Photo: Tack climate reading onto the 2011 to-do list

A number of resources can help better your understanding of climate science. (Credit: Skeptical Science)

By Ryan Kadowaki, Climate Change Program Coordinator

I know it's a little late. Most of us have already committed to our New Year's resolutions — whether to hit the gym more regularly or to volunteer for a really cool organization. But if you're looking for a different challenge why not resolve to set aside some time to learn more about climate science this year?

Sure, we all have some understanding of the basics — greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere is causing the Earth to warm — but climate is incredibly complex and advances continue to be made that further our understanding. It doesn't matter if you have a background in science or not; the literature is accessible if you jump into it the right way.

Websites and blogs can be a good introduction if they cite peer-reviewed science. Here are some of my favourites. They vary in sophistication, catering to the layperson right through to the extreme climate nerd.

Skeptical Science — Their motto is "getting skeptical about global warming skepticism". The folks at SS begin their posts with one of more than 150 (and counting) common claims that we find repeated in news media and on discussion threads. These claims range from global warming has stopped because it's cold outside to climate has changed in the past so we can't be influencing modern warming. They then clearly illustrate through visuals and with reference to the scientific literature the misrepresentation of the claim. The site has also begun to offer its rebuttals in different levels of complexity, so even those new to climate science can understand the basic idea and in time move on to more advanced explanations. In addition, SS even has its own Smartphone app. If you ever find yourself in an impromptu climate duel, you can now quickly find out why Antarctica is gaining sea ice despite a warming Southern Ocean.

NASA — Another great site is NASA's climate science page. As well as insight into NASA's latest research the site has some incredible visuals. It helps that they have their own satellites.

RealClimate — If you're truly ready to leap off the deep end, you can head on over to Real Climate for discussions initiated and moderated by working climate scientists.

IPCC — Finally, the IPCC's assessment reports are the largest and most in-depth review of climate science literature. If you have time, you can read through the 2,500-plus pages of the most recent assessment report or just skip to the FAQ.

If you prefer to read your science on thinly sliced tree (or received an e-reader in your stocking) there are a number of books that can shed further light on the subject.

Scientists do us a great service by providing a better understanding of the natural world. We can support their efforts by learning from their findings and becoming more engaged citizens. While the sloth-like speed of international and federal climate change action shows that science alone isn't enough to catalyze needed emission reductions, if the conversation in the public sphere progresses then politicians will eventually follow suit. Or you can just use your newfound insight to take on your cousin at the next family function.

Happy New Year!

January 7, 2011

Read more