INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Climate Action Sunday

Wild Bear Nature Center launched the first of a series of talks on Climate Action

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, Wild Bear Nature Center launched the first of a series of talks on Climate Action at the Center in Caribou Village. The keynote address was given by Max Boykoff the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Max has written and edited several books about climate change. The book he based his talk on Sunday Creative (Climate) Communications, as the title suggests, is about having communications regarding climate change. 

“Conversations about climate change at the science-policy interface and in our lives have been stuck for some time. This handbook integrates lessons from the social sciences and humanities to more effectively make connections through issues, people, and things that everyday citizens care about.”

The term “climate change” has taken on significant meaning both for opponents and advocates. In his talk Prof. Boykoff puts forth the proposition that to facilitate better communication it may be better to talk about the effects of a changing climate. Things like the legacy we are leaving our children, the availability and affordability of food, energy and housing, shifts in employment and natural resources and the general feeling of wellbeing in America and elsewhere.

The talk was sponsored by Wild Bear and our own SAB (Sustainability Advisory Board) whose members Melody Baumhover, Reid Barcus and Alvin Mites were in attendance as well as BOT/SAB liaison Alan Apt, and event co-sponsor, Nederland Community Library director Elektra Greer and other town servants. Wild Bear Executive Director Jill Dreves opened the evening by briefly sharing the exciting news on the status of the Nature Center that is going to be built on the Mud Lake property, the only one of its kind in the Nation.

Alvin Mites, wearing a Mad Hatter hat, introduced Max Boykoff listing his many academic credentials and reminding people that Xcel Energy brought cards offering giveaways of LED bulbs, low flow shower heads and other gifts to help conserve energy. Also available at the event were forms for helping to meet Nederland’s 100% renewable electricity goal by signing up for a Home Energy Squad visit. Residents can replace all bulbs with LED, install advanced power strips and sign up for the Xcel Energy renewable energy program. Alvin said, “This evening is about action, and these are things we can all do.”

Boykoff thanked Roberta Brown-Jones for inviting him to Nederland to speak and he shared his appreciation for the people who came to the event for valuing what his Center at CU Boulder works on as well. The students and staff of the CSTPR (Center for Science & Technology Policy Research) mission and vision: “Our long-term vision is to serve as a resource for science and technology decision makers and those providing the education of future decision makers. To improve how science and technology policies address societal needs, including research, education and service.”

Some of the topics that were discussed were how things relating to climate change can scale upward, the existential threat to all aspects of our lives, including cultural, societal, belief systems, economic, political, scientific and artistic. Prof. Boykoff shared the fact that “those who make the greatest impact are not always those with the most resources.” This theme, that everyone’s input, ideas, contributions and solutions are needed and welcomed threaded through the event’s agenda. Not just scientists, policy makers and influential people but artists, comedians, teachers and working class concerned citizens, all of whom were represented at the discussion. Cooperation and collaboration are a focus and a practice at CSTPR. 

Visit CSTPR for more information on programs like Comedy for Climate Change, Inside the Greenhouse Project, and the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)

Max also shared the work of many of his colleagues and associates including Deserai Anderson Crow who edited the book Culture, Politics and Climate Change, How Information Shapes our Common Future in a collaboration with Boykoff. He referenced Susanne Moser, Director and Principal Researcher of Susanne Moser Research & Consulting. Her work focuses in part on equitable adaptation to and transformation in the face of climate change. It is climate change communication in support of social change, decision support and the interaction between scientists, policymakers and the public.

Other studies and advocates Boykoff spoke about were Project Drawdown, Carvalho & Burgess 2005 article “Cultural Circuits of Climate Change”, and Josh Pasek of the University of Michigan and his research exploring how new media and psychological processes each shape political attitudes, public opinion and political behaviors. He talked about Kari Marie Norgaard, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon and her work on the social organization of denial, especially regarding climate change.

Also mentioned were Leaf Van Boven, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at CU, and Amanda Carrico an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist, also, at CU and Peter McGraw and the Humor Code. Sharing of sources of information on climate change dialog was also shared by many in attendance. John Ott had a copy of the Report by the National Center for Science Education, Spring 2017 with tips on how to have controversial conversations, including on climate change.

The discussion Sunday night was lively with many comments and stories shared by those who attended. “How do we make it so more people are less scared,” asked Ara Greer. On the topic of denial Zoe Lewis said, “You can’t run away from climate change, how do you cultivate greater awareness.” Reid Barcus shared that “the technology for building windmills and oil derricks is very similar” on ease of transition to clean energy. Another scientist and teacher in the room shared how controversial it was when she planned to support her students in the Climate March.  Alan Apt brought up the point that people are overwhelmed and may avoid climate change advocacy and activism because they may be denigrated for their enthusiasm and action in the face of apathy and acceptance of the status quo.

This question of the danger of voicing the truth of climate change with people, in contrast to the statement “Scientists should stand up and advocate for scientific evidence” made by Shahzeen Attari and shared by Boykoff, may be the key to why progress “is moving in the right direction but not fast enough”. Learning how to communicate so that everyone in the conversation feels heard, feels like they are working together towards solutions and common goal. 

Prof. Boykoff shared a lot of information and reminded attendees that more is available in his book Creative (climate) Communications; Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society. It is also available online and at the library.

The key takeaways were; Be authentic, be aware, be accountable, be imaginative and be bold. Find common ground and emphasize the here and now, focus on the benefits of engagement to empower people to “smarten up”. 

When people make small changes, from small to big, it makes them more aware that they are making changes, working together on land, air and water quality issues we can make a huge impact.

Max, a reader of The Mountain-Ear, said, “In a 21st century communication environment, we must smarten up how we communicate with people to find common ground as we discuss the changing climate. We can draw on a lot of research and practical work has been done that can effectively provide insights and pathways to greater engagement and action on climate change”.

(Originally published in the January 30, 2020, print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)