Frequently Asked Questions

About science

About communication

About solutions

About recommendations

About advice, reviews or endorsements

If your question is not on this list, you are welcome to submit it to our monthly Global Weirding Live! Q&A that starts in Sept 2020. Check the events page for times and dates – but don’t worry if you can’t watch live: the video will be archived on our YouTube and Facebook pages afterwards.

Questions about the science?

How do we know climate is changing? Why do scientists think it’s humans this time, and not just natural cycles like it’s been before? Wasn’t it warmer way back when? And I thought I heard something about scientists cooking the data–is that true?

We’ve collected all our most frequently asked questions and turned them into super-short Global Weirding episodes that you can watch on YouTube. I have a popular Twitter thread that explains how we know humans are causing climate change today. I’ve also answered dozens of questions on Quora, from “How long do we have to save the earth?” to “Do plastics affect climate change?

For a good overview of the entire subject, I recommend the What We Know report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Climate Science, Risks and Solutions website from MIT. If you’d like more scientific detail, please review Skeptical Science’s comprehensive answers to 198 of the most common questions people have about the science. Their responses link directly to the original scientific studies so you can dig as deeply as you’d like.

All of these resources are great if you’d like to fact-check a specific argument or objection. Other good fact-checking resources include Climate Feedback where top scientists “peer-review” news stories and rate them for accuracy, and DeSmogBlog that keeps a list of people by name so you can determine whether a given source is reliable or not.

Finally, if you’re looking for more in-depth information on climate science, I recommend the National Climate Assessment’s Frequently Asked Questions and the entire report on the science of climate change (both of which I helped to write!); The Warming Papers, a compilation of pioneering scientific studies; and the Real Climate blog, written by some of the world’s top climate scientists.

Looking for data?

If you’d like to take a look at the basic data showing how climate is changing, a lot of it is available online. There is a good summary of the basic data at NASA’s Vital Signs and you can find global temperature maps at NASA GISS and easily plot maps or time series of annual average, seasonal, or monthly temperature and precipitation for the world, the U.S., every U.S. state, and most large U.S. cities at NOAA’s easy-to-use Climate At A Glance website.

A wealth of information on carbon emissions by country and atmospheric concentrations has been collected by Our World In Data and data on the radiative forcing to see which gases contribute to human-induced warming and how that’s changed over time is available through NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index. For more information on the carbon cycle, see the Second State of the Carbon Cycle report.

Observed sea level rise at tidal gauges around the world (which includes both the movement of land up or down as well as sea level rise – that’s why some of the arrows are going down) is available from NOAA’s Tides and Currents and these zoomable maps from Climate Central let you see how rising seas will flood cities and coastlines around the world.

Maps and time series of changes in Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet are available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

For observed trends and future projections for the United States, see the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment Volume 1 and Volume 2, and for Canada, see the Canada’s Changing Climate report. At the Texas Tech Climate Center we also generate high-resolution climate projections for scientific analyses.

For more information, data and resources, see NOAA’s Climate.gov dashboard.

How will climate change affect where I live?

The impacts of climate change depend on where we live. Along the Gulf Coast, rising seas and stronger hurricanes pose the largest threat to people and the economy. Where I live in Texas, natural patterns of drought and flood are being amplified, with record-breaking events now the norm rather than the exception. Through the Great Lakes, Midwest and Northeast, huge increases in heavy precipitation events have slammed cities and countryside alike. In the Rockies, warmer winters mean pests and bugs can live for multiple generations, chewing up millions of acres of forest. And up in the Arctic, melting permafrost and eroding coastlines are endangering people’s homes and livelihoods.

We have a Global Weirding episode about every region of the U.S. as well as Canada and the Arctic. If you live in the U.S., you can find out more about how climate change will affect you from the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

How can I have a positive, constructive conversation about climate change?

Please start by watching my TED talk and this Global Weirding episode, If I just tell them the facts they’ll get it, right? and read these two short essays, When facts are not enough and Everyone cares about global warming, they just don’t realise it.

These resources explain how the best place to begin a conversation is not with what we disagree on, but with something we agree on: whether it’s jobs and the economy, our kids, our hobbies (cooking, knitting, birding, hunting), the place we live, organizations we’re part of (a church, the Rotary Club), or more: whatever it is that makes you you and that you love, those are great things to bond over!

Then, connect the dots between what we already agree on and how climate change is affecting us and bring up a positive, viable solution the person you’re talking to could get on board with.

By taking this approach, we tackle the two biggest problems we have when talking about climate change: (1) psychological distance – we think climate impacts are far away in space or time, and (2) solution aversion – we don’t think there’s anything we can do to fix the problem that isn’t harmful or painful or contrary to our values or our well-being.

For a helpful template on how to have genuine, positive conversations please see Climate Outreach’s Talking Climate Handbook. As I discuss in this webinar, the most effective messenger on climate change is you (friends and family) and talking about climate change kicks off a true positive feedback effect where the more we talk about it, the more concerned we are.

There’s only one caveat: this approach works with everyone but dismissives. Dismissives are the 10% of the population who’ve built their identity on rejecting climate change. They’re the loudest voices and the most determined opponents – and it takes a literal miracle to change their minds. My personal definition of a dismissive is someone who, if an angel from God with brand-new tablets of stone appeared in front of them emblazoned with foot-high letters of flame saying, “global warming is real,” they would reject it. And if they reject that, then what hope do I have at changing their mind?

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So if a dismissive confronts me in public, or on social media, I will tell them that what they’re saying isn’t true. But I do it for the sake of everyone else listening, not for them; and if they refuse to engage in a constructive way, I’m done.

We can have constructive conversations with 90% of us – so what are we waiting for? Let’s do it!

What if they’re Christians or conservatives?

It’s helpful to understand what are the religious-y myths we often hear; I summarize them in our most popular Global Weirding episode, What does the Bible say about climate change?

But these arguments are exactly that, myths: and I unpack them further, as well as the faith- and science-based responses to these myths in my NY Times editorial, I’m a climate scientist who believes in God, my interview with Bill Moyers on climate change and faith, and these sermons I gave at evangelical churches recently that you can watch or listen to here.

For more, read Caring for Creation by pastor Mitch Hescox and meteorologist Paul Douglas, and the classic Earthwise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care by scientist Cal DeWitt.

Check out some of my favourite Christian organizations, including A Rocha International, A Rocha Canada, the Catholic Climate Covenant, Climate Caretakers, Climate Stewards, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Plant With Purpose, Tearfund, Operation Noah, and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

To understand why conservative Christians in the U.S. – and to a lesser extent in Canada, Australia and the U.K. – reject climate science, read this brilliant article, How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Denial the Word of God, as well as Evangelicals for Climate Action.

Looking for advice on low-carbon video talks?

I’ve worked hard the last few years to transition the majority of my talks and presentations, and even some interviews and panels, to online virtual low-carbon events. It isn’t as easy as looking people in the face, but with a little practice you can get comfortable with it!

To help, I’ve invested in a few key pieces of equipment. Here’s a list, with links to the products I bought. You can see what it looks like in this interview I did with Fox News here. Really, anything like this is fine – these are just the choices I went with based on budget and quality.

  • A collapsible backdrop (I use a reversible one that can be gray or white, but there are a lot of options out there!)
  • Standing acoustic sound-absorbing panels to absorb the echos
  • Flat acoustic panels to lay on the desk in front of me (if you’re on a tight budget, these are more important than the standing ones – they also double as a cat bed)
  • A very basic webcam, nothing fancy
  • Very basic audio equipment – sometimes Apple earbuds, which I balance on an upside down glass in front of me so they can’t be seen (the upside down part is important for sound quality – I learned that the hard way!), sometimes a stand mic
  • A ring light with a skin tone filter and a camera mount
  • I also tilt my glasses down slightly when I want to avoid reflection (though a lot of times I don’t bother) – it works like a charm

Looking at your audience is super-important. Practice looking right at the camera, not down at the screen. It may feel strange but you will get used to it. The webcam should be at the height of your eyes. If you’re using a laptop, put some books under it to raise it until the webcam is at the level of your eyes.

Audience engagement is also very important. There are several great apps to do this but I use Poll Everywhere. It is a simple internet-based audience polling program that I put right into my slides. It lets me survey people in real time to get their opinions, perspectives, and responses to what I’m talking about. I’ve used it all over the world: since it’s internet-based, it doesn’t matter if I’m in Texas talking to a group in India! I also like using Poll Everywhere even in person because it allows people to respond anonymously (not everyone feels comfortable standing up at a mic) and up-vote the questions they want me to answer at the end.

On the other end, if you are talking to a group of people, make sure the room has adequate speakers and a good projector. I like a camera facing the audience but it is not a deal-breaker if you don’t have it.

This may seem obvious, but it makes sense to put a few precautions in place before you speak so you won’t recreate the best photobomb ever. I can’t aspire to those heights, but I’ve had my share of cats and toddlers make sudden appearances when I thought they were locked away (the former) or safely in bed (the latter). Children, pets, family members, sudden noises – think about what could interrupt your talk and make sure either they or you are behind a shut door and everyone in the house is warned that you’re streaming. And if it does happen – well, we’re all human! Laugh and move on.

Choose streaming software that you are familiar with and that allows you to share your screen. I have used it all, and it’s all pretty good. Adobe is the hardest to set up but it is a workhorse: it will deliver a quality video feed even on minimal wifi speed. Zoom is quick and easy, and connects multiple people through a simple interface. In my experience, it works great 99% of the time but fails catastrophically and inexplicably the 100th time. Skype is basic and functional, though video quality is sometimes limited. Professional services like GoToMeeting and WebEx are solid. The only two programs I recommend avoiding are Skype Business and Google Hangout (if it’s even still a thing).

And after you’re finished, ask yourself: what worked best that I should do again? What could I have done better or what’s something different I could try next time? If you recorded the talk (because why not, if appropriate, and share it with others on youtube?), grit your teeth and give it a watch to help answer these questions.

My dad was scheduled to meet with his mentor recently, but due to coronavirus decided it would be best to do so virtually. “You know what?” he told me, “meeting virtually was better – we could see and hear each other more clearly and it was so much easier.” My dad is in his 70s. His mentor is in his 90s. So – if they can do it, we can too!

I want to reduce my carbon footprint. Where should I start?

Watch our Global Weirding episode on personal solutions and use a carbon calculator to see where your emissions come from and what you can do to reduce them.

For me, flying is the biggest part of my carbon footprint; that’s why I’ve transitioned the majority of my talks to virtual low-carbon events. For you, it might be how much meat you eat or how much food you throw out or how you commute.

There are many practical steps we can all take to reduce our carbon footprint. I drive a plug-in car, we bought solar panels from a local company, Mission Solar, I’ve reduced our food waste and replaced our light bulbs, I replaced the freezer with racks for drying clothes, we recycle with the Texas Tech housing program, and our meals include a lot more fish and plants, less beef. For more ideas, read Cooler, Smarter.

But don’t forget that the three most important things you can do when it comes to climate change are:
• Talk about it!
• Join an organization that amplifies your voice
• Advocate for system-wide change

To learn more about the importance of system-wide change, read these two brilliant essays, I don’t care if you recycle by Mary Annaise Heglar and Lifestyle changes aren’t enough to fix the planet by Michael Mann. Then to learn more about the big picture on the system-wide changes that are needed, watch How empowering women and girls can help fix climate change by Katharine Wilkinson, and then watch our Global Weirding episode on big climate solutions and check out Project Drawdown’s amazing list of 100 climate solutions.

My church wants to act on climate. Where should we start?

Here are a few ideas. For more, please check out Cool Congregations, EcoChurch, EcoCongregations, the World Evangelical Alliance’s Creation Care Task Force, the World Council of Churches’ Care for Creation and Climate Justice page, the Big Church Switch, and the Reformed Church of America’s Creation Care page.

My school wants to take climate action. Where should we start?

Here are a few ideas. For more, please check out the national network of Green Schools, Project Green Schools, the Green Schools Alliance, and this resource page from the EPA.

  • Talk about it! Include climate change in your classes and programs. Talking about climate change in school changes parent’s minds.
  • Join your local Fridays for Future climate strike!
  • Found or join a club with others who share your interests so you can brainstorm and work together.
  • Calculate how much energy your school uses. Set a goal for how much you want to reduce it and figure out what you can do to achieve that goal.
  • Find out if your school could be powered by renewable energy and, if so, what you’d need to do to make that happen.
  • Reduce food waste and offer plant-based options at the cafeteria.
  • Try carrying around your trash for a week to raise awareness of how much we throw out.
  • Plant trees and keep track of the how much the tree is growing as a way to help see how much carbon it is taking up.
  • Encourage biking by providing secure bike racks, creating bike lanes through the parking lots, and providing bike safety courses.

I’ve found the solution to global warming. Will you help me?

Climate change is a complex issue and will require a complex network of solutions across many disciplines in order to reach sustainable goals, like those described by Project Drawdown. Very few people – including me! – have access to the resources required to bankroll big ideas, so we have to build our work in steps.

I would encourage you to start with the peer-reviewed publication process to gain input and feedback into your idea. Then, if it is marketable, you can work up from small grants and demonstrations of concept into larger projects with more visibility.  Organizations like the Climate Co-Lab are designed to help with potentially viable ideas and there are many prize competitions like the Keeling Curve and the EarthShot Prize you could enter.

I wish you the best of luck in your work to address this critically important issue!

Survival guide to social distancing

Parents and families – if you’re looking for resources for your kids, here are some ideas. Please also check out my recommendations for books, podcasts, and documentaries below.

1. Skype A Scientist brings a real live scientist right into your home. They typically only do classrooms but they’re opening it up to families now so check them out!

2. Our Global Weirding show has over 30 short episodes appropriate for kids of all ages (and parents too). Bonus activity: we are turning them into PBS Learning Units so if you want to design discussion questions and/or an activity to go with an episode, send them along and if we use them we’ll give you full credit!

3. There are already many fantastic units on PBS Learning Media for all ages and subjects. And don’t forget our PBS Digital Media sister series on YouTube, from Hot Mess to Gross Science. There’s plenty to keep kids entertained there!

4. There are lots of great online resources like Pinterest lists and books like this one with hands-on science experiments for kids. What better time to dig in?

5. Finally, for the high school kids and adults who want to do a deep dive into climate change, Denial101x is an online course that is free for all with amazing videos and interviews with nearly every top expert in the field.

Which books, podcasts and documentaries do you recommend?

There are lots of great books and podcasts and documentaries I recommend. For books, I recommend starting with A Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change and then check out more than 30 titles on my Amazon List here that cover a broad range of topics from geoengineering and climate solutions to personal actions and attitudes.

For podcasts, I suggest:

  • Warm Regards, a podcast about the warming planet hosted by my colleague Dr. Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine
  • No Place Like Home, a podcast that gets to the heart of climate change hosted by my friends Mary Anne Hitt & Anna Jane Joyner
  • America Adapts, a podcast explores the challenges presented by adapting to climate change, the global movement that has begun to drive change, and the approaches that are already working, hosted by adaptation expert Doug Parsons
  • Mothers of Invention, a podcast on feminist climate change solutions from (mostly) women around the world hosted by Ireland’s first female president Mary Robinson and comic Maeve Higgins
  • Climate One, a forum for candid discussion among climate scientists, policymakers, activists, and concerned citizens that I’ve appeared on a few times
  • Climate Conversations, a podcast produced by MIT Climate, a hub for all the scientific work being done on climate change across the university
  • Costing the Earth, a BBC podcast about climate change that covers a diverse range of topics from building golf courses on sand dunes to climate changes’ effects on human and animal fertility

There are also many great documentaries about climate change you can watch. Here are just a few:

Looking for more content?

We have over 30 Global Weirding episodes online, as well as this little cartoon explaining global warming. I’ve also collected many of my short interviews and over 100 full-length lectures on my YouTube playlists and Vimeo channel. They include everything from my latest presentations to the first TV interview I ever did. All of these video resources are available to stream to your class or organization or to share on social media, no permission needed.

I also archive many of my essays, interviews, and videos on the Posts page here. You can sort them by topic including faith, communication, and science.

My review policy

I love that people want to share their ideas on climate change with me, as we all need to work together to tackle this global challenge and I believe that each one of us has something unique that we can contribute! However, I receive dozens of requests each month to review and/or endorse new videos, books, projects, letters or petitions, websites and proposals, and I’m truly sorry that I am only able to accept a fraction of the requests I receive.

I have to prioritize requests that are well thought out and directly relevant to my expertise in climate communication, high-resolution climate projections, regional impacts, faith-related communication, and/or relate to geographic areas that are close to my heart and home (specifically, Texas, Colombia and Canada).

I am not able to endorse political statements or positions and I generally am not able to sign letters or petitions unless they are directly relevant to my specific areas of expertise above.

If you would like my review of a technical or scientific manuscript, you are welcome to include my name as a suggested reviewer when you submit it for peer review and publication. While I am happy to provide reviews on topics relevant to my expertise as part of a formal peer review process conducted by a journal, a federal agency, or a recognized institution or organization, I am not able to provide informal reviews prior to submission.

As a climate scientist, I want to be able to use my expertise effectively, but there are many requests I receive that are not related to my specific areas of expertise (e.g. focusing on agriculture or technology or the policies of a country that I have little knowledge or experience of). As such, I would not be able to provide much help moving your idea forward. In addition, many requests are generic, in the sense that any climate scientist would be able to respond to them.

While I must regretfully decline those requests, all is not lost, there are a lot of other scientists who might be better suited to help you than me! I have assembled a list of nearly 3,000 scientists who do climate on Twitter that I would encourage you to review in order to find someone whose expertise and/or geographic location more closely matches what you’re looking for feedback on. Click here and read the top answer for instructions on how to search a Twitter list by keywords.

But if it is not a scientific study or a technical manuscript and you are confident (1) that your project meets the criteria above; (2) that it has already been carefully reviewed to the best of your ability and current resources; (3) that you know and can explain exactly what you want to accomplish with it, including what it will achieve, who it will reach, and what currently unmet need it will fill; (4) and that I, rather than any other climate scientist, am uniquely suited to comment on your effort and provide targeted feedback that would take you to the next level, then please feel free to send your request to Laura via our contact page, including a brief description of why you think I’m the right person to review it, and she’ll let you know if I’m able to do so!

I’d like to interview you!

You are welcome to submit your request to Laura via my contact page. However, due to the volume of requests I receive, I’m truly sorry I am only able to accept a few of them.

What I have found, though, is that nearly all of the questions you have for me I’ve already answered in interviews I’ve done, like this one or this one, or by our Global Weirding videos: so please feel free to use anything you find there.

I also have a huge list of climate scientists here on Twitter. Please consider asking one of them – I know they’d be happy to chat!

And if you’re looking for a scientist to join your classroom for a virtual Q&A or talk, please see the Skype A Scientist program. It is fantastic!