Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Having of Holiday Climate Change Chats

The Having of Holiday Climate Change Chats 

Tyler K. Perry

With the holidays right around the corner, many families will soon gather around the dinner table and spend quality time with one another, laughing, sharing memories, and in many cases debating current events. My family can argue over just about anything, whether it be about whose fault it was for leaving my adolescent father in the grocery store parking lot 30 years ago, to how this country should be run and by whom. We are a small close knit family, that helps one another out when needed, and we all love each other very much. However, whenever the whole family is together, somehow, some way, a controversial topic rears its ugly head and soon a heated debate is ignited. Once that first spark flies, not even my mother’s famous homemade creamed onions can contain this clash of opinions. Maybe it’s my grandmother’s stubbornness, or my Aunt’s short fuse, but “teams” are formed and a formidable argument ensues. Most of the time it is usually over by the time pumpkin pie is served, and the consensus is always the same, agree to disagree. 

As a child these arguments caused sadness and frustration that my family would rather argue at the dinner table about concepts that I did not understand, instead of laughing and recounting fond memories together like the families in all the Christmas movies. However, now that I am older and I have opinions of my own, I feel myself becoming tempted to join in the debates, especially those revolving around science and the environment. As a senior in the Environmental and Forestry Biology Department at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, I consider myself well versed in a number of scientific and environmental topics and controversies. I would like to share my knowledge and opinions with my family, without getting into a heated argument over dinner and letting my mashed potatoes go cold. When everyone is yelling, no one is listening. 

Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeastern coast in a terrifying display of Mother Nature’s force. It is therefore a feasible prediction that Sandy, and the ever growing talk of climate change may be a dinner table topic this holiday season. Climate change is a real issue that is affecting our everyday lives and is not going away anytime soon. However there are those out there that dispute the science and still believe that climate change is just a myth. If those naysayers happen to be sitting around your dinner table this holiday season, I have outlined steps to take that will help you get your point regarding climate change (or any other environmental topic) across respectfully and effectively. At the end of the post are some resources for going further. 

The first thing that you need to do, is to make sure your audience knows that you respect their opinion and are willing to listen to what they have to say. The conversation is going to go smoothly when both parties know there is mutual respect. 

The biggest problem with the public opinion of climate change is separating fact from fiction. Setting the record straight on some of the myths out there is number one. According to the “Debunking Handbook” that was referenced in the holiday post last year, it’s better to disprove a myth with three to four facts, rather than ten or twelve. It’s important to not bombard your family with high level scientific facts, when you just spit facts at a person that is not familiar with science, your argument will not be effective. Your goal is to avoid an overly complicated alternative explanation; otherwise people will prefer to believe an easy to understand myth. For example, many people believe that climate and weather is the same thing. The best way to explain the difference is that weather tells you the conditions outside right now, and climate tells you what the conditions will be outside for the whole year. 

Even after you present your choice of facts to your family, if your dinner table is still not completely convinced that climate change is real, all hope is not lost. Even with facts such as 2012 having a 99.99999999% chance of being the hottest year on record for the continental United States, making seven out of the top ten hottest years on record, happening in the last 15 years (More info at Climate Central and NOAA) they still aren’t swayed; tell them that it doesn’t matter. Yes, you heard me correctly, the things we as humans need to do to stop climate change, are good practices in general. We have a responsibility as people on this earth to take care of her. Why should people wait for more and more record breaking years, horrible floods and super storms until they are undoubtedly convinced that climate change is real? We all should work to reduce our carbon footprint. Carpooling to the next family event to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, is just a good idea in general. And remind your naysayers that many practices that reduce greenhouse gasses will also save some of the green in their wallet. Rather than grumbling about the price of gas, see it as an incentive to monitor your energy use, amend your daily driving habits and reap the budgetary benefits. 

Credit: NOAA

All in all it while it’s important to try and convince your family the importance of good environmental practices, it is imperative that you enjoy the time that you have during the holidays to appreciate and spend time with those that are important to you. So if you feel like your stewardship lesson is taking a turn for the worse, steer it in the direction of sports teams, fine wine or if all else fails ask that fateful question of who left dad in the parking lot when he was ten.

Tyler Perry is a senior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution.

Resources for Going Further
There are many great resources for deepening understandings. Here are two that include specific attention to how to talk to climate change contrarians:
You might look back and think about how to apply the lessons from The Debunking Handbook to some of our earlier posts.  

What suggestions do you have? Please use the comments for sharing ideas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Climate Access -- Lessons from the Field: Talking about Climate and Fracking

Most of this post is an excerpt from a blog post titled "LESSONS FROM THE FIELD: TALKING ABOUT FRACKING AND CLIMATE" on the Climate Access website. The excerpt describes some of the Museum of the Earth's work related to Marcellus Shale education and how we are using the public interest in the Marcellus as a teachable moment to engage the public in learning about energy and climate.

As the Climate Access post on lessons from the field came out while we were running an educator workshop that included a field trip to a well pad where drilling was underway, I've also included a couple of images of the field trip.

Before getting to the excerpts and images, I'll share a bit about Climate Access by quoting from their "About" page:

In the fall of 2011, The Resource Innovation Group’s Social Capital Project, in partnership with the Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Society and theStonehouse Standing Circle, launched Climate Access to provide climate communications thinkers and doers with access to the necessary tools, knowledge and people. This is all in the name of increasing public support for climate policies and engagement in programs that help people, organizations and communities change their energy and other carbon-intensive behaviors.
Climate Access facilitates the rapid peer-to-peer exchange of information, bringing together those working on climate communications from various organizations and institutions. As such, Climate Access serves as a network of networks that fosters connection and collaboration and helps turn ideas into action. It also features the Social Capital Project’s ability to synthesize and analyze the most relevant research and campaign strategies.
There's a great deal of interest on Climate Access and on the sites of their partner organizations linked above. Check that out after reading the excerpt below, and about the work that other members of Climate Access are doing related to hydraulic fracturing's role in the energy and climate systems.

Here's the excerpt:

Through a series of grant-funded initiatives (NSF 1016359, 1035078, Smith-Lever NYC-124481), the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) is working to nurture evidence-based understandings of Earth systems issues associated with both hydraulic fracturing and the larger energy system. We see the controversy surrounding the Marcellus Shale as a teachable moment – a great many people are suddenly interested in where their energy comes from. This provides an opportunity for nurturing understandings of not only the Marcellus, but also the broader energy system, and also the larger Earth system.
We believe that the Marcellus cannot be understood in isolation and are striving to not only provide evidence-based understanding with as little bias as possible (that is, we will not advocate for or against drilling in the Marcellus Shale), but also help our audiences to investigate deeper questions than the question many in the Ithaca-area are initially drawn to. Residents justifiably focus on the question: Is this bad for the environment? Without contextualization, the answer is invariably “yes.” A more appropriate context-dependent question might be, “Is this better or worse for the environment than what we are doing now, or might reasonably do in the near future, to meet our energy needs?”
A simple pre-assessment used in some of our programming asks participants to identify the two largest energy sources for electric generation in New York state. The most common answers by far are coal and hydro, which rank numbers four and three, respectively behind natural gas and nuclear which are essentially even in their shares of production for the last several years. By gently drawing attention to the fact that most of us don’t really have much of a sense where our energy comes from now, we have had some success in engaging in richer discussions that have, to some degree, shifted people away from their poles related to this polarizing issue.
Education regarding the Marcellus Shale serves as a case study for both developing outreach approaches for emergent energy issues and for how these issues relate to the teaching of other controversial topics. Our goal is to develop heuristic approaches that others can adapt to their community’s needs before polarization becomes entrenched. Strategies include networking formal and informal educators within communities to develop energy education programming.
We have also produced “The Marcellus Papers,” a series of pamphlets that provide an overview of various aspects of the science related to hydraulic fracturing and the Marcellus Shale, and we are working to define what it means to be Marcellus Shale literate, and also what is needed to be aneffective Marcellus Shale educatorThere's No Such Thing as a Free Megawatt is a presentation (created with Prezi) that has been used to provide an overview of the Marcellus Shale and contextualize it in the changing energy system. 
 Our greatest challenge is helping people to shift from working to fortify their position to deepening their understandings of the related issues. In this work, we are finding recent work by Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) helpful as we strive to help people shift their mode of thinking in Kahneman’s terms from System 1 to System 2, and Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and LadyGagaas we work to make the way we speak and write about these issues more understandable.

On August 29, 2012 we visited a well pad where drilling was taking place as part of one of our educator workshops. A future post will offer more images and a description of the visit. For now, here's a picture and an interactive panorama to help give a sense of what such a site is like.

Note that the drilling rig is only on site while drilling is taking place. That process lasts several days for each well on the pad, but current practice is to drill only one well before removing the rig.

The drilling rig.

An interactive panorama (a Photosynth) of the well pad

Monday, July 2, 2012

Climate Change: Lines of Evidence -- videos from the National Research Council

The National Research Council's America's Climate Choices project has released a series of videos that provide an excellent brief overview of scientific understandings of climate change.

The videos describe both the lines of evidence and the history of the science that led to our current understandings of climate change.

The series of videos can be watched in separate segments, or as a single 26 minute long video. Here are the chapter titles linked to the videos:

The project has also produced a booklet of the same name. You can read the pamphlet online and download a pdf of Climate Change: Lines of Evidence here.

Don Duggan-Haas

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Influence the Direction of Science Education: How to read and comment upon the Next Generation Science Standards

In 1996, The National Science Education Standards (NSES) were published and in the intervening 16 years, they have provided guidance for K-12 science education. While NSES is far from the only document to shape science standards at the state level and science teaching across the country, it is almost certainly the most influential.

Sixteen years is a long time and NSES is showing its age. A new set of standards are now under development. The Next Generation Science Standards have a targeted release date of 2013.

A public draft is available for comment and this blog post is intended to give some guidance on how to provide that input. It's a complex document with complex implications about changes not only in K-12 science education, but also in the K-12 education system beyond the sciences. The time for feedback is short -- the close of comments is June 1, but you can target your comments on specific components of the draft -- so the task can be managed in this short amount of time.

I've played a minor role amongst a cast of at least hundreds (and probably over a thousand) in the development of NGSS, first as a member of the Earth & Space Science Design Team for A Framework for K-12 Science Education and now as a member of the New York's Statewide Leadership Team. As someone who has been involved in the development of NGSS, I find navigating the NGSS Draft confusing. I know from talking to others that I'm not alone in that feeling, and that's why I've put this post together.

The complexity is to be expected -- reformatting American K-12 science is no simple task, and the complexities of science literacy aren't something that can be understood in a glance, but we can help make those complexities accessible.

We'll look at a video on why new standards are needed, and then two on how to read the standards. The first two of these are from Achieve Inc., the organization that is coordinating the writing of the standards. The third is a short one from me, showing some more of the technological tools built into the NGSS to help further with your reading, and simply pointing you to pages that I found helpful as I was working on providing my own feedback.

In addition to the videos below, and the information at, the National Science Teachers' Association has put together some resources to help you make sense of the NGSS Public Draft.

Before the videos, I'll highlight what I think are some (there are many) important changes that NGSS includes in its vision for K-12 science education:

  • Performance Expectations define what understanding looks like for each standard in NGSS, in ways far richer than what can be captured on today's standardized tests and this may be a catalyst for the development and use of more authentic assessments of understanding.
  • NGSS is structured with three dimensions, each of roughly equal importance: 
    • Science and Engineering Practices
    • Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • Crosscutting Concepts
  • NGSS addresses four disciplines:
    • Life Science
    • Physical Science (including both physics and chemistry)
    • Earth and Space Science
    • Engineering and Technology
  • NGSS is designed with an understanding that it takes years of coordinated instruction to build deep understandings of the central big ideas of science, and weaves this understanding into the fabric of the standards.
  • While not always explicit throughout the document, a systems perspective is embedded in NGSS's design.
  • Considerable attention to both evolution and climate change is included within NGSS; much more than in NSES. 

These changes define a new vision for science education. The three dimensions address not only the content of scientific disciplines, but also describe how scientific knowledge. The inclusion of Engineering and Technology as Core Discipline is also a marked shift from current practice, and an appropriate shift. Attention to building understandings of a few keys ideas over many years is not typically done in schools today, nor is significant understandings of a systems perspective. And, attention to serious omissions of fundamental science that shapes our world is long overdue. 

In short, these are important changes in positive directions and they are of substantial size.

On the NGSS website, you'll find a five page pdf with a delineation of what the authors regard as the important Conceptual Shifts in the NGSS.

Now, let's go to the videos.

Why Are New Science Standards Needed?

How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards

I found the above two videos helpful, but they didn't give me quite enough information to find all the pieces I was looking for. I learned more through webinars I've attended over the last couple of weeks and I wanted to share this with others who didn't have the benefit of those webinars. So, I put together a short video to tour Before you begin watching the video, you might open that link in another window, and pause the video as you explore the website.

More About How to Read the NGSS Draft

The final video closes with a few comments about targeting your feedback where it will likely have the most effect. The text in the colored boxes is from A Framework for K-12 Science Education which was published last year, and that text is unlikely to change. So, target your efforts elsewhere. Provide specific feedback on how to improve wording of Performance Expectations (those multi-colored sentences near the top of the box) or on the connections at the bottom of the box.

Direct your energies in providing feedback to the areas of the standards most relevant to your work and your experience. That both narrows your focus so that you can complete your task before the June 1 close of comments, and increases the likelihood that your comments are on target.

Also, if you think this document represents a vision you share for science education, include that in your comments. Be sure to say what you like about NGSS! Consider that individuals and groups of all sorts will be providing feedback on this work, and that your comments matter.

If there are strategies that you find helpful for navigating NGSS or for providing feedback, please share them in the comments below.

Don Duggan-Haas

Friday, April 20, 2012

Where Does Gasoline Go?

It's not unusual for an American to put about 10 gallons of gas into his or her car each week. At the end of the week, that gasoline is seemingly just gone, but we know from middle school science class that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed in form.

This post illuminates the story of how gasoline changes in form and expands an earlier telling of that story on this blog.

Today's post is mostly in the form of the video below, Where Does Gasoline Go? I expect that most readers of this blog know the basic answer to that question: Gasoline becomes carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That's right, of course, but it's not the whole story, and the video highlights more of the story of carbon as it is transforms from being part of the hydrocarbons that make up gasoline and become atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The combustion reaction that combines the gasoline with oxygen from the air also produces water vapor, and a bit of other stuff too. That's closer to the whole story, but the video is intended to give a deeper understanding of all that and more.

Check it out, either in the narrated version immediately below, or in the interactive downloadable version here, where you control the video. I recommend the interactive version, where you can be your own narrator.

In addition to showing how much carbon dioxide is produced by weight from burning a gallon of gasoline, the video also shows the volume of the carbon dioxide released -- in gallon-sized balloons. How many balloons do you think are needed to contain the carbon dioxide from burning one gallon of gas?

The video is largely an exposition of basic chemistry, and I think a powerful exposition that should give us pause. It closes with a simple idea that has proven very difficult to act upon. What is your response? What will you do?

Please share by commenting below.

Don Duggan-Haas

Production notes:
The video was originally created as an interactive video, meaning that it advanced when you clicked the play button to the next transition. Unfortunately, once embedded in the blog it didn't play that way, so I've add narration. You can download the video in an interactive format for Mac and PC here. The downloadable .mov file plays a presentation in which you control transitions with the click of a mouse. It was created using Keynote, a presentation software only available for Mac OS. A Keynote version of the presentation is available here. You can see a similar animation for methane (natural gas's primary component) here

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today is World Water Day (and we need water for just about everything)

Here's some good food for thought from the UN's World Water Day (if you'll pardon the pun):

In addition to the very important link between water and food emphasized above, I'll add that wasted water also means wasted energy. Typically a very large share of a municipality's energy use goes to pumping water. Stop and think about it. 

All of the water that comes to you (unless you live in an uncommon place where water comes from an artesian well) had to be pumped before reaching your faucet. For those of us on municipal water (in almost all cases), it's not being pumped to our homes, it's being fed by gravity from a water tower or water tank at higher elevation. Using gravity to deliver protects water supplies from fluctuations of use and from power outages. But, the water needs to get into those tanks and towers somehow, and that almost always involves a lot of pumping. 

We in the Northeast are lucky to have an abundance of potable water, but wasting it still has consequences even though it is a plentiful resource. So, swap in a low flow shower head, and if you haven't got a low flow toilet, replace that too (but do some research first, as some do the job much better than others). Think about your diet, including what you drink, too. (See the image below). Take shorter showers, and more importantly, figure out what your community can do to use less water and how you can help. Then help.

Don Duggan-Haas

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wear a Sweater Day -- I'm wearing pants! (and they're flannel-lined)

Today is National Wear a Sweater Day! Check out this PSA from a friendly Canadian grandma:

And check out more grandmas and more information on The National Sweater Day Website. It is Canadian in origin, but I'm sure no one will complain if some of from the States join in. I am.

As a telecommuter, I'm generally seen by my colleagues in a head and shoulders view (via Skype). I sometimes tell them that I'm not wearing pants. The reality is that (at least in the winter) I wear pants everyday, and generally they are flannel lined. And very comfy. Most workdays, I'm alone in the house, and sit in my study with its nice big south-facing window. With the sun low in the winter sky, the room stays warm even though we've set our programmable thermostat to set back to 64 during the day on weekdays. And, I've got the flannel-lined jeans, and a sweater. If it's cloudy, I usually have a blanket on my lap too.

Insulating me is both better for the environment and cheaper than heating the whole house for one person. The same is true of the set back thermostat, which I installed myself in less than an hour that also included feeding kids lunch and other distractions. The warmest it runs is 67, and maybe we should all be in sweaters...

For a more detailed look at personal insulation, check out Insulation: first the body, then the home in the awesome Low-tech Magazine.

I'll leave my summer attire a mystery.

Don Duggan-Haas

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shouldn't snakes still be hibernating?

This little fella was out and about at Cayuga Nature Center on January 31, 2012!

Upstate New York snakes tend to hide away in winter, but when temperatures warm, they'll come out and sun themselves. And this week has been warm over a broad swath of the country, hitting 56° in Ithaca, tying the record high for the date set in 1956. 

Snakes usually stay hidden away until around March. Is this global warming? Or, as a Facebook comment suggests, "Global weirding?" 

All we can say is an indecisive maybe. Ok, that's not all we can say, or there wouldn't be a blog post about it, would there? But the maybe has to come first -- these warm days are weather, not climate, and it's really hard to tie an individual case of unusual weather to climate change. 

But what the scientific consensus says about climate change indicates we should expect to see snakes coming out earlier than we used to. And other changes that mark the coming of spring will typically come earlier too. 

Another commentator noted that some trees are already budding. That's not unusual, quite a few trees normally form buds before winter sets in, as another commentator (my brother-in-law) noted. Those buds get bigger and more noticeable when it warms though, and again, that's tending to happen earlier. 

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture, released an updated Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Check out the interactive map here, where you can click on the map or type in your zip code to find your zone. The Washington Post made a different interactive map of the information -- comparing the 2012 map to the 1990 map it replaces.

Again, things are complicated so not all of the changes here can be attributed to global warming, but the northward shift of hardiness zones is what climate models predict and it's what happened. And, the weirding idea is also evident here -- in some places zones shifted southward, but that's less common as you look across the map.

Something a bit simpler to indicate that we can expect to see more snakes in January is the trend shown clearly in the graph below.
From Joe Romm's post here.

The graph shows that the 1980s were the warmest decade on record until the 1990s came along and were warmer. The 1990s held the record until the first decade of the new century took its place. So, we can't say that snake was out on January 31 because of climate change. But we can say there's a reasonable chance and that there's a good chance of seeing more snakes in the coming Januarys.

Don Duggan-Haas