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Climate Change, Weather Disasters: Read All About It: Study the Science

by Bruce E. Johansen

Study the Science

Anyone who wants to study climate change must be on speaking terms with the science. The best sources for scientific information to better understand climate change are journals, especially Science, Nature (and its subsidiary journal, Nature Climate Change), and Geophysical Research Letters. Journals publish highly technical material meant for field specialists at the post-doctoral level, as well as summary articles aimed at non-specialist, undergraduate-level readers.

For reports of daily events and their relation to other issues, newspapers with rigorous reporting and a climate desk are also important sources, most notably the New York Times, which has a global reach and superlative coverage of global climate-change issues. Many libraries offer access to this newspaper. Other major newspapers carry climate-change news, but none can approach the Times. While books are important for perspective and synthesis, they usually lag behind journals and other media for timeliness.

Wire services are a good source for breaking news and enterprise stories on climate-change issues. Readers should especially keep an eye out for articles by veteran Associated Press science reporter Seth Borenstein. Well-informed general magazines also offer superlative research and writing on climate-change issues. One outstanding example is Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Sixth Extinction. NASA also releases brief, scientifically sound reports on climate-related issues as part of its Earth Observatory series.

The best reporters understand the importance of the science and what it signals. In 2016, the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in all areas, at all seasons, compared to about 280 ppm a century and a half prior. Levels of methane and nitrous oxides, the two other principal greenhouse gases, also reached record levels by substantial margins, increasing about 35 percent since 1990. Between 2010 and 2020 world temperatures also surged to new records, often stoked by El Niño conditions. As World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarraud said in 2015, “we are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed.” 

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