& Student Inquiry
publication of hacked e-mails revealing questionable professional behavior and
some errors in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have
given climate change critics an opening for a serious attack on that UN panel's
"unequivocal" finding: "The climate is changing due to human activity,
and the effects are already being felt around the globe."
developments have been a factor in polls showing that a declining number of Americans
believe that climate change is a serious issue.
climate change controversy is a ripe subject for student inquiry and study. (The
term "climate change" is more inclusive than "global warming,"
which emphasizes solely the heating up of the planet.)
years ago Marshall McLuhan famously declared, "The medium is the message."
McLuhan wrote that in this "electronic age," a "totally new environment
has been created
.We are entering an age of education that is programmed
for discovery rather than instruction."
the current emphasis on standardized tests and test prep classes engendered by
No Child Left Behind and the egregiously named Race to the Top (which Diane Ravitch
terms an "aggressive version" of NCLB, www.latimes.com,
3/14/10), seems to belie McLuhan's observation.
the impact of electronic media has hugely increased since McLuhan. A new study
by the Kaiser Family Foundation underlines this impact on 8-18 year olds. Young
people, the foundation reported, "devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes"
to an array of media--TV, iPods, computers and other electronic devices. "And
because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during
that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today." (The
seven and a half hours daily "does not count the hour and a half that youths
spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones
media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they
were bored or sad
and were not happy at school," reported Tamar Lewin,
"If Your Children Are Awake, Then They're Probably Online," New York
Kaiser Family Foundation report found that "Most youth say they have no rules
about how much time they can spend with TV, video games, or computers
two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just
under half (45%) say the TV is left on "most of the time" in their home,
even if no one is watching. Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom, and
half (50%) have a console video game player in their room.
survey covered more than 2,000 students, grades 3-12, and was conducted from October
2008 to May 2009. (http://www.kff.org/entmedia/mh012010pkg.cfm)
concluded long before the media explosion of our times: "The student can
find no possible means of involvement for himself, nor can he discover how the
educational scene relates to the 'mythic' world of electronically processed data
and experience that he takes for granted." (Understanding Media: The Extensions
lesson below is designed to encourage students' exploration of the climate change
controversy. Materials for students include a report on the climate change controversy
(Student Reading 1) and the IPCC's reaction to it (Student Reading 2). Following
them is a suggested approach to education "programmed for discovery rather
than instruction" through inquiry and socially responsible citizenship activities.
This approach is based on the certain assumptions:
is usually instruction; education is self-development.
one "gets" educated by a school -- any school.
foster an educational process by helping students learn how to think.
is questioning (see John Dewey).
calls for answering, for inquiry.
is an active learning process leading to discovery.
learning processes promote lifelong learning and education.
www.teachablemoment.org and click on "Ideas and Essays" for all of the
suggested and potentially useful background materials for work with students.
Also see earlier materials on climate change in the high school section of TeachableMoment.Org.
climate change has become a controversial issue, teachers may find "Teaching
on Controversial Issues" useful before beginning work with students.
How the climate controversy began
fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is
a travesty that we can't," wrote Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at
the National Center for Atmospheric Research. It was one of several e-mail exchanges
with other scientists who contribute to the work of the UN Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) on gaps in understanding of recent temperature variations.
another e-mail exchange, a scientist wrote about using a statistical "trick"
in a chart showing a recent significant warming trend.
Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East
Anglia in eastern England, a major climate research center, is apparently the
author of an email to colleagues saying that global
warming skeptics "have been after the CRU station data for years. If they
ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete
the file rather than send to anyone." (Quoted in Declan McCullagh, "Congress
May Probe Leaked Global Warming E-Mails," www.cbs.com,
2007 the IPCC said that it was "very likely" that Himalayan glaciers
would disappear by 2035 if current warming trends continued. "But,"
wrote Elisabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times, "it now appears that
the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview
of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and
that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. ("UN Panel's
Glacier Warning Is Criticized as Exaggerated," New York Times,1/18/10)
James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has called global warming a "hoax."
In an interview posted on his website, Inhofe declared that the leaked IPCC correspondence
suggested researchers "cooked the science to make this thing look as if the
science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not." (11/23/09)
climate change skeptic charged that the apparently hacked e-mails "revealed
an effort to withhold scientific information. 'This is not a smoking gun; this
is a mushroom cloud,' said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted
evidence pointing to human-driven warming
." (Andrew Revkin, "Hacked
E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute," New York Times, 11/20/09)
South Dakota legislature passed by a vote of 37-33 a resolution on March 1, 2010,
ordering public schools to "balance" their teaching about the "prejudiced"
science of climate change. South Dakota became the fifteenth state to deny any
climate threat and to "claim that protecting citizens from hazardous climate
pollution would hurt the economy." Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Alaska
lawmakers, for example, have emphasized how"dependent" their states
are on the coal and oil industries. (Center for American Progress, "The Progress
Utah legislature passed a resolution condemning "a well organized and ongoing
effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming
blizzards led the Virginia Republican Party to "put up an advertisement on
the web--titled '12 inches of Global Warming.'" The ad mocked two Virginia
Democrats who voted for climate change legislation last year, and urged voters
to call these lawmakers to ask for help with shoveling. (John Broder, "Climate
Fight Is Heating Up In Deep Freeze," New York Times, 2/11/10)
his Fox News show, Sean Hannity said, "And it's the most severe winter storm
in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore's hysterical global warming theories."
(2/8/10) The lead story in the conservative Weekly Standard declared that
the "the 'consensus' that human activity is primarily responsible for global
warming slowly falls apart under its own weight." (www.weeklystandard.com,
the IPCC had been done by Japanese scientists, there's not enough knives on planet
earth for hara-kiri that should have occurred. I mean, these guys have so dishonored
themselves, so dishonored scientists," said Fox news host Glenn Beck on his
radio show. (2/10/10)
drop in global warming belief
All major polls report that fewer Americans now believe that global warming is
occurring or that, if it is, human activity has anything to do with it. A Gallup
poll in early March 2010 reported that "48% of Americans now believe that
the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009
and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question." (/www.gallup.com/poll/126560/americans-global-warming-concerns-continue-drop.aspx,
to a CBS News/New York Times poll, 23% of Americans surveyed consider global
warming as "not serious or a serious problem but not a high priority (33%),
a drop from 2007 when 52% of those surveyed said the issue should be a high priority.
Pew Research Center for People & the Press found, "Dealing with global
warming ranks at the bottom of the public's list of priorities; just 18% consider
this a top priority, the lowest measure for any issue tested in the survey."
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
Why did a climate change controversy develop and intensify? Specifically,
what is there in IPCC scientists' e-mails and the Himalayan glacier inaccuracy
that provoked those already skeptical about climate change science?
Assume for a moment that you, too, are skeptical that climate change science is
accurate. What is your reaction to the South Dakota resolution and why? What,
specifically, would you expect to happen in your class if there was "balance"
in climate change teaching, as the legislators demanded?
climate change teaching be affected by dependence on the coal and oil industries?
Why or why not?
5. Why did severe winter storms lead climate change
skeptics to mock Al Gore and others of similar views? If you were Al Gore, how
would you respond to the mockery?
The IPCC and its response
climate change skeptics target the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
IPCC describes itself as "the leading body for the assessment of climate
change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the
World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific
view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and
"The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific,
technical and socioeconomic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding
of climate change
.Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute
to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the
IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information.
Differing viewpoints existing within the scientific community are reflected in
the IPCC reports
of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity
to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By
endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific
content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral,
January 20, the IPCC apologized for its Himalayan glacier melt prediction by apologizing
for its "poorly substantiated estimate
and date for the disappearance
of the Himalayan glaciers
.The clear and well-established standards of evidence,
required by IPCC procedures, were not applied properly."
A study of the IPCC
statement did not halt mounting criticisms based on the contents of the hacked
e-mails and other accusations of poor science.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri announced on
March 10, 2010 that top scientists from a consortium of the world's leading scientific
societies, the InterAcademy Council, will make a thorough study of the IPCC. They
will examine IPCC's 3,000-page 2007 study and make recommendations for assuring
the accuracy of its next climate assessment in 2014.
said that the IPCC had done a "lousy job" of communicating their findings.
"We've learned, we've listened and we've decided to do something about it."
(John Broder, "Top Scientists to Review Findings of U.N. Climate Change Panel,"
New York Times, 3/11/10)
Pachauri himself has been sharply criticized for his connections as an advisor
to business and financial companies.
were also immediate cries of conflict of interest involving the UN-sponsored study
of the IPCC. The
United Nations is paying for the review study, but Robbert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch
mathematical physicist who co-chairs the InterAcademy Council said the study group
"will operate completely independently" and pick "outside experts"
to conduct the study.
Field, a Stanford University professor who in 2008 took over as head of an IPCC
group studying climate impacts, said the InterAcademy faces a challenge picking
outside experts for the review since "almost anybody who has been involved
in climate science has some connection with the IPCC." (John Heilprin and
Seth Borenstein, "World's top scientists to review climate panel," Associated
Dijkgraaf also said, ""We enter this process with no preconceived conclusions."
(John Broder, "Top Scientists to Review Findings of UN Climate Change Panel,"
New York Times, 3/11)
reacts to criticism
IPCC reaffirmed the overall quality of its 20 years of work by thousands of scientists
worldwide and stated that "the conclusions from its 2007 report remain entirely
"The climate is changing due to human activity, and
the effects are already being felt
around the globe."
evidence for this conclusion is "unequivocal."
anything, more recent data indicate that the IPCC's 2007 assessment
the degree to which human activity is changing the climate."
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
What is the purpose of the IPCC? How does it attempt to accomplish this purpose?
What are the IPCC's chief conclusions to date about climate change?
What is the IPCC doing to respond to criticisms of its behavior and work?
How do you assess the quality of this response?
class inquiry process requires a change in the conventional role of the teacher
as instructor and information provider to teacher as guide and coach. It also
Ask: Are growing numbers of Americans right in thinking that:
the seriousness of climate change has been exaggerated?
change is not a high priority problem?
c. if climate change is occurring,
human activities have little or nothing to do with it?
Begin an inquiry into these issues with a poll, explanations, and questions.
Ask for a show of hands to indicate agreement, disagreement, or uncertainty
about each item.
b. Ask why students agree, disagree, or are uncertain.
Ask students for their questions about the poll findings on the seriousness of
climate change, its priority, and any relationship between human activities and
on the chalkboard without comment but for later consideration: the numbers of
students who agree, disagree, or are uncertain; key phrases in their explanations;
of opinion are likely. Explanations may be cogent and clear or muddy or factually
inaccurate. Questions will probably range in quality from those that are both
clear and answerable to others that are cloudy but may be worth reframing to some
that are unanswerable.
readings and student responses to the readings may convince them that climate
change and the future of life on earth is worthy of further inquiry.
Discuss the purpose of such an inquiry:
learning about issues that interest individual students
students' question-asking and thinking skills
c. improving students'
skills in finding information and examining its worth and reliability
developing skills in taking notes, organizing information and one's thoughts,
communicating these thoughts logically and effectively to others.
learning might be defined as learning through question-asking and problem-solving;
finding questions whose answers promote further curiosity and learning--and encouraging
students to make inquiry a lifelong pursuit.
Skill of Crap Detecting."
Develop potential inquiries through question-asking
with a student discussion and analysis of questions on the chalkboard.
students need help in learning to ask good questions? A "good" question
in the context of this inquiry might be defined as one which, if answered well,
would lead to better and fuller understanding of one or more climate change issues.
For suggestions on developing question-asking skills, see "Thinking
analyzing the questions, consider the following:
Is the question clear? If not how might it be clarified?
Is the question answerable? Why or why not?
Will an answer, or answers, be informative? If so, why? If not, why not?
Do any words in the question need defining? Why? How?
the question contain any assumptions? If so, are they reasonable? If not, how
might the question be reworded?
f. What kinds of information are
required to answer the question? Facts? Whose? From what
sources? Does answering
the question require a judgment? Whose? If the judgment of an "expert"
is needed, what qualifies an individual to be considered an expert?
Does the question lead to other questions? What are they?
are the best questions? Why?
subjects for inquiry
the suspect IPCC e-mails
IPCC's Himalayan error
IPCC scientists' efforts to limit inclusion of opposing opinions on climate issues
manipulation of research findings
scientific work at East Anglia University and its director, Dr. Phil Jones
heavy snowfalls in Virginia and Washington D.C.
Imhofe's persistent criticisms of climate change theory
Patrick Michaels' criticisms
resolutions on climate change
Gore's campaign on behalf of climate change theory
results on climate change attitudes
nature of the scientific process, which is used by IPCC
work of particular scientists involved in providing evidence for reports
IPCC's "policy relevant yet policy neutral, yet never policy prescriptive"
criticisms of Rajendra Pachauri
qualifications of Robbert Dijkgraff
evidence for and against IPCC's three fundamental conclusions to date
Organize the class for inquiry
the importance of open-mindedness in any inquiry, the need to energetically collect
information and seek out opinions worth considering. In an inquiry, we must be
prepared to recognize areas of uncertainty and accept that more questions will
arise that need to be considered. We also need to withhold judgment until the
inquiry process is completed. When that is will itself be a judgment.
structure of the inquiry can be decided either by students or by the teacher.
students work independently
b. students choose partners, or form small
groups on their own
c. the teacher assigns students to a small groups
assign students to prepare three carefully worded questions on a climate change
issue that will drive their inquiry. One or more may be drawn from previous class
meet with each individual student, pair, or group to analyze questions raised,
help in determining a question or questions for inquiry, and consider possible
sources of answers.
Critically About Internet Sources" might be a useful resource to consider
before students begin internet searches. Knowledgeable and heavy media use by
teenagers does not mean that they are also accustomed to thinking critically about
blogs, YouTube and other videos, TV reports, newspaper and magazine articles and
other materials available on the web. (Note: Climate change skeptics' views can
be found at www.climatedepot.com. Critical
views of skeptics can be found at www.skepticalscience.com.)
"The Plagiarism Perplex."
reporting and active citizenship
students have discussed the readings, completed inquiries, and discussed their
findings with classmates, they will have gathered much information about climate
change issues and have significant experience with the inquiry process--asking
and analyzing questions, making decisions about how to answer them, evaluating
information sources, reading and viewing critically, note taking, working with
others, sharing, discussing and possibly debating issues.
might have students report on their work by writing papers and making class presentations.
But if any issue is crucial, climate change is. So you might also want to encourage
students become active, socially responsible citizens on the issue..
"Teaching Social Responsibility"
for suggestions about organizing a class project and examples of what active citizenship
assessment questions students and the teacher might consider when the project
had been completed:
What is the most important thing you learned from the inquiry/active citizenship
2. What new ideas, questions, and facts complicated
your thinking about climate change?
3. Has your thinking on climate
change issues changed? If so how? If not, why not?
4. What was the
most significant problem you had to deal with during this project? What did you
do about it?
5. What would you want to do differently in another
inquiry? Another citizenship project?
lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside
Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome
your comments. Please email them to: email@example.com.