Science Knows, and You Can Too

Seven free online resources to help you learn all the facts about climate change

By Wendy Becktold

September 28, 2020


Photo by AlexBrylov/iStock

President Trump’s grasp of climate science was on display in mid-September, when he visited California to be briefed on the historic wildfires raging across the state. When natural resources secretary Wade Crowfoot asked the president to recognize the role that climate change played in the current crisis, Trump responded by assuring Crowfoot that the climate would soon grow colder, then added, “I don’t think science knows.”

In fact, science does know. How do we know that science knows? Because one big point of science is to establish, through meticulous observation and experimentation, causal relationships. Sure, how climate change plays out over time is complicated, but the underlying principle that putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causes the air to warm is a fact that can be verified in a high school science lab.  

The need for basic scientific literacy about climate change has never been clearer, as well as the devastating consequences when it’s absent. Climate denialism and misinformation are costing lives as we fail to prepare adequately for intensifying fires, hurricanes, and other disasters. 

That said, we’re all bound to get rusty on the details, or have trouble marshaling the facts while talking, for example, to climate-denying relatives or responding to a delusional Facebook post. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of free online resources to help you get your facts straight and hopefully empower you to fight for change. Here are a handful of them:

  1. Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

This comprehensive eight-week online course, taught by renowned climate scientist Michael Mann, covers everything from the basic principles of atmospheric science to methods of climate data collection to the effects of climate change on ecosystems and society.

  1. The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science 

Made up of 18 lessons, this extensive course is offered through the Annenberg Foundation. Each lesson involves a half-hour video, an online textbook, and recorded interviews with scientists. Lesson 12, “Earth’s Changing Climate,” deals solely with climate change, but other lessons on topics like atmosphere, the ocean, and energy, are also relevant.    

  1.  EdX Climate Change Courses

A nonprofit founded by Harvard and MIT, EdX is an enormous platform of free online courses provided by universities and institutions all over the world. Among the thousands of offerings, you can sign up for 99 different courses having to do with climate change (including Michael Mann’s). For the basics, try the seven-week course titled Climate Change: the Science offered by the University of British Columbia. If you really want to arm yourself for difficult conversations, you can sign up for Making Sense of Climate Denial, put forth by the University of Queensland. 

  1. Coursera Climate Change Courses

Like EdX, Coursera is essentially an aggregator of courses about pretty much anything under the sun, but also like EdX, it has an impressive selection of ones geared toward bulking up your climate science know-how. Yale University, for example, offers a class called Introduction to Climate Change and Health, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers Introduction to Sustainability. Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History teaches a much shorter, eight-hour course called Our Earth’s Future.

  1. “One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Climate Facts”

Don’t have time for a multiweek online course? This edition of The New York Times’s Climate Forward Newsletter directs you to some extremely useful cheat sheets, including Skeptical Science’s Myths vs. Facts. It also points readers to a number of explanatory podcasts.

  1. Project Drawdown 

Is all this information about climate change making you depressed? Take a break from learning about the how and whys and find out what to do. The nonprofit Project Drawdown published its bestselling book of the same name in 2017. It lists 100 solutions to climate change, all of which are also summarized on the organization’s website along with new research. 

  1. Global Weirding With Katharine Hayhoe

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has been posting these animated 10-minute videos on YouTube for about four years, debunking various myths about climate change and covering topics like how climate change is impacting different parts of the country. It’s an excellent resource for kids, and for those of us short on time or attention spans.