A survey of climate literacy

October 10, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Posted in Climate understanding | Leave a comment
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According to the blog RealClimate, a new survey about the state of climate science is making the rounds.  The survey – the third of its kind – is being sent to scientists in an effort to assess the state of climate science.

Obviously, its relevance will depend on how widely it’s distributed, as well as on the validity of its questions and multiple-choice answers.  If done well, it could point out areas where more research needs to be done and more funding needs to be provided.

Looking over some of the questions, though, got me thinking less about how the scientists will respond to the questions, and more about the state of climate literacy in general. 

So, let’s just take one question – No. 15 – and test our own chutzpah. 

“The current state of scientific knowledge is developed well enough to allow for a reasonable assessment of the effects of:

– turbulence
– surface albedo
– land surface processes
– sea ice
– greenhouse gases emitted from anthropogenic sources”

The participating scientists are asked to rate how much is known about each of these things on a scale of one to seven, with one corresponding to ‘strongly disagree’ and seven to ‘strongly agree.’

Since we’re not climatologists, though, the question is how well most of us non-experts would do at a survey asking us to define how each of these things impacts the climate. 

I can get through the list, but it would make me a little red in the face to publish my answers.  And, after conducting a very unscientific survey of family and friends, I’m beginning to wonder how many lay people would be able to get through it at all.  

So, I will leave you with two questions: Does our education system cover the basic climate bases?  And, if it doesn’t, how are we to evaluate policies proposed to deal with potential changes in climate?    


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