In a blog post last month, I wrote about how climate change science is set to be taught unevenly in the US curriculum. It’s great that middle and high school age kids in the US are going to learn about climate change. Unfortunately, the Next Generation Science Standards are voluntary and could take years to implement. So is there an option if we want our children to learn about global warming now?
The non-profit Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) fills this need. Their mission is to, “educate high school students on the science behind climate change and inspire them to take action to curb global warming”. One look at their website and you can see they are on the right track in reaching their target audience. It’s packed with social media links and interactive blog entries.
Since the fall of 2009, ACE has reached more than a million high school students at over 1,550 schools. While this is impressive, there are some teachers and parents who oppose the presentations, believing climate change to be a controversial and/or political issue. However, all of the climate science ACE presents comes from peer-reviewed published science articles, with a focus on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4). The IPCC AR4 is one of the most heavily researched science reports in history.
ACE’s efforts don’t end with their presentations. They also offer Student Action Programs to help get kids started right away. Then ACE grooms student environmental leaders who influence peers and lead change.
With the help of an ACE grant, Daniela Lapidous and Shreya Indukuri installed energy monitoring technology at their school. Saving both energy and money led them to expand the project to other local schools. Their project’s success brought them to the White House’s attention, where a mere two years after their first ACE presentation, they advised Energy Secretary Steven Chu on their smartmeter project that reduced their school's electric bill by 13%. Daniela wrote about her experience on ACE’s blog, “Hot and Bothered” and is a co-founder of SmartPowerEd.org.
It’s inspiring to see the ripple effect that climate change education can bring about. And getting information about global warming to high school aged kids is critical and a conscious choice. "They're going to be the generation to feel the impacts [of climate change] hardest and first," says Matt Lappe, ACE's education director. "And so in some sense we target high-schoolers and young people in general, because they really have a right to know climate science."
We should all take a page out of the next generation’s book. Not only are they learning about global warming, but they are taking the next steps to do something about the problem. Taking charge of the future is what it is all about since they’re the ones that will have to live with the consequences if we don’t.
My last blog post covered the psychology of climate change. The post closed questioning whether or not the public will heed global warming’s warning signs. One of the dilemmas facing climate change educators is that research has shown that there is no single American public. There are actually six distinct audiences that need to be communicated with differently regarding climate change.
Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a Research Scientist at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, says in an episode titled, “Encore: Ending the Silence on Climate Change” this month on Bill Moyer & Company, “There are multiple publics within the United States. In fact, what we've identified are six Americas.”
Leiserowitz goes on to outline, “Six different Americas that each respond to this issue in very different ways and need different kinds of information about climate change to become more engaged with it.” He cautions those of us that want to educate others about global warming, “if we were to do a true engagement campaign in this country we would need to recognize that there are very different Americans who need to be engaged in very different ways who have different values and who trust different messengers.”
Here are the six publics that Leiserowitz refers to:
This group comprises roughly 16 percent of the public and is made up of people who believe global warming is happening. They acknowledge that it is primarily a human caused, serious and urgent problem, and they want to begin implementing solutions as quickly as possible.
However, they aren’t always certain what the solutions are. This is coupled with an uncertainty as to what they can accomplish as individuals as well as society at large. There are things we can do on both fronts, but there remains a communication gap climate change educators need to begin addressing.
This group composes about 29 percent of the public. Like the Alarmed, the Concerned believe climate change is happening, it’s human caused and serious. Where the two groups differ is on the urgency of the problem. The Concerned tend to think of global warming as a distant problem.
Distance is perceived by this group on two levels: in time and space. The Concerned think of climate change impacting their children or other future generations. Spatially, they think global warming is affecting Arctic animals or island nations such as the Philippines. In essence, climate change is a serious problem to this group, but they think there will be plenty of time to address it in the future.
Approximately a quarter of the public make up the Cautious group. This group is undecided. They question whether or not global warming is happening and what is causing it. They aren’t sure it’s even a serious threat, but at least they’re listening. Climate change educators need to engage this group on some of the basic facts of global warming.
This group comprises around eight percent of the public. These people have heard about global warming, but know nothing substantial about it. Climate change educators should begin by elevating the Disengaged’s basic awareness of the issue. Then they need to outline global warming’s causes, consequences and potential solutions.
The second to last group makes up roughly 13 percent of the public. This group doesn’t think climate change is really happening, and if it is it is natural and not human caused. This leads the Doubtful to believe there is nothing that we can do about the issue. These people pay scant attention to global warming, but even if they do they’re inclined to believe it is not a problem.
This last group comprises a mere eight percent of the American public, but they are very vocal. These people do not believe climate change is happening, nor do they believe it is human caused or a serious problem. Many of the Dismissive are conspiracy theorists who claim global warming is a hoax. They loudly and openly question the validity of climate science data, claiming it’s some sort of plot to further other countries and/or people’s gains.
As you can see from the six distinct publics, there are some definite climate change communication challenges, but the first step is certainly knowing your audience. Perhaps we should also consider looking at statistics in a different way, one that addresses humans’ visual nature.
Seeing Climate Change from a Different Perspective
Chris Jordan is a digital photographic artist best known for his large scale works portraying mass consumption, consumerism and waste. Jordan imbeds the message in his art. For example, the photograph above titled, “Caps Seurat” is made up of 400,000 plastic bottle caps, which is equal to the average number of plastic bottles consumed in the United States every minute. Jordan has said of his art, “There's this contrast between the beauty in the images and the underlying grotesqueness of the subjects. And it's something that I put there intentionally. Because I was using beauty as a seduction, to draw the viewer in to sit through the piece long enough that the underlying message might seep in.”
Now that you see the art of climate change communication, I’ll explore the political nature of the issue in my next blog post, which is the final in this three-part series.
One of the primary components of Carbonfund.org’s mission is to provide climate change education and public outreach through our programs, and through our business partners and supporters. Two of Carbonfund.org’s business partners recently teamed up in a great example of public outreach, hosting a zero-waste event in their community.
The City of Pleasanton, CA and Hacienda Business Park Owners Association hosted the 3rd annual Pleasanton Green Scene Fair on September 20th at Hacienda West. The event featured over 100 exhibitors providing information, demonstrations, raffles and samples of products related to health and nutrition, energy efficiency, commuting alternatives, water conservation, recycling, and locally-sourced foods. The event also included a special display of alternative fuel vehicles, a mini-farmers market and the “Off The Grid” gourmet food trucks selling natural and sustainable treats.
Hacienda Business Park Owners Association has been a CarbonFree® Business Partner since 2007, calculating and neutralizing annual operational emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean energy technology projects. And Hacienda’s Owners Association helps to spread the word about Carbonfund.org’s mission and projects, including the Million Tree Challenge, to the many businesses that occupy Hacienda’s properties. They also recommended that the City of Pleasanton contact Carbonfund.org to evaluate the fair’s carbon emissions and create a program to mitigate emissions associated with the day’s events by supporting Carbonfund.org’s clean air projects.
The road to succeeding in the fight against climate change and to hasten our transition to a cleaner energy future is to act boldly and work together to engage businesses, communities and networks to join in local and global efforts. The Pleasanton Green Scene Fair is a great example of partnership among a local business leader in sustainable operations, their environmentally-aware municipality and Carbonfund.org to promote environmental conservation and sustainable business practices in their community.