Science and Climate Advocacy

Climate science is both challenging and interesting to learn about because it is so interdisciplinary. When we talk about Earth’s energy balance, the narrative derives from physics. Discussions about organisms and life processes in forests, grasslands, and oceans bring in biology and ecology. The study of volcanoes and fossil fuel deposits is grounded in geology. And developing carbon-free energy sources and carbon capture relies on principles from the engineering disciplines. This is obviously a lot, and it might seem overwhelming if your last exposure to science instruction was, say, back in high school.

There is so much to be done in climate advocacy that you can certainly effect change whether you focus closely on the science or not. But if you have the time and inclination, even a limited dive into scientific principles will pay rich intellectual and practical rewards. The place to start is chemistry, which is really the central science that applies to almost everything. The architecture of atoms joined into molecules, like the carbon compounds depicted in Figure 3 of this chapter, is nothing less than a language for describing the material essence of everything in the natural world.

The notes in this book and this website point to many free internet resources that offer clear, detailed explanations of these basic ideas. A great place to start is with the Climate Toolkit, which is formatted to offer those without a science background a collection of online resources that provide ways to engage interactively with climate models and to explore some of the basic science and impacts of climate change.[1]

Time spent learning the fundamentals of climate science (or economics, etc.) will pay dividends in advocacy. What struck me when I first began meeting with federal lawmakers and their staffs was how amazingly little some of them knew about very basic concepts of climate change. I’ve found that the same is true of some business and community leaders. This means that, if you do your homework and you persist on a specific topic, you can become an authority and resource for them. Knowledge really is power, and you can use it to influence and drive the climate conversation to produce a better result. 

[1] Granshaw, Frank, Climate Toolkit: A Resource Manual for Science and Action, PDXOpen: Open Educational Resources. (2020): 28.