A Good Discussion Starter

How did you become interested in the issue of climate change? What sparked your interest, and why?

For me, it was purely a coincidence. I wanted to get involved in school groups and so I joined the environmental club. I liked a lot of the people in it, and found the discussions very interesting.

Around the same time, my friends and I enjoyed watching the vlogbrothers’ YouTube channel, mostly because they had the same nerdy sense of humour as us. One of the two brothers, Hank Green, ran an environmental technology website called EcoGeek as his day job.

So I was sifting through the archives of EcoGeek and stumbled upon a post about Greg Craven’s Manpollo Project. I watched the embedded first video and was completely hooked. This was exactly the kind of thing I loved – critical thinking, thoughtful discussion with a purpose, lots of science and graphs.

When I caught the flu a few months later, I watched the entire six-hour series over the course of a day. From that point, there was no turning back – I began to research climate change almost every day. I owe my interest/obsession in this topic largely to Greg Craven, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s amazing the ripples one person can make!

What sparked your interest? I’d love to read about it in the comments.


24 thoughts on “A Good Discussion Starter

  1. I watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and I was skeptical of it. I checked the sources (my skepticism disappeared withn 1 day of research) and have been hooked since then.

    Now what keeps me hooked is that it helps me understand the world that surround us, with useful predictions on top of it.

    I’m also disapassionate about the science, as you mentioned in your previous post, it just satisfy and feeds my curiosity and I don’t emotionally care about the conclusions. But, as well, I cannot stand logical fallacies, the denialist propaganda machinery or their personal attacks on scientists or communicatiors.

  2. I had heard of global warming, but never gave it much thought. Then I heard that there was a paper by Soon & Baliunas disputing it. I knew some of Baliunas’ work, so I though maybe I should be more skeptical of the reality of global warming, and decided I’d take a closer look. I’ve rarely seen a worse paper.

    Then I started reading as much of the peer-reviewed literature as I could get my hands on. I also found resources on the internet, including RealClimate, and of course lots of data to be downloaded and analyzed.

    As a result, I’m convinced that 1) global warming is real, 2) it’s caused by human activity, and 3) it’s gonna be bad.

  3. Kate,

    This was exactly the kind of thing I loved – critical thinking, thoughtful discussion with a purpose, lots of science and graphs.

    What sparked my interest was one of Al Gore’s books. I started doing more research, looking for all views. You say that you love a “thoughtful discussion.” Well, here is a great discussion between Hadi Dowlatabadi, a climate modeler at University of British Columbia, and Richard Lindzen of MIT. They seem to agree with each other on most things, even though Hadi is a proponent of AGW, and Richard is skeptical.

    Personally, I think that the things missing from most thoughtful discussions on Climate Change is critical thought. I do wish more discussion would take the route of the Dowlatabadi / Lindzen debate, civil.

  4. Three things did it for me:

    1) I heard a part-time geology instructor teaching his class that AGW was a hoax. When I asked him why he held this minority view, he gave me a bunch of Heartland Institute “literature”. A little investigating led me to be horrified!

    2) Around that same time, I received the Oregon Petition in my office mail. Again, a quick investigation led me to be horrified.

    3) Finally, I read Mooney & Kirschembaum’s Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future and realized that I needed to stop pointing the finger away from myself. I used to think that science illiteracy wasn’t my fault but it IS our fault. Up until recently, science has been conducted in journals and the general public had been left out.

    So, these three reasons compelled me to launch my Website and to start blogging to set the record straight.

  5. In my case, as I remember it, I began reading blogs and websites about climate change, about the same time as the movie, the great global warming swindle had premiere. I had been watching the issue from distance until then. I watched the movie, and came skeptical about the information which was the turning point of the movie. From there I begun my quest for better information, which, I found out, can be found in the science litterature and on the many websites, which deal with what the science is actually telling us about climate change. The sad part is, that we’re always refuting the same arguments. But the good news are that I’m getting better at it.

    Today I am almost enjoing the “work” of refuting some of the skeptic claims, which I’m doing almost on daily basis now (on blogs and websites), in my homecountry Iceland. I have to say it took me some time to get enough information to be prepared for “all” the misinformation out there, but some good websites helped on the way, and I’m still learning.

    Thank you for this good website.

    PS. I’ve got “my” first former skeptic to tell about his changed view today, I hope it was in part because of my reasoning.

  6. My story is rather boring, but also owes a lot of it to one person. I didn’t know much about climate change till a teacher from Sask. started a discussion thread (on a chess message board of all places). That coincided with a paper we were writing that required us to analyze decades of weather records for the south-central Yukon so tongue-in-cheek I would say I was doing “research” when they caught me reading material on a chess website instead of browsing journal literature.

    A few people posted links, rebutted what I soon would learn were standard denier talking points, and I ended up becoming rather obsessed on climate change (if I was looking at university again I’d go into climate studies of some sort–I’m particularly interested in paleoclimate reconstructions). Every day I’m reading on it or looking up the latest in the journals (like Nature, as I don’t have access to some of the specialized climate journals).

    Just recently I applied to a new job that incorporates my biology/ecology experience with climate change and the effects it may have on the various ecosystems/species (they also want someone who can be tactful with different interest groups so that’ll weigh against me (heh)), and the local university also asked me to give a guest lecture on climate change as one of their speakers at Earth Day. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for all involved) I’ll be on the other side of the continent during that month so had to decline.

    Overall, it appears my career is taking an interesting turn and it really all started a few years ago with that one discussion thread started by that teacher on the prairies.

  7. I have taught an environmental geology class at the uni level since 1992. I started mentioning AGW in 1994, mostly using general references to refer to this thing that “might” be happening. This got me interested in climate science, so I read more deeply into the literature (a challenge for a sedimentologist working in the late Archean).

    As the evidence for AGW broadened and deepened, so did this portion of my class, not to mention my personal sense of urgency about the issues. I had a real watershed moment when I looked at my notes one year, and realized all the things I’d been telling my class as hypothetical effects of AGW, e.g., ecological migrations, hydrologic cycle changes, etc., were becoming broadly evidence-based events. The AGW part of my class has now expanded from 1.5 hours to about 8. That includes a little time for long term climate change.

    On a personal level, I try to keep well enough informed through journals, blogs, etc. to be able to explain AGW to my non-scientist friends, and fight back against the denialists. I also just dig having a better understanding of earth systems and history.

  8. I’ve always been interested in nature and conservation issues and once I saw Al Gore’s film and read his and several other books (eg. Tim Flannery’s “The Weathermakers” and Joe Romm’s “Hell and High Waters”, Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe to name just a few) I was quickly convinced that climate change was a serious problem.

    Surfing the internet, it didn’t take me long to happen upon Greg Craven’s videos which I watched over the course of a couple of days. I liked his risk analysis, confirmation bias and credibility-matrix approach to the topic. This led me to become involved with the Manpollo.org forum, first as a participant, by now as one of the moderators/admins. Over time I’ve accumulated quite a big list of blogs I regulary read like Climate Progress, RealClimate, SkepticalScience (where I also help to get the arguments translated into German) and – obviously – Climatesight. In addition I’ve read several more books about climate change – both about the science and the politics (Paul Hoggan’s “Climate Cover-Up”) involved. There’s so much to read and learn and so little time!

  9. I had heard of global warming in the seventies and of the glacial cycles and thought that maybe they might balance out. Either way it was a problem for the far distant future and promptly forgot about it.

    My recent interest started with a forming ice berg on the Amery ice shelf “the Loose Tooth” from there I was lead, stumbled upon, Greg Craven’s videos. Then Greg started his book and I was one of those who helped with research on the Manpollo site.

    I quickly came to the conclusion that the IPCC report was far from being alarmist and generally understated the risks, particularly in relation to sea level rise.

    The future had arrived much earlier than expected.

  10. Hello,

    My story is not too different. The first tangential allusion to climate change that I ran across was in an essay by Robert Heinlein, were he made reference to possible adverse changes in climate. A more proper introduction to the subject was from reading about James Hansen and his views in the paper. Subsequently I came across Greg Craven’s videos. Those videos started an active interest in this subject of climate change / global warming.

    Presently I am taking a physics and a calculus course as part of an engineering science curriculum. My interest in this subject has already helped me. During a physics test I got a question correct because of having learned some unit prefixes while researching climate change. Had I not done so, I would not have remembered them. In my calculus text some of the applications are of interest because the relate to AGW. In the section on the fundamental theorm of calculus in Larson, Hostetler, and Edwards there is a discussion of how the speed of sound varies with altitude. The curve looks like the temperature curve for average temperatures through the layers of our atmosphere. It looks like an interesting question. There is also a rather curious application given in the first chapter of this same text, that discusses a July 1990 article from Scientfic American that made some predictions regarding growth of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

    Unfortunately my interest in this subject does not make trigonometric substitutions, or any of the other nifty integration techniques any easier to learn. Sometimes nothing will substitute for skull sweat.

    Kate thanks for the links to James Hrynyshyn, Michael Tobis, Tamino, Scott Mandia, Deltoid, and the rest. It was a help.


  11. The series of early springs here during the 1980s, and the stories of 1940s-60s winters’ cold I heard made me wonder about the differences in years. I remember seeing the Keeling curve and CO2 absorption diagram quite early (1987?), but back then there was much talk about acid rain and ozone, so I didn’t quite grasp the implications of the greenhouse effect back then. This current winter would seriously make me doubt GW if I wouldn’t have been following this issue for 15 years (climate is a long term matter in human perception).

  12. I was a theoretical physicist looking for a new career, something still quantitative but involving more applied data analysis. I had no particular prior interest in geoscience, although I enjoyed creating weather maps in high school and was once interested in how seismic inversions are done. I saw an interesting-looking job ad for climate statistics and prediction, applied, and was hired.

    Before starting the job, I was somewhat skeptical about AGW — I thought there was probably warming but wasn’t sure how much humans had to do with it. I think some of that was a somewhat irrational default skepticism in response to what I perceived as overzealous environmental activists or biased media reporting, who I assumed were exaggerating things beyond what the scientific literature supported.

    However, at the time I knew virtually nothing about the actual science, other than some physics of the greenhouse effect (which obviously existed, I just wasn’t sure how well we could calculate the effects of anthropogenic CO2 on the Earth’s climate). I knew I didn’t know much, so I didn’t take any strong position on the matter, and certainly didn’t rule out the job offer on those grounds. I accepted the position, still not knowing very much but already starting to learn.

    After intensively studying the scientific literature as part of my new job, speaking with my colleagues, and going to talks, over a few years I became convinced that humans likely were responsible for much of the recent warming, although (as the IPCC acknowledges) there is still substantial uncertainty about the amount and distribution of climate change expected in the future.

  13. OT, but I need help from those of you with research grant experience. I have already heard from several scientists but it would be nice to hear from a few more. I originally posted this at RC last week and am now branching out to this blog and others.

    I have a thread on my blog titled Taking the Money for Grant(ed) – Part I that responds to the following two claims:

    1) Scientists are getting rich from research grants!
    2) Scientists holding an anti-AGW viewpoint cannot get funding!

    I used my own recent grant experience to debunk claim #1. In a future post called Part II, I want to show examples of how grant money is spent at other institutions, especially the larger research institutions. Essentially, tell me why you are also not getting rich from your grants. You can comment on my blog or send me a private email.

    My email address is mandias@sunysuffolk.edu

    You can give me as much or as little detail as you think it necessary to dispel claim #1. Before I post part II, I will send a draft copy to any person whose information is being used and you will have carte blanche to edit what I had planned to post. Nothing will appear in my post that you do not confirm.

    I appreciate all the help you can offer!

  14. My tale, FWIW…

    I can’t recall what it was that actually got me digging into more recent research, but some years ago I remember, as a teenager in the 1970s, being concerned about the fact that we would be facing problems when the oil ran out. At the time, that was estimated to be around the year 2000.

    The problem disappeared, so it seemed: nobody mentioned the problem again, not for years…

    Then the year 2000 rolled around and, guess what, suddenly there was a buzz about the possibility of the oil running out again. This reminded me of my (perhaps somewhat naive, and certainly ill-informed) concerns thirty years earlier.

    And, alongside this, there was increasing discussion about the effects that our energy gluttony might be having on the only planet we know of that’s capable of supporting life. As I started to dig a little deeper, I became increasingly convinced that here was a clearly serious problem that, strangely, too many people seemed totally unconcerned about as they scurried about in their daily strive to survive. (If we’re so smart, why are we struggling ever harder?)

    A few years back (before I had even heard of ‘Pascal’s Wager’) I had this idea that the global warming/ climate change/ global climate disruption question could be viewed in a risk management way. I recall sitting down with my brothers one night and trying to explain my idea (but I’ve never been very good with the spoken word). Complete with two-by-two grid.

    Then I stumbled upon Greg Craven’s work, and it immediately rang a bell. Not only was this the same concept (which immediately made me stop and think that maybe the idea wasn’t so nuts after all), but he has a knack I lack – putting an idea across in an easily understandable way.

    Manpollo.org was, naturally, the next stop…

  15. For me, I had heard some vague things about climate change and the greenhouse effect and stuff, and then I watched Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and (like PeterPan) I was skeptical of it. I spent much of the time watching it thinking, ‘yeah, what he says is convincing, but is it true?’ And I thought (and still think) the part where Gore dismissed the arguments of inactivists by referring to their fossil fuel industry background was rather weak.

    After some time I got into online discussions with global warming ‘skeptics’, and I quickly started to see the sheer amount of illogic, credulity, and general woo in many of their ‘arguments’ (e.g. “AGW is false because climate changes!”), not to mention the lack of morals as apparent in many of their tactics. Later I would learn that there are whole organizations, such as the Heartland Institute, actively trying to pump out such inactivist woo.

    As you may guess by now, my interest is less in climate science or environmental issues per se, and more in countering woo — especially woo coming from special interests.

  16. I was skeptical myself. It was at an AMS Annual meeting. I sat next to a gentleman who was kind enough to answer my questions. When he told me about how well they had been able to remove the urban heat island effects and how they did it, I was impressed.

    I started reading up on it and after a few months was convinced that the science was pretty decent. In 2007 I visited the High Arctic and was shocked and surprised to see visible evidence of the warming. I really had not expected to see it.

    As time has gone by and the science has piled up I have become very concerned.

    The junk science I started seeing all over the internet prompted me to start blogging.

  17. I’ve been working in the field (as a software engineer) since 1986 – and I’ve never really been skeptical of the concept. What really sold me, however, was “The Seasons, Global Temperature, and Precession”, by Thomson, at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2886492. Here was a study from a guy who didn’t have any preconceived notions but very clearly showed that something had gone awry about 1940.

    Since then, I’ve been watching as the skeptics have changed their tune over the past 25 years. It’s unfortunate that they’ve managed to dust off their old wrong arguments and have gotten more traction from them in the last 6 months or so. Then again, up until recently, the skeptics didn’t have the blogosphere echo chamber to make them seem much more credible than they really are.

  18. My story is frighteningly similar to frankbi’s. There’s an extra step in my story, though.

    My initial exposure to climate change was through an overview of the greenhouse effect while I was still in school. It was fairly germane and didn’t even begin to broach on the politicized nature of these discussions. (This was actually post-Kyoto, by the way. I don’t recall much from Kyoto and actually think I’d mentally lumped it in with acid rain / smog emissions management.) I first began to suspect it was political when it showed up in a WONDERFUL talk that Lawrence Krauss delivered at my university, delightfully entitled Science, Non-Science and Nonsense – this was more of an overview of skepticism in general and countering antiscience specifically (with heavy criticism of the Bush administration’s stances on stem cells, “intelligent design”, and, of course, climate change). Shortly after that, I saw Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on climate change and An Inconvenient Truth in relatively short succession; I found myself defaulting to the position between the two (further to Gore than to Penn/Teller, though; Krauss had a strong impact.). Even all of this wasn’t enough to motivate me to rush to action, though.

    In 2007, I was taking a course in game theory and the philosophy of rationality, and frequently found myself participating in the class’ online forum (as the only “math guy” in the class, people kept pestering me to explain the course material over and over… it’s disturbing to see philosophers literally unable to multiply and add, but that’s beside the point). One of my classmates posted a topic entitled “Can you poke holes in this argument?” and linked to a YouTube video. A few of us were able to poke rather large holes in the argument it presented, but I was intrigued enough to look at the user’s other videos, and find that he’d already patched those holes. During this discussion thread, more videos showed up on this user’s channel, as part of a massive tour-de-force revision of his earlier argument, and it presented a very cogent case for action on climate change.

    Yep. I’m another caught in the wake created by Greg Craven.

    From there, I got involved in arguments with inactivists on Craven’s video comments section, which inspired me to read more and more on the background in crash-course fashion. In doing so, I found SkepticalScience, Climate Progress, and Open Mind, and I helped found Manpollo.org (and helped with the science section of Greg’s book as well). I also discovered Naomi Oreskes through her now-famous American Denial of Global Warming talk, and found it both fascinating intellectually and a convincing call to action (in that it showed just how entrenched outright antiscience – far beyond pseudoscience or legitimate skepticism – has become). Other formative information in this window included Arithmetic, Population and Energy by Al Bartlett and Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer, which highlighted facets of the problem that I never would have thought about had I approached this as an environmental issue.

    During my crash course (and, now that I think about it, I might have Frank Bi himself to blame thank for linking to some of these…), I also found Deltoid, DeSmogBlog, Michael Tobis, and several others covering out-and-out deception and anti-science. The material covered there – particularly on the psychology of denial and the role of misinformation and public relations – has proven to be so interesting that I’m planning on doing related postgraduate work once I finish my master’s.

    [Brian, I’m glad you’re planning to study sociology/psychology as it relates to climate change – I can tell that it’s your forte! Your wealth of knowledge has been an asset to ClimateSight since the very beginning. I’ll be citing you someday! -Kate]

  19. I first became interested in climate change after reading Bill McKibben’s 1989 book “The End of Nature” (which is quite good, if you’ve never come across it) when I was starting college back in 2001. I subsequently became quite interested in international climate policy, and the work of David Victor over at Stanford in particular, before being hooked on the science after starting to read RealClimate back in 2006.

  20. You’re too kind, Kate. I haven’t even started actual formal research in the field yet, let alone having any such research progressing to publication (I do have some publications, but they’re all in cognitive science, the field I’m starting my masters in this fall). Communication research is just a hobby mixed with a bit of activism right now – to describe the results as “a wealth of knowledge” just serves to inflate my ego, which is already problematically large for any honest student, and amplify potential Dunning-Kruger blind spots.

  21. I was concerned about climate change for my kids’ sake and went back to school, at 52 years young, to study Renewable Energy (I got an award for excellence in studies which just shows that mature age students are over-achievers).
    I too came across Greg’s videos during my time at school and have been passionately involved since. Early this year, I decided to do more and I am now embarking on an adventure to cycle around Australia promoting energy efficiency to communities.

  22. I grew up a faculty brat underfoot in a college biology department, free to go anywhere and ask anybody anything; helped my dad, a cell biologist, with his lab work when needed; read anything and everything. I took Ecology 101 before ecology became a household word; worked on my college’s Earth Day in 1970 – the first one; kept reading in the sciences.

    Gasoline was $0.35/gallon when I started driving.

    It took years to really understand what’s happening, and many of the choices I made in hindsight weren’t the best. I started as a preservation guy, thinking leaving nature alone would be the smartest move (still do, actually, in many ways). I moved from that into restoration biology, in my copious spare time — everybody should have a 200-year project as a hobby, it focuses the mind wonderfully. I picked up Malcolm Margolin’s _Earth_Manual_ (get the paperback green cover, it’s the latest edition, you can still find it).

    I learned about shifting baselines, way too late, and started working on documenting where I’d just been tinkering — realizing it will be 50 years before anyone can tell if the tinkering I’ve done has actually built more topsoil than leaving comparable areas alone.

    So far, it’s been worth doing.

    Yeah, I wanted my flying car and my vacation on the Moon.
    But other concerns seem more important as I get older.

    Seven billion of us will die in the next 100 years or so. Seems to me doing that gracefully rather than selfishly, making whatever difference we make lean in the right direction, is worth the effort.

    You kids, keep at it.

    And sometime in June, start watching: it will be there.

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