is warming and it is mainly due to human activity. And this course does a good job of explaining how we know.

I highly recommend everyone interested in climate change take this course in Climate Science Basics. Beginning next year PICS will launch the next three modules on Regional Climate Change and its Impacts, Module 3 Adaptation, and Mitigation.

[NOTE: I want to thank John Cook and his extraordinary web site Skeptical Science (SkS) for bringing to my attention the PICS video course. The SkS site has become a highly regarded and accurate resource for debunking the most common denialist arguments.]

© David K, October 2011

This post is part of a series in The Truth About Global Warming, located at climatetruth.gather.com, which is dedicated to explaining what we know, and what we don’t know, about climate change.

I also have a separate group called “Exposing Climate Denialism – A Guide to Tactics and Tall Tales,” located at climatelies.gather.com for those who want to read about some of the intentional disinformation used by climate denialists to confuse the public about the state of climate science.

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