Climate change is confusing.
At least, that’s the impression the average American might get if they tried to learn about the subject from the flurry of journal articles, policy papers, and action plans that dominate the conversation among scientists and environmental advocates. To help demystify the science, solutions, and policies behind climate change, the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) has launched a podcast series called TILclimate, airing eight episodes in its first season over the 2019 spring semester.
“There’s a lot of information out there about why climate change is happening, how it will affect human life, and the solutions that are on the table. But it’s hard to find sources that you trust,” says Laur Hesse Fisher, program director for ESI and host of the new series. “And even then, there’s still a lot of jargon and technicalities that you have to wade through.
“We’re trying to solve that problem.”
In each 10-minute episode, Hesse Fisher speaks to an expert from the MIT community to break down a clear, focused question related to climate change. In the first batch of episodes, these questions have included: What do clouds have to do with climate change? Why are different parts of the world experiencing different climate impacts? How does carbon pricing work?
The podcast is part of a broader ESI project called MIT Climate, a community-building effort built around a common web portal where users can share climate change-related projects, news stories, and learning resources at MIT and beyond. MIT Climate is intended to draw individuals and groups working on climate issues at MIT closer together, and eventually become a platform for worldwide, science-based learning and engagement on climate change. You can see a prototype of the portal at climate.mit.edu.
“We named the podcast TILclimate after the popular Reddit hashtag TIL, which stands for Today I Learned,” says Hesse Fisher. “We hope to signify that these episodes are accessible. Even if you have no prior knowledge of climate science or policy, after 10 minutes you know enough to start being a part of the conversation.”
To hear this approach in action, you can listen to the podcast’s first episode, “TIL about planes,” where Hesse Fisher interviews MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics Steven Barrett, head of MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment. Together, they walk listeners through the two primary ways that air travel impacts Earth’s climate: by releasing carbon dioxide high into the atmosphere and by producing heat-trapping condensation trails.
“Most of the CO2 that aviation's ever emitted is still in the atmosphere because it lasts so long,” Barrett says in the interview. To help illustrate his point, Hesse Fisher adds: “Think about fighter planes circling Europe in World War I, or Charles Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. The CO2 from those flights are still in the atmosphere.”
“We steer clear of jargon whenever possible and make a real attempt to define the terms and concepts that we use,” says Hesse Fisher. “The point is, we hope the podcast will appeal to the ‘climate curious’ — people who are just interested enough in climate change that they’d listen to something around 10 minutes.”
Those who do want to dig deeper into the content can head to TILclimate’s profile on the MIT Climate website, where each episode posting includes a “More Info” tab with links to external resources.
Season 1 concluded on May 1, comprising eight episodes about planes, clouds, materials, hurricanes, uncertainty, climate impacts, carbon pricing, and geoengineering. You can listen to TILclimate on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
MIT Climate is MIT’s central online portal for all things related to anthropogenic climate change.