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Understand Basic Climate Science With These 5 Beautifully Simple Videos

understand basic climate science

Do you know what climate change is?
Sure. It’s the scary thing that’s happening to the planet because we burn too much carbon.

But do you actually understand the science of why it’s happening?

Whether you’re completely new to this or you just want a refresher, you’re in luck.

I’ve picked out 5 excellent videos for you which explain it in beautifully simple terms. They’re short, and they have animations. I know the subject matter is a little threatening so I’m making this as easy as I can. If you watch all these then I promise you will get the basics of climate science – even if you’re not the scientific type.

1. Climate Science: What You Need To Know via It’s Okay To Be Smart

6.20 minutes

This one starts off pointing out how well established and consensus-filled the science is, despite some haters still doubting it. The presenter of this cute science channel then goes on to explain the basics in 24 easy steps. They want you to be prepared for that day you end up chatting to an enraged climate denier at a party who’s furious about the “polar bear lobby”, so they debunk a couple of stubborn myths, too.

2. CLIMATE 101 with BILL NYE via Climate Reality

4.33 minutes

This one starts off with a scientist in a lab coat using plants, a globe and a bunch of chemical bottles to act out the greenhouse effect, which later turns into animation – all narrated by Bill Nye. He gets interrupted a few times by a TV showing climate deniers talking crap, and clearly explains the basics of the science, which as he points out, has been understood for decades. If you fancy it, Bill even shows you how to recreate the greenhouse effect with a simple DIY science experiment!

3. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Simple Explanation of Climate Change via Guy Science

3.59 minutes

Famous for bringing astrophysics to the masses, Neil DeGrasse Tyson heads up this one. He explains the greenhouse effect and how it’s just very basic physics and isn’t scientifically controversial at all. In fact Carl Sagan wrote about the greenhouse effect on Venus back in the 1960s, and in the 1980s warned that the same could happen to Earth, “turning our only heaven into a kind of hell”. Neil tells us why we know the extra carbon isn’t coming from volcanoes. He also makes a good final point: it’s such a shame that carbon dioxide is an invisible gas – we would be so much better at dealing with it if we could all see it.

4. Climate Change Is Simple – David Roberts Remix via Ryan Cooper

15.01 minutes

This video is a remix, mostly of a talk by David Roberts of established environmental news site Grist, and also includes visuals of the earth to explain the greenhouse effect, much like the others. The difference? This one is pretty hard hitting. Not gunna lie, it’s pretty scary. He thinks we’re going to shoot way past the 2 degrees safety limit and that at current levels we’re heading towards something as high as 6 degrees (we don’t know for sure – scientists are uncertain about that). Which is pretty terrifying. But I think it’s important to watch it, because to really get climate change, you do need to get the seriousness of the crisis, before moving on to being proactive. He ends with the bold call to action: “Your job now is to make the impossible possible”.

5. The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Science via The New Internationalist

4.18 minutes

In this one, Danny Chivers, author of the No Nonsense Guide to Climate Science pocket book, runs through why the planet is heating up (the greenhouse effect again) what the current impacts are, and what the future impacts are likely to be. He tells us all this while wandering about the streets of Oxford, supported by on-screen text and special effects. A key point: the basics of the greenhouse effect has been understood since 1896. That’s eighteen ninety six, not nineteen.

To sum up…

The greenhouse effect is the process where greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) in the earth’s atmosphere trap some of the sun’s heat and stop it radiating back out to space. That’s normal, but releasing extra carbon into the mix accelerates the process and makes Earth hotter.

Carbon is like salt. A little is essential for life, but too much is dangerous. And modern life makes it very easy to have too much.

The greenhouse effect has been well understood for a long time and is based on very basic physics. There is lots of uncertainty about the details of climate change, but the core equation of fossil fuels > carbon > greenhouse effect > global warming is really not debatable. It’s the political implications that are controversial. And it’s how we respond that’s debatable.

What now?

Assuming you’re not a denier (if so please rewatch those videos and pull your head out of the god damn sand) then you’re probably feeling pretty bad right now.

Here’s the thing: while getting to grips with the science is crucial to climate action, I don’t think it helps to dwell on the science too much. Once you get the core facts, it’s better to focus on the political and practical sides of climate action. I suggest starting with my post on The 3 Simplest Things You Can Do To Fight Climate Change. One of them is extremely helpful and only takes 10 minutes. Action time!

Featured image: The greenhouse effect works a lot like an actual greenhouse. (Out.of.Focus / Flickr, Creative Commons). 

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Hey, I’m Tegan

I'm a passionate sustainability enthusiast, blogger and digital marketer. I live in Brighton, UK, with my boyfriend and tortoise. Can usually be found reading, writing or eating chickpea burritos. Wanna chat? I'm at @TeganTallullah on Twitter.

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