Climate Change Basics for Busy People

By Kelley Christensen | Published

The university partnered with the US Forest Service to provide education modules designed at Michigan Tech and shared through the Climate Change Resource Center.  

Scientists have long known that the Earth’s climate is changing, but finding interactive and up-to-date information about why it’s changing and what can be done to mitigate the changes can be difficult.

A team from Michigan Tech developed a series of climate change education modules for the Climate Change Resource Center to help US Forest Service, other government officials and the general public learn about the science of climate change, the effects climate change has on ecosystem management and responses to climate change.

The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science—a partnership between the Forest Service and Michigan Tech—co-chairs the Climate Change Resource Center, where the modules are available.


The first of the three comprehensive learning modules begin with the basics of climate change science. It gives a short overview of the climate system, greenhouse gases, climate models, current climate change impacts and future projections. Simple animations enable learners to understand concepts without distractions.

"The Climate Change Resource Center is what we consider the US Forest Service’s go-to website for climate change information for land managers. We want to make the science behind climate change and natural resources usable and useful to the people on the ground managing the resources but not necessarily doing the science."Kailey Marcinkowski, climate change education specialist


The second module provides a review of current and projected climate change effects on water resources, wildlife, vegetation and natural disturbances, which are specifically geared towards forest and grassland ecosystems.

Marcinkowski created the modules using Adobe Captivate, a program designed to facilitate e-learning, to address the Forest Service’s National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change. An element of that roadmap is a climate-change educated workforce. After going through the Forest Service’s curriculum, Marcinkowski spent about a year crafting the modules before releasing them in stages beginning in 2014. She is now in the process of updating them with the most current climate change science, as well as updating the Climate Change Resource Center website.


The third module explains a series of climate change adaptation options, the concepts of resistance, resilience and transition—and how to incorporate these concepts into natural resource planning. The module also provides definitions and descriptions of mitigation and restoration.

The modules are designed to be interactive and to allow learners to work at their own pace through the content. Additionally, the modules contain hyperlinks for further reading and examples of how resource managers are currently adapting their management practices to climate change.

Marcinkowski said it’s important to note that the modules are strictly about science.

“These modules are not political. They’re not taking a stance,” Marcinkowski said. “They’re telling you the science and the facts that have been peer reviewed. We’re not pushing an agenda at all.”

Interactive modules developed at Michigan Technological University help federal employees in the US Forest Service and the Navy understand climate change science and how to apply mitigation strategies to land management.
Interactive modules developed at Michigan Technological University help federal employees in the US Forest Service and the Navy understand climate change science and how to apply mitigation strategies to land management.

In the Navy

In the past few years since the modules were rolled out, other branches of the government have discovered that the usefulness of the modules goes beyond merely meeting the needs of the Forest Service. The Department of Defense also started using the modules as well.

Kristen Schmitt, a climate change outreach specialist at the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, began teaching courses for military personnel to supplement the modules themselves. She has conducted three to four courses annually, which are usually limited to 25 participants,  including officers, non-officers and some civilian staff on bases.

The climate change modules help the course participants meet natural resource compliance requirements on the military bases to meet federal regulations.

“A lot of times I worry that the material we are presenting is too basic,” Schmitt said. “A lot of the basic climate change science information is still very necessary, even among folks who are very knowledgeable about other scientific issues and very knowledgeable in their fields.”

Schmitt noted that information from the module has already proven itself useful. She gave the example of how base staff are addressing flooding at Norfolk Naval Base as sea levels rise.

And while the modules’ reception has been mostly positive, there has been some push-back.

“Climate change is still so polarized,” Schmitt said. “It seems to help explain it as risk management. No matter what you feel about the science, your job in this case is to make sure the buildings on the base don’t flood. Sea level rise could be one to four feet higher by the end of the century, and it needs to be incorporated into planning.”

But the modules are just a piece of what the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science does within the context of a broader program the institute has for climate change outreach and helping people with adaptation.

"This gives us the resources to work across boundaries when you’re talking about climate change and land management. The modules have been helpful for reaching a broad audience. They’re done in a way a lot of people can understand."Kristen Schmitt, climate change outreach specialist

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

Last Modified 3:05 p.m. March, 1 2019