My recent article “Two CO2 climate change myths” has generated an unprecedented 4,400+ comments here at CFACT. These are not all favorable; on the contrary a number of climate change alarmists have come in to debate the important points that I raise. As a result we are having a very educational experience.
To further the educational aspect, I want to describe some of the features of the “Two myths” article, as a guide that others can use in their writing. We need a lot more writing that supports teaching that is skeptical of climate change alarmism.
This article is what I call a “gate breaker,” which means it can be used to get around gatekeepers who want to just teach alarmism. In many cases this will be the teacher. The article is such that a skeptical student can introduce it, in order to create a proper debate.
To begin with the article is short, just under 700 words. In fact there are two distinct articles, one on each myth, and each can be used separately. This brevity is important because class time can be very limited. A lot of proposed educational material is far too long to be useful.
Second, the article is focused on two very specific points, the two myths. The climate change debate is very complex and it is easy to bite off more that the class can chew on. Each session must be confined to a few very narrow issues. Mentioning a lot of different issues is useless.
Third, the issues focused on are fundamental. In this case, CO2 is often described in the press as “heat trapping pollution” and the point of the article is simply that this is false. This issue is the starting point for really understanding the science. Most people get what little climate science they know from news reports, so it is very important to correct the most common alarmist falsehoods.
Fourth, what is said is nontechnical. One of the hardest things about teaching is to know what your students do and do not know. New concepts have to be explained, at least briefly, as they are introduced.
Which technical concepts you use will tend to determine which readers will not be able to fully understand the article. For example I use the concept of long wave radiation to explain the greenhouse effect and why CO2 does not trap heat. In most states this concept is first taught in middle school physical science, so that may set a lower limit to the readership.
A lot of proposed educational material is far too technical to be used in middle or even high school. Scientists in particular may have trouble understanding what children do not know, because much of it is so simple to them.
One way to approach this is to look at some of the State standards for K-12 science education. (K-12 is kindergarten through 12th grade.) These standards often specify which concepts are to be taught in which grades.
In particular, the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are just coming into force is many states. The NGSS move a lot of climate change science that is traditionally taught in high school into middle school. This means that many relevant high school level concepts will not yet have been taught when the climate science is.
Fifth, while nontechnical, what is said has to be scientifically accurate. This is something of an art, but it is very important. Since the content is nontechnical, a lot of scientific nuance and special conditions have to be left out.
In sum the best educational writing is short, focused, fundamental, nontechnical and accurate. A lot of teachers want to question climate change alarmism and they need good material to help them do it. But many want to teach alarmism and here it is the questioning student that needs support.
Either way we need more good stuff in the classrooms of America.