Neutralizing the Politicization of Climate Science and Energy Policy

Thursday, Friday 8:30am-11:30am Northrop Hall: 340


Callan Bentley, Piedmont Virginia Community College
Participants in this session will work together to improve their teaching of climate science in a world of unprecedented politicization of that topic. Themes to be emphasized include rhetoric (the recognition and gutting of logical fallacies and "alternative facts"), cultural cognition, the communication dilemma of story-telling vs. data and logic, and the primacy of the carbon cycle in grounding understanding of modern perturbations thereof. We will utilize materials from InTeGrate collections and publicly-available resources on the Internet from several sources. Leave with a new set of tools and perspectives ready for you to deploy in your interactions with students and the general public.


In a country where political viewpoints have bifurcated as cleanly as oil and vinegar, we need new tools for addressing contentious issues where scientific insight and public policy meet. Nowhere is this more urgent and more hotly contested than in the realm of climate science and energy choices. The scientific community has affirmed -not unanimously but fairly overwhelmingly- that humanity's ushering of carbon atoms from their former positions in sedimentary rocks to new positions in the atmosphere (and oceans) is the primary driver of a warming global climate (as well as an acidifying ocean).

Target Audience

Participants in this workshop want to do a better job of teaching climate science or facilitating rational discussions of energy policy options. These will include college professors who teach general education courses for non-majors and who see climate science & energy choices as one of the most tangible, real-world applications of our discipline to society. There will also be K-12 teachers who seek a way to implement the Next Generation Science Standards without accidentally fomenting a political revolution in their classes. Public outreach officials are also a target audience. If climate or energy policy come up when you interact with students or the general public, this workshop's for you. Regardless of our backgrounds and jobs, we are all residents of Earth, and have a vested interest in its habitability and the flourishing of the lifeforms it hosts, our species included. Our collective goal is clear, honest thinking about an economically and environmentally important issue that affects everyone on our planet.


During the workshop and associated Rendezvous opportunities, each participant will:

  • Master a short list of logical fallacies that are frequently employed in discussions of climate change, and learn neutralizing farcical versions of those same fallacies to show how flawed they are.
  • Review and rank the most common politically-motivated objections to the conclusions of climate science.
  • Recognize the frequently-invoked "deficit model" of communication and acknowledge the social science research demonstrating its lack of efficacy in changing minds.
  • Learn to set the stage for a respectful, honest discussion of climate and energy, and nurture intellectual investment in that discussion from participating students.
  • Internalize a diverse set of strategies for communicating climate science, including story-telling, posing key analogies, quantification & visualization, inoculation theory, framing, and messenger selection.
  • Peruse and practice a series of activities that are ready to use in their classrooms. These activities will focus on: the carbon cycle reservoirs and fluxes, recognizing logical fallacies, divorcing climate science from distracting political baggage, and weighing energy policy decisions in light of the reality of carbon atoms in the Earth system. These activities include games, group projects, individual projects, discussions with prompts, reading assignments and reflections, and role-playing.


One block of time will be devoted to a guided discussion on the psychology of human thinking on climate change. Another will focus on resources that instructors should assimilate in order to avoid communication pitfalls. A third segment will be focused on nurturing an essential understanding of the carbon cycle as a prerequisite for further discussion. A final segment explores a participatory approach for framing energy policy options as an application of these ideas.

We will "test drive" a few relevant activities from the Carbon, Climate and Energy Resources InTeGrate module (co-authored by the workshop facilitator).


  • Participate in all workshop activities and discussions.
  • Prepare in advance for workshop via readings or other activities developed by workshop leader.

Daily Program

See the Program Page for a detailed schedule of daily events.

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