An essay on climate change should refer to the best and most recent research on the topic. Investigate the issues fully before you begin writing so that you can start your paper fully armed with information. Your purpose is to enlighten the audience and to convince the reader that your opinion is the right one. Information, organization and diplomacy are essential when writing about a controversial issue.
Define Your Terms
Terminology used in the climate debate is familiar to most; nevertheless, before you begin writing, think about whether you can easily define the terms -- even the word climate. According to the National Science Foundation, climate is the average weather of a certain region over time. Climate change, then, means you're talking about global climate. The term greenhouse gases will likely be used in your essay, but are you prepared to discuss fluorocarbons with confidence? What about aerosols?
Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the popular terms used in the media and their scientific equivalents. Learn about all of the activities on Earth that are thought to contribute to greenhouse gases, including those that are not as commonly discussed. Cars are talked about incessantly, but look into other topics, such as agriculture.
Mean What You Say
Decide on your thesis. What is your opinion concerning climate change? Your thesis statement can promise to prove to the reader, for example, that research indicates humans have played an undeniable role in the warming of the planet. Conversely, you could argue that you believe climate change to be a normal occurrence (when surveying the vast expanse of geological time) that would have happened regardless of human activity. That thesis is more difficult to defend, so good research as evidence is key.
Consider using a thesis argument that is fairly narrow in scope. Writing about melting glaciers instead of the whole planet may be easier, depending on the length of your essay. Whatever you decide, place your thesis statement at the end of the first, or introductory, paragraph.
Regardless of what is said online and in the media, the crux of the issue with climate change is not whether it is occurring, but rather how much humans bear responsibility for it. That makes your job as a writer easier. Don't fall into the trap of arguing for or against extreme views that may get press attention but have little to do with hard science. You are writing about a controversial topic, and it's important to remain diplomatic and even-handed.
Persuading the reader with reason is your best tool. Stick to a classic organization model for writing an essay: introduction, three or more body paragraphs of support for your thesis, and then a conclusion. Write in a calm and reasoned manner, and back up all major claims with citations to references.
There's politics in everything, including science. One could absolutely make the argument that some governments and federal agencies have played up the significance of human activity in climate change, while others have seemed to minimize the role of humans. As a writer, you could tackle the issue of the government's relationship with energy companies, but if that's not your focus, rise above the fray and stick to environmental impact issues.
Keep your readers interested by telling them things they haven't heard before. Describe what new or interesting techniques researchers in the field are using, such as analyzing ice cores or tree-ring data. Some scientists are tracking the movement of species in the wild, finding them in new or different places. You may want to write about changes in coral reefs, or about evolutionary changes seen in some species. Finally, since many different scientific communities are working together in interdisciplinary studies to help solve the many questions posed by climate change and its effects, think about their cooperation and ways you can incorporate that spirit into your essay.
Matt Rauscher has been writing professionally since 1996, recently serving as a contributing writer/film critic for "Instinct Magazine." He is also a novelist and co-author of a Chicago city guidebook. In 1997, Rauscher graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in rhetoric.