Since 2015, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been involved in an exciting partnership known as Earth to Sky (ETS). ETS is dedicated to providing professional development opportunities and creating a community of practice largely for informal educators around climate change science and communication, with a lens towards the natural and cultural heritage sites across the U.S. The partnership is strengthened by the fact that it’s comprised of some of the leading scientific education institutions in the nation, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Park Service (NPS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the University of California, Berkeley.
This past year, the Institute was able to provide planning support for a regional workshop on climate change science and communication, focused on the Pacific Northwest. With similar regional workshops rolling out across the country, it’s incredibly heartening to see that our nation’s prominent scientific organizations are dedicating resources to training educators on this important topic. What’s more heartening—the interest in these workshops is immense.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the first day of the three-day workshop and was blown away by the diverse backgrounds of the attendees. There were representatives from Native American tribes, park rangers from American Samoa, scientists from leading environmental government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.
Following the ice breaker, Dr. Ian Fenty of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory presented on the interconnectivity of the oceanic and atmospheric systems (in short, as sea surface warms, the atmosphere becomes wetter and warmer and vice versa). As a person who has only taken the scientific classes required in high school and college, I was highly impressed with Dr. Fenty’s ability to convey seemingly complicated topics to a predominately educator audience (along with his unique wit and humor). That evening, I eagerly told my family about what El Niño & La Niña and Pacific Decadal Oscillation are—along with other manifestations of climate variability—which they were forced to listen to thanks to filial loyalty. I also learned that 93% of global warming goes into the ocean so what might seem like a “hiatus” in land temperature warming is actually just more warming in the water. Once the sea surface temperature pattern, known as the the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, shifts again we’ll see another rise in land temperatures and more record-breaking heat.
Later on in the day, the group heard from Becky Lacome, training specialist with the NPS Interpretive Development Program, who spoke on interpretive strategies for relevance and engagement. The biggest take-away from her talk was that oftentimes personal, narrative truth is more effective in changing hearts and minds than science, or forensic truth (fact or evidence-based). New social science research bolsters that theory and, in fact, shows that many people interpret facts through a complex web of values, personal experiences, and group or social narratives. This has obvious implications for how people consume climate science.
We ended the workshop by being introduced to the plethora of public domain resources offered by NASA, which I’m excited to dig into. By the end of the day, I felt strengthened in my ability to grasp basic scientific concepts crucial to understanding climate change and think about the appropriate interpretive frames through which to discuss them. But more than anything, I was energized by the workshop participants who are making it a priority to educate themselves on climate change and bring it back to their organizations. If that’s not forward momentum, I don’t know what is.