Natural Hazards Editors' Vox

They Got to “Ask-Me-Anything.” So, What Did They Want to Know?

On behalf of JGR: Oceans, I consented to a Reddit Science AMA. What did an anonymous public want to learn about oceanography and climate science? More importantly, what can we learn from them?


When the AGU Publications staff asked if I would be willing to conduct an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) on the Reddit website/social media platform, my first reaction was, What is Reddit? I had mixed feelings about parting with an entire morning, but I found the prospect of answering questions from real people like DrPineappleButts and FishesNBitches in real time about the vitally important science that we do and publish at AGU too intriguing to pass up.

Lacking much in the way of expectation, I found this rapid exchange with an anonymous public collective to be astonishingly honest, elevated, and thoughtful. Contrary to my emotional preparations, I was not heckled (or “trolled”) by an agitated mob of people who deny the scientific underpinnings of climate change. Instead, two common themes emerged loud and clear by midway through the live Q & A period. One concerned the paradox of how one can be an oceanographer in a landlocked state. (Short answer: Computer models, satellites, buoys, and airplanes!) The second theme was: How is climate change affecting our oceans, how bad is it going to get, and what should I do? It was as though people came out to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking elsewhere—a clear sign of the tension (and often hostility) present in American climate change discourse today. I was most struck by a question posted by the5issilent, who asked:

“I come from a family that’s ultra conservative and as a result they are fierce deniers of climate change […] I can’t seem to reach past the rhetoric […] Do you have any simple observations that they can make themselves to help see the reality of it? I’ve tried to point to glacial retreat, arctic ice disappearing and record average warming year after year, but still no success. My family respects science, they’re engineers, but it seems to me they’re doing mental gymnastics to hold to their belief.”

Now, I’m not exactly comfortably speaking on behalf of an entire scientific community, but I recognized the moment questions like this appeared that this was a fleeting opportunity to have a brutally honest exchange with an open and concerned public—a far more important conversation than I would have had that morning otherwise. It is a tall order to address such pointed questions about the state of climate change science and the impacts on our oceans. Surely, many of my colleagues could have given better answers than I. But the clock was ticking, and I gathered that just being there to answer was the most important part.

I would strongly urge my colleagues across the Earth sciences to continue saying “yes” when asked to engage in dialog with the public, no matter how unfamiliar the venue or how vulnerable you may feel. At the end of the day, our work toward understanding our climate system and communicating that understanding to affect positive action is, in a way, an effort at peace—not just peace among nations, but between believers and naysayers, between humans and other species, and between humans and the planet as a whole. Our willingness to talk to each other about difficult issues is a necessary part of this process. We all know that discourse on climate science in public forums can easily be trampled by a few loud voices, but I signed off the AMA reminded that people with good hearts and open minds are out there wanting answers, just like we scientists do—they simply need a safe space to ask.

All of my responses to questions posed by the Reddit community were permanently archived by The Winnower (DOI: 10.15200/winn.145761.11608).

Kris Karnauskas, Editor, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans; email: [email protected]

  • Dale Anderson

    AGW?? In 1958 the US National Academies of Science (NAS) warned the US government that they had detected a robust Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) signal, they have not changed their mind on that claim for 58 years.

    The last serious scientific objection to AGW was overcome in the mid 20th century by improving spectrometers in heat seeking missile was a remarkable coincidence, NAS took full advantage of that opportunity.

    There are several reasons the climate scientists are firmly convinced human activity is causing the current episode of global warming.

    One major reason is the geological survey scientists have found that during the past 120 years, human activity has emitted annually on average as much CO2 as that from 18,000 active volcanoes the size of Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii.

    There have not been anywhere near that number of active volcanoes on Earth during the past 50 million years.

    In addition human activity emits a large amount of CH4 due to rice cultivation, animal husbandry, mining coal, landfills, human waste treatment centers, deforestation and fracking oil and gas wells.
    We also emit a great amount of N2O, which is (*300 times more potent*) as a greenhouse warming gas than is CO2. Plowing land for crops and using oil based fertilizer is the primary reason for human activity emitting N2O. Atmospheric N2O is soon going to be a more serious issue than atmospheric CO2.

    Those are just some reasons human activity is causing the current global warming and it is now near as disastrous as the natural global warming which occurred 260 and 55 million years ago due to massive and long lasting volcanic activity, which some scientists believe may have been set off by asteroid strikes.

    In any case; the current global warming is due to humans burning fossil fuels, primarily from burning coal.

  • DavidAppell

    Kris, you ignored the last reader you quoted in this article.

    He/she has a very legitimate question: what is the best evidence for AGW?

    Why should he/she or I accept this hypothesis as true?

    • Dale Anderson

      An excellent point David… However; AGW is no longer a hypothesis. It has been an accepted scientific theory now by the vast majority of the scientific community.

      Like the theory of gravity, until someone proves it is not a valid scientific theory, AGW is accepted science.

      • DavidAppell

        I agree — the AGW hypothesis has been proved. It’s certainly accepted by every — EVERY — scientist I have come across.

        • Dale Anderson

          Yes; thank you. That is why it is now an AGW scientific theory.

    • Bart_R


      You may find the answer at

      Hi the5issilent. I bet you have some interesting family gatherings! Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, right? It is tough to think of a direct observation that can be made by one person at one time that would reveal the reality of climate change, as detection of climate change naturally requires careful observation over time. These are the essential facts: (1) atmospheric CO2 is increasing, (2) fossil fuel combustion is responsible for the increasing atmospheric CO2, (3) the increasing atmospheric CO2 is causing the temperature and chemistry of both the atmosphere and ocean to change, and (4) global warming has (and will have) serious impacts on both human and natural systems on Earth. Which one of those facts is being denied? If (1), then I would discuss the record of observed CO2 since the 1950s ( There are longer records, of course, which reveal that the increase began around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. If (2), then you might discuss how we know that the increase in CO2 is due to fossil fuel emissions; carbon atoms that results from fossil fuel combustion have a distinct isotopic fingerprint. The science on this is a bit dense, but here is one of the main papers in case you’re interested ( If (3), then I would discuss the physical underpinnings of the greenhouse effect, and the hundreds of climate model experiments that show that the only way to explain 20th century warming is by increasing greenhouse gases. For (4), it sounds like this is where you already have some great ideas for experiential changes. In the end, you might consider asking your family if they’d be willing to look at the Summary for Policymakers from the latest IPCC report, freely available online here: The IPCC is part of a UN effort to comprehensively review and summarize the current state of the science on climate change. You could also email me and I’d be glad to provide some lecture materials that I have that developed over the years. I hope this helps!

      • DavidAppell

        What is your point?

        Don’t point me to a link and expect me to guess.

        • Bart_R

          My point?

          You mean, other than was covered amply in the dozen sentences directly quoted from a tenured professor who has amply explored some of the best evidence for AGW, to save you the trouble of going to the link, plus the links he himself provided?

          My point, as Dale Anderson amplified ten days ago, is that science long ago did the work of answering that question. Some six decades ago, we had ample answer for the AGW question.

          It’s past time to act on that question, by some sixty years.

          So, my point is, try the PIE:

          + Privatize fossil waste disposal at a Market price, with revenues paid to each citizen with lungs, as a way to send a price signal for fossil intensity. The Whitehouse-Schatz American Opportunity Carbon Fee Bill is a good start in that direction. If government won’t see this as much its duty as administering weights and measures, then do it yourself by telling those who sell to you that you only buy from those who have paid their CO2 debt by offsets; it’s not the ideal of charging real Market rents, but eventually we will get there one step at a time.

          + Indict those racketeers whose payments to obscure, perjure and lie about fossil waste liability to stakeholders are provable in court, diluting the fossil carbon price signal. If your government won’t do it, then get a class action going. It’s not the same as recovering the $360,000 on average Americans owe for their fossil waste dumping debt each, but it will contribute to balancing the unfairness we all feel.

          + End subsidy to fossil, that the Market might choose the winners by price signal, not the donors of elected officials. Vote out any subsidizer or supporter of tax deferrals for fossil.

          Collect what you’re owed by fossil waste dumpers. It amounts to some $360,000 by my reckoning owed to every American, and so that’s 360,000 reasons for fossil waste dumpers to keep dumping until you send the collection agents to their door.