KBS provides climate change communication training for working professionals

Network News Spring 2012, Vol. 25 No. 2
Site News

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that our climate is changing and that human activity plays a part in it. Why does the American public still doubt these facts? How can the working professionals with whom LTER sites collaborate talk to their stakeholders about climate change  and listen respectfully to their points of view, given the polarizing nature of the topic?

To explore and answer these questions Julie Doll, the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) LTER Education and Outreach Coordinator and Claire Layman, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Public Policy Specialist, organized a two-day informational session and interactive program for working professionals in Michigan.

The impetus for this April 2012 workshop came from the professionals themselves. KBS has a long legacy of investigating the climate impact of various cropping systems, and Doll shared this information with MSU extension educators in 2011 as part of a Climate, Water, and Agriculture in-service training. Extension educators work with individuals, communities, and businesses across the U.S. to extend university research findings. At that meeting MSU educators described the challenges of talking about climate change in their communities.

In response, Doll and Layman hosted a Climate Change Communication workshop focused on the social science of climate change, the importance of understanding your audience, identifying values associated with climate change, and becoming an effective messenger of climate change information. Mixing theory, history, tools, and practice, the workshop engaged participants through group discussions, videos, readings, dialogue with a local journalist, and presentations. To put a human face to climate change, participants viewed and discussed Sun Come Up, a documentary nominated for an Academy Award in 2011 that follows the world’s first climate change refugees, the Carteret islanders, as they search for a new home.

To apply what they learned to their own work, each participant committed to writing an article related to climate change and their particular program area for MSU Extension News. In evaluations after the workshop, participants expressed appreciation for learning how to communicate contentious scientific issues in a nonthreatening and clear way.