I caught the second half of a session on teaching climate change to underclassmen and secondary students. The issue is a complex one, as are all scientific topics, but the politicization brings it up by an order of magnitude. As it does, I guess, with any topic.
I have strong opinions on issues of civil liberties, economics, the environment and science in general. I like to consider myself pretty well informed on most topics, but on science and the environment I’m kind of paid to be an “expert” (at least from the point-of-view of the layman). In class I make every attempt to direct the conversation toward process: how the systems work, what we know about driving and mitigating forcings, how we determine what happened in the past and to what degree of certainty.
If a student asks me what my opinion is on the death penalty my standard response is “buy me a beer after the final exam and I’ll tell you.”
One of the two greatest insults a student can throw at me is that I’m only presenting my opinion (the other is that my ability to understand logarithms is some genetic quirk, that doing math is “easy for you.”). Where I work is pretty politically conservative, though not nearly so much as people think.
I haven’t run into too many students who challenge me on climate science, because those who get all of their science information from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, are a bit intimidated by an actual science class – I think they’re afraid that if I dismantle their misconceptions they won’t have anything upon which to hang their opinions.
I get mostly ambiguous questions (Hasn’t all of that evolution stuff been proven wrong? I heard that we never landed on the moon). And every semester, without fail, at least one student who wants to “SAVE” me – because, you know, someone who teaches that the Earth is older than 6010 year, and that humans have not been around for very long, and that the chemical and physical systems that govern its operation are incredibly complex but, nonetheless, largely understandable by our measly brains must be a non-believer. And a non-believer in 21st century
So what these few students get out of my class is that I’m the ignorant one.
But you know what? A majority of them can, at the end of the semester, explain why the Earth experiences seasons that are inverted in the other hemisphere, and why the temperature of the troposphere gets cooler with altitude.
So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice…