Reddit, i.e. the front page of the Internet, is a giant bulletin board where users post comments and links that generate long threads of discussion. When a homeschooled student recently reached out to the Reddit environment forum asking for help understanding climate change, which his parents had "taught against," it was as if the group had found its true raison d'être.
This homeschooler, conveniently named Homeschoolbill, told the 150,000 or so readers of the subreddit that he'd been homeschooled his entire life by "Uber conservative parents," and that he now wanted someone to explain climate change to him "with sources."
Homeschoolbill, you have come to the right place. This is like asking a room full of Super Mario Bros. fanatics to explain how to beat the games: their eyes light up with both recollection and anticipation.
Out of some 50 responses, the most popular reply was, appropriately, an exhaustive explanation of the science behind how greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere.
Another popular post, this one from clawedjird, elaborated that Homeschoolbill's "parents are 'cherry-picking' arguments from the one percent that disagrees with mainstream science," and that these people often have vested interests in keeping the public ignorant on the matter.
Clawedjird recommended googling "climate change" and staying away from unreliable sources, such as politically motivated websites and conspiracy theorists.
"Will do," responded Homeschoolbill. "Do you have any good links on how to try to describe and support climate change to doubters?"
Knowing how to fend off climate change deniers is a key element of really understanding climate change—especially for someone like HomeschoolBill, whose source of climate change denial is the double whammy parent-teacher combo of overbearing influence.
Part of the trickiness of combating climate change deniers stems from the fact that explaining climate change in a clear manner is both extremely straightforward and overwhelmingly complex—making it easy to refute. Find one weak link in the dense web of the science and one can claim to have brought down the entire structure of the argument. Plant one bad seed and it's possible to taint the forest of information with invasive doubt. Furthermore, as is frequently pointed out, it's hard to ever attribute any one given event—whether drought, or storm, or flood, or famine—to climate change. It just keeps getting increasingly likely that it's part of the cause.
The task of acquiring adequate climate change knowledge isn't necessarily an exercise in data cramming, either. It can help to have a visceral grasp of the phenomenon.
"It is one thing to read all of the statistics about climate change, it is another to see what is actually happening to our planet," wrote Foodude8, who recommended a slate of video programming for HomeschoolBill, including: "Chasing Ice" and "Mission: Blue" on Netflix, as well as two episodes of VICE's HBO show that focus on climate change.
"These documentaries, in my opinion, are a very good way to see this impact that climate change has had on the planet," he said.
Splenda chose to lead with some personal advice for Homeschoolbill, saying "as you probably know, it's useless to argue this with your parents; their opinions are probably rooted less in science than in a political agenda."
Then she offered a short reading list:
Merchants of Doubt, Storms of My Grandchildren, Six Degrees, Eaarth, Under a Green Sky, This Changes Everything, The Weather Makers and a few more current books on the subject. Also read climate economics from people like William Nordhaus, Nicholas Stern and Martin Weitzman. And don't forget the executive summary of IPCC Assessment Report 5, which details the current global scientific consensus.
For those without quite that much time on their hands, the website Skeptical Science comes up several times in the thread as a great resource for climate science and climate myths. NASA's climate change hub also seems pretty popular.
T0xyg3n thought a basic 10-line response should suffice:
Its pretty simple.
CO2 is a greenhouse gas. This is a fact. More CO2 is like a thicker blanket. It gets hotter under the covers by holding more heat in.
Humans have been releasing huge amounts of CO2 that has been locked away over the course of hundreds of millions of years. This is a fact. Coal, oil, gas, wood all of these energy sources produce CO2.
It is so basic that anyone denying it has got serious issues with reality
However, deck_hand disagreed with this, saying "You are a fucking moron. More CO2 is not at all like a blanket…"
Would this really be an online public forum without a few vitriolic and uncalled for comments?
The list goes on. There is a suggestion that Homeschoolbill make his dialogue with his parents more personal. If his parents are into gardening or bird watching, he could find local records tracking regional climate change-related information, such as precipitation, temperature, snowfall, or the onset of seasons, and present this to his parents.
"Your parents have been around a while and may have noticed these things for themselves," wrote kamoylan.
Then there's the link to this mashup of the Beatles "Because" and excerpts from Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
I cannot personally recommend this mashup, but I can recommend the song and the movie as separate experiences.
Not all the comments were instructive. ChaosMotor says that "if you put a lump of coal in the oven (or some other insulated box), and light the lump of coal on fire, does the oven (or box) get hotter?…You now understand why burning fuels raise the temperature of the planet, too."
Understand seems like an overstatement there.
In the end, if Homeschoolbill really wants to think outside the box of his limited education, the Reddit environment forum has done more than a satisfactory job of aiming him in the right direction.
One suggestion I might add: take an online course, or better yet, a massive open online course (MOOC). Earlier this year, a first-of-its kind climate change denial MOOC, also referred to as “Denial101x,” went online for free. The 7-week course, which features dozens of researchers, was coordinated by John Cook, creator of the popular Skeptical Science website.
Unfortunately Homeschoolbill may have to take this course as an extracurricular considering his parents probably monitor his academic curriculum pretty closely.