New website devoted to climate education launched

OBSERVER Photo by Damian Sebouhian
Dr. Julia Wilson, Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences reveals the new Climate Education Initiative website devoted to “promoting and supporting scientific understanding of climate change and climate action.”

OBSERVER Photo by Damian Sebouhian Dr. Julia Wilson, Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences reveals the new Climate Education Initiative website devoted to “promoting and supporting scientific understanding of climate change and climate action.”

A new locally-generated website has been launched called the Climate Education Initiative (CEI) and it’s devoted to promoting and supporting scientific understanding of climate change and climate action.

Three years in the making, CEI — as expressed in the website’s homepage — “is a collaboration between the State University of New York at Fredonia and regional K-12 educators” and “consists of three main components. The Climate Facts page contains basic information on climate science, climate change, and impacts. The Climate Action page discusses its options for response, both individually and collectively. The Climate Education page contains resources for educators, such as New York state science standards, curricular materials, and data sets.”

Although the site is up and viewable, according to one of it’s primary authors Professor Julia Wilson, “it’s a soft roll out. We’ll definitely be improving things and adding to it over time. I’d be delighted if people start going to it now.”

CEI isn’t based anywhere on the Fredonia campus, Wilson explained. Rather “(CEI) is a group of colleagues (and area educators) working together. We got permission to build a website which is our main vehicle for reaching out to the community and we’re hoping that this will ultimately be very useful to the community.”

One supporter of the website is Professor of Education Michael Jabot, described by Wilson as a “science education expert.”

Jabot “helps teachers all across Western New York in data gathering,” said Wilson. “If some teachers want to submit curriculum materials, lesson plans or classroom activities, he might take a look at those and be in charge of compiling them on the web so that they’re accessible to other teachers.”

Wilson explained why it was important to create a new website, despite the wealth of climate change information already available.

“Usually when you go to other websites there aren’t many literature citations,” said Wilson. “Not a lot of evidence is presented. It’s more like claims. It’s very easy for a member of the public to say, ‘Hmm, maybe that’s what you think, but why should I believe that?’ If you’re a little bit skeptical and need to be convinced, a lot of those websites, they present the facts, but maybe not in a persuasive way; the evidence isn’t there.”

With the CEI website, she said “we’ve actually given citations throughout,” most of which are linked to perhaps the most comprehensive, credible collection of reports on the subject, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We have references to those IPCC reports,” Wilson said. “There’s some information on the website about how we take a claim we make on the website, to the IPCC website and verify that it’s been substantiated in the scientific literature. We present a lot more information and it’s a narrative arc beginning with some very basic scientific principles and getting all the way to the computer modeling that climate scientists use.”

Although much of the information is geared towards educators and college students, Wilson said that the CEI website has sections especially devoted to younger people.

“Under the Climate Education component we have a version of the Climate Facts for kids and another version of the Climate Action for kids. It’s shorter, simpler, less detailed and more age-appropriate.”

Amy Lauer, lead teacher of the Fredonia Middle School science department has been instrumental in organizing the educational aspect of the website.

Wilson summarized some climate science facts, perhaps the most alarming relating to how human-caused climate change is going to be devastating to biodiversity and species survival.

“Even conservative estimates are saying we’re going to see extinction rates this century that are at least 10 times greater than they were last century,” Wilson said. “That’s assuming we take aggressive action. We’re going to see a significant loss in biodiversity over the course of the next century or two.”

Wilson said that there are some climate change deniers who claim that the rising CO2 levels are good for plants and therefore good for agriculture.

“It turns out that weeds love (rising CO2 levels),” Wilson said. “The plants that showed the most gains in the presence of elevated CO2, it’s primarily the plants we don’t eat.”

In the long run, agriculture will suffer due to drought and more aggressive weather patterns.

“In western New York we might see hotter highs, but also colder lows,” said Wilson. “It’s difficult to make predictions when you’re looking at small regions, but certainly there’s going to be greater temperature variability, which means more frequent and longer lasting heat waves, even beyond a slight raise in the average temperature. That’s going to be a big problem for agriculture.”

Wilson admitted that there are many who still doubt the science, yet even in relatively conservative Chautauqua County, “there’s been progress…in how people are thinking of climate change and what we need to do about it.”

While there has been a significant increase in awareness of the problem, Wilson said “we still have not seen much change in the last few years in people recognizing that we need to make individual changes to address this problem over the long haul.”

Wilson said that many people get caught in the trap of waiting for industry and government to make the appropriate changes, yet it’s just as important that we as individuals step up to the plate in reducing our respective carbon footprints.

“Many changes an individual can do might not feel like (they have) an impact, but if lots of people did them it adds up,” Wilson said. “Imagine reducing your energy consumption by 10 percent per year. Just be much more mindful of things our parents told us to do. Turn off the lights when you leave the room, look for ways to be more efficient.

“What if everybody did that? All of a sudden our energy consumption across the region or across the nation goes down by 10 percent.”

Wilson emphasized that climate change is not a hypothesis up for debate, nor part of a liberal political agenda. It’s reality and we must deal with it, she said.

“This is a scientific matter. It’s been studied extensively by scientists who are operating in good faith. All the evidence points in this direction. There are many, many independent lines of evidence that all track the same way. There are some things we’re more sure of and some we’re less sure of, but the overall picture is quite clear. This is not a matter of opinion, a matter of politics, a matter of convenience.”

To access the new Climate Education Initiative website, go to http://fa.fredonia.edu/cei.

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