Communicating the Impact of Climate Change on Reddit

On February 14, ACS hosted a Reddit AMA with ACS Expert Andy Jorgensen on communicating climate change information with non-scientists. Jorgensen is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo, where works with his students to understand how people learn scientific principles. His most recent work includes developing educational materials on climate change, putting the science in a context that is easy for anyone to understand.

Given the hot-button topic that is climate change, Redditors were clamoring to ask Professor Jorgensen about his thoughts on the matter. Check out some of the questions and answers below:

/u/parkerLS: How do you respond to climate change deniers who will argue that you are biased because your career path is directly tied to claiming that climate change is a reality?

Professor Jorgensen: I give several answers to this very common comment. Scientists are generally honest, but if there are problems or flaws, other scientists provide corrections or context. This is a field where good or bad news, supported by facts, can be convincing. Some reply that there is more money in other fields, like drilling for oil, but that might not be convincing. I use the analogous situation – why do you believe that the antibiotic given for your infection will likely work even though there is much more money for scientists in that field for being influenced by financial matters. We are constantly checked by other professionals. We are not part of a giant conspiracy.

/u/Silverback_6: Have you ever been asked a question that left you stumped? Follow-up – what’s the most frequently asked “gotcha” question that ends up falling flat after you can show some contradictory evidence?

Professor Jorgensen: Good question. Early in my time in giving presentations I could not definitely answer the question of why the earth was warmer eons ago. I subsequently studied the issued and learned that the position of the earth with respect to the sun – our orbit – has changed over time, which caused a different amount of the sun’s energy to hit the earth. That is not the situation at present. The sun’s radiance to us has changed little in decades.

/u/SetPhazersToStun: What is the most compelling evidence to suggest we’ve broken away from the predictable climate cycles we’ve observed for the last 100,000 years or more?

Professor Jorgensen: There are many indications: temperature changes in just the last few decades, including successive records for the world average temperature in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Three years in a row is compelling. Others include loss of Arctic ice, which reflects warmer oceans. Increasing acidity of oceans due to absorption of carbon dioxide. Increased sea levels, due to both thermal expansion of water and melting land ice. Also, compelling evidence comes from biology – early budding of plants, shifts in zones were plants and animals are migrating to.

/u/mistymountainz: Hi. What has been the fact you have used in your teachings that usually works to convince those who don’t believe that climate change is real?

Professor Jorgensen: Both in my regular teaching and in speaking about climate change I use personal response devices, called “clickers” to gauge the response of members of the audience. In speaking with many groups on climate I have found that a single hour of showing document facts – temperature records from NASA, gas emissions from the D of Energy – and one fifth of the group has become convinced of the reality of climate change.

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