A Course for Beginners

This summer, I’ve spent so much time corresponding with people who know more than I do about climate change – like many of our regular commenters – that it’s always sort of strange to talk to people who are new to this topic. When they don’t know about the Milankovitch cycles, the concept of radiative forcing, or the water vapour feedback, it’s sort of hard to know where to begin.

The purpose of this blog has never been to report on advanced scientific topics. I’d say that I created ClimateSight to explore the discrepancies between scientific knowledge and public knowledge on climate change, and to provide readers with tools and strategies to gain accurate scientific information on the topic.

In the almost-two-years since I became interested in climate change, I’ve read a lot of books, watched a lot of documentaries, and visited a lot of websites. I’ve come across far too many sources which are absolute garbage, a lot which are okay but oversimplified, and a fair few which are absolute gems.

So, if you’re totally new to the topic of climate change, or know a little but want to know more, or know a lot but are always on the lookout for good sources, behold: Kate’s Climate Change Reading List.

The very first place I would start is by reading the book What’s the Worst That Could Happen? High school science teacher Greg Craven discusses the nature of science, credibility, objectivity, and risk managment – all framed around climate change. It’s designed to help the reader make a decision about whether or not climate change is a problem, without having to do any of the science themselves. This book can be ordered from pretty much any major bookstore. I wrote a review of it here.

For those who are interested in how climate science works, the next place to look is Environment Canada’s Frequently Asked Questions about the Science of Climate Change. This PDF document is incredibly thorough, covering every question from “What is climate and how does it differ from weather?” to “Could changes in cosmic radiation from outer space have caused global warming?”, all in a very easy-to-read format using relatively simple language.

Once you’ve read and understood that document, you’re probably ready for the most recent IPCC report. This report, which is a compilation of current scientific knowledge on climate change, is widely considered to be the most credible source of information on the topic. The best place to start is with the Summary for Policymakers, which is much less technical (and much more concise!), but if you want more information on any of the subjects discussed, it’s very easy to choose the appropriate chapter and find what you’re looking for.

By this point, you’ll probably have realized that there are a lot of people out there who are working very hard to prove the idea of human-caused climate change wrong. Many, if not most, of their arguments have no scientific backing. Journalist Peter Sinclair, in his YouTube series Climate Denial Crock of the Week, debunks the most common of these claims, from “it’s the sun” to “global warming stopped in 1998”, all in an incredibly logical and entertaining fashion.

Less visually appealing, and without the background music, but much more comprehensive, is Coby Beck’s series of articles entitled How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic. It’s pretty hard to find an argument against human-caused climate change that isn’t covered here, and you don’t need a lot of scientific training to understand what he’s talking about.

If you liked Greg Craven’s book, by this point you’ll love his video series How it All Ends. It’s directed at a more knowledgable audience than his book did, and contains a lot more to think about and really sink your teeth into, plus some goofy hats, entertaining subtitles, and occasional explosions.

If you feel like you basically understand the mechanisms of climate change, but want to stay on top of current developments, I subscribe to a long (and growing) list of climate change blogs written by scientists. Only In It For The Gold, Island of Doubt, A Few Things Ill Considered, Deltoid, More Grumbine Science, and Tamino are my favourites (commenters are more than welcome to suggest additions to this list).

Enjoy. This is a complex and politically charged subject, but definitely one worth investigating.


12 thoughts on “A Course for Beginners

  1. In my opinion the best way to stay on top of current developments is the best climate blog on the net, one from professional climate scientists but written to be comprehensible to the lay reader: RealClimate. It’s a genuine treasure.

    • How did I manage to leave that out?? I do find, however, that RC’s recent posts are a lot harder to understand now than if you go back through the archives and read what they wrote early on.

  2. Elizabeth Kolbert, in “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change” provides a vivid description of the magnitude of changes already taking place. Her book is accessible, scientifically accurate, and related in personal terms. She also provides a devastating account of the prevarications of the past administration.

  3. The IPCC report is not the most credible. Roger Pielke has described just one problem where they ignored the peer-reviewed conclusions of Munich Re, and in its place took a paper prepared by Muir-Wood et al which was an input for the conference, not the more reliable output.
    The end result is you get a conflict between the IPCC report or many later reports that say the same ‘global warming is causing more hurricanes…’

    Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 29-42.

    Kunkel et al. 1999. Changnon and Demissie, 1996. Easterling et al. 2000.

  4. Thank you for a fine list of links. I found Climateprogress quite informative, too:


    And one excellent video series is this:


    It’s not about climate, but of creationists. When you watch, any part of it, and think about climate skeptics you can find a lot of common between these two. So I think this series, “Why do people laugh at creationists?”, gives you a very good understanding of what climate “skeptics” is about.

  5. Here’s a new one:


    It’s an index of notable academic papers on all sorts of subjects deniers love and insist the braoder climate science community is unaware of (e.g. cosmic rays, the medieval warm period, etc.)

    I second Greenfrye’s recommendation of Ceth Eslick’s Global Warming Debate. It’s organized like a book (also available as narrated powerpoint presentations), doesn’t take too long to read, and clearly lays out the evidence and the science while debunking a lot of common myths along the way.

  6. RealClimate.org has an excellent “Start Here” page that could give you ideas for – or even be – “the course”. It links to NCAR, Pew (a good one IMHO), NAS etc.


    Regarding IPCC AR4 WG1, RC suggests the FAQs, which they list with links (on that same Start Here page).

    After the IPCC SPM and the FAQs, I would try the Executive Summaries of each chapter. It would be nice if to have the SPM, FAQs and the Chapter Executive Summaries all together as a sort of expanded summary.

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