climate (29)

  • Welcoming Our 2017 Fellows

    The Institute at the Golden Gate is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2017! Gabriela and Maria joined our team last week and are already working hard on their respective projects. We've asked both of them to share a little bit about themselves and discuss why they wanted to participate in our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. Keep an eye on our blog for updates from them about their projects.

    Gabriela Estrada, Urban Fellow

    My interest in the kind of work that this fellowship offers originally arose from many instances where I did not see inclusivity being the norm. It grew from my observations of different spaces not allowing for everyone’s needs to be met. This lack of inclusivity, I noticed, was especially present in the environmental realm and underprivileged communities. However, I was never quite sure how to go about approaching these situations and spaces. It took different mindful spaces, different mentors and their guidance to make me realize that I could become a positive change maker. It was through my development in this area that I was determined to take the knowledge I gained in order to create positive inclusive change in the community. As a result, I knew that after graduating college, I wanted a career where people’s needs were being met regardless of their socio-economic condition.

    Due to this, applying to the urban fellowship was in many ways an interesting mental process. I could not believe that a lot of the pivotal points that I hoped my new career interests would include, could be so present. This fellowship offered the opportunity to actively take an inclusive approach to very human needs with the aim of creating solutions for the homeless population who are down on their luck. Through the application and interview process I found myself more and more invested and eager to see what direction this project would take.

    During my time here, I hope to be able to complete the project successfully and make a positive impact in the community through the work that I do. I hope that my blind idealism will carry me through this project and that by the end I will have something tangible that will go beyond a simple idea of equity in the parks system. Additionally, through the length of the fellowship, I look forward to the wonderful professional development opportunities and people that I will meet and learn from.

    Maria Eller, Climate Education Fellow

    When I visited San Francisco for the first time, I was dumbstruck by the fog. “Look at those low, fast-moving clouds,” I exclaimed before someone explained to me what it was. The fog was as awe-inspiring to me as the Golden Gate Bridge is for others. You see, I lived in Arizona for most of my life- a native of the Sonoran Desert. I am familiar with cacti, monsoon storms, and summer days where the temperature reaches 110+ degrees. The Grand Canyon was the beloved national park of the area and my favorite place to hike with my family. Perhaps from such time outdoors and my family’s value of nature, I developed a growing passion for conservation and education. This led me to study sustainability and work in environmental education at Arizona State University. Yet, as I was approaching graduation, I was overwhelmed by the possible careers that my sustainability degree opened to me. What I was certain of was my desire to be positioned around a diversity of work while making a tangible difference.

    Now a few years later, I am back in San Francisco becoming reacquainted with Karl the Fog because I found such an opportunity with the Institute at the Golden Gate. The Climate Education program has been doing important work on using the park to communicate climate change and to overcome barriers that limit climate education in the informal setting. As the climate education fellow, I am excited to contribute to this work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). My project is to collaborate with BayCLIC partners in the planning and facilitation of science and education seminars. The seminars will bring together local researchers and informal educators to highlight local climate science. I feel so empowered and motivated to share my previous learning experiences with BayCLIC and to expand our awareness of climate change in the Bay Area together.

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  • Introducing the BayCLIC Website!

    After an exciting year since the launch of our climate collaborative, the Institute is very pleased to announce the creation of This website will be our one stop shop for all things related to the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). On the site, we have information on who we are, showcase some of our partners, host a number of climate tools, and offer information on how interested individuals can plug into what BayCLIC is doing. Check out our website to learn more about the three key themes that BayCLIC has identified for advancing climate education and action in the region as well as the tools we’re offering related to each theme.

    One key theme is to provide educators with more tools and training opportunities. Acknowledging that there are already many existing toolkits and trainings out there, BayCLIC’s biggest value add will be to point educators towards the highest quality professional development opportunities that are available in addition to condensing the process for getting started.  To do this, we’ll be designing and hosting on our website a climate education roadmap, which will provide a brief and digestible summary of the recommended steps an educator needs to take to start communicating on climate change. While we work to create this roadmap the site has handful of our favorite climate education resources for educators to start using.

    Another key BayCLIC theme is to go beyond climate literacy and shift individuals towards more climate friendly behaviors. Research shows that climate literacy doesn’t always lead to climate action so we’re hoping to bring audiences from awareness to behavior change through a coordinated climate messaging campaign across BayCLIC organizations. The goal of this pilot campaign will be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle use by recommending alternative modes of transportation. We’ll be taking the next few months to plan out this campaign; in the meantime we’ve recommended a handful of leading organizations pushing for alternative transportation that educators can suggest their audiences look into.

    Finally, our last initiative is to increase educator access to more local climate science resources, stemming from the commonly cited desire among educators to be able to speak more fluently on climate risks at their sites or regions. As part of this initiative, we are very excited to share a local climate science database featuring science resources like reports, data visualizations, and charts that focus on the San Francisco Bay Area. Educators will be able to filter by climate change aspect—sea level rise, erosion, etc.—by parts of the region, affected species, and more. We will continue to add resources to this database periodically and will be accepting additional suggestions of local climate science resources.  If you’d like to submit a resource, please contact us and tell us more about the resource you’re recommending. In addition to the database, we’ll also be putting on science and educator seminars over the next six months that will be focused on spotlighting local climate science work and create more connections within the Bay Area’s science and educator communities. Check back on our events page in the coming months for more information on the seminars.

    BayCLIC is looking forward to expanding our audience and we hope that, through this site, more educators are exposed to the opportunities for authentic, science-based, and personal conversations on climate change. For those curious about the challenges educators have in talking about this topic, what role education plays in this important issue, and what it means for the Bay Area, watch this brief 3-minute video that frames why we do this work. 

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  • Acting Collectively on Climate Change

    As we approach this Earth Day, it’s important to reflect that, as Rachel Carson one wrote “in nature, nothing exists alone.” Just as ecosystems are connected, environmental issues are connected to issues of social justice, community health, responsible land management, and much more. One of the most cross cutting environmental problems we’re currently facing is climate change, which not only touches the environment but affects the people, places, and animals we care about.

    Next week, the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy will be celebrating Earth Day (April 22) with a series of events throughout the week, wrapping up on April 29th. As a part of this celebration, the Institute will be hosting a climate change communications workshop for staff. Scheduled for Thursday, April 27th, this workshop will cover the role that parks can play in addressing climate change, basic climate science concepts, climate communications best practices, and share out some of the exciting progress already happening in our parks. The workshop will also set aside time for participants to think about how they can take back what they’ll learned to their own educational programs.

    One of the central takeaways for this workshop— and one of the reasons why collective environmental initiatives like Earth Day are successful—is that encouraging collaborative civic engagement leads to systems level action. The scale of climate change can feel vast and overwhelming and people instinctively want solutions they can take. It’s important to encourage individual level solutions like using less energy or driving less because these messages are impactful, short, and memorable. However, community level actions have greater impact and encourage a shift in social norms. As social animals, we have the power to inspire our peers and community members and encourage new behaviors. We see how the recycling culture swept San Francisco over the past decade; we can and must recreate this in order to have a tangible impact on the climate crisis.

    This Earth Day, think about what causes you care about and learn more about how to get involved with a group working on this topic. Support a public-bike sharing initiative, encourage proposals to subsidize renewable energy in your area, get involved in a local food movement. If you’ve thought about it, chances are someone else has too and that there’s already an organization working to advance your chosen cause.

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  • Reflections on 2016

    2016 was a year of both introspection and action here at the Institute. As an organization, we have continued to grow and evolve. The ongoing change allows us to be flexible and dynamic. It has also meant that we need to constantly assess our organizational identity and brand in the context of this evolution.

    Last year, we began a strategic communications process that has allowed us to take time out to evaluate our growth, what we’ve accomplished, and who we are as an organization. We have thought deeply about the language we use, pushing ourselves to match our message to the passion and potential of our work.

    We see a critical opportunity for parks to be catalysts for social change, reaching outside of their traditional boundaries to embrace a role that moves beyond conservation and recreation. By reframing parks in this way, they become more vibrant, relevant, and valuable to everyone.

    Over the past year, we have reaffirmed this mission and will continue to refine both our language and our program approach in 2017. At the program level, we reached a number of milestones in working towards this vision in 2016:

    • Climate: Publicly launched the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, a coalition of environmental educators dedicated to increasing climate literacy and action throughout the region. We also collaborated with the National Park Service and NASA to host a climate change education training for interpreters and educators in the Pacific West Region.
    • Health: Created two new websites, and, to connect park and health professionals to resources and to others interested in the nexus of parks and health. We also organized the first Bay Area Health Outdoors! Forum which brought together parks, health, and community organizations to explore new partnership opportunities, such as Park Prescription programs, that can help overcome complex health equity challenges.
    • Urban: Supported the National Park Service Urban Agenda. This included building a community of practice in the Pacific West and Intermountain Regions and supporting the one-year gathering of national stakeholders. We also began working with Golden Gate National Recreation Area leadership to identify opportunities to strengthen community outreach and support efforts to ensure that park management and planning processes are inclusive of all community voices.

    As we look forward to 2017, it is hard to know what the new year will hold. But I feel confident that, with our amazing team and the inspiring work we have ahead of us, we can take on any of the challenges that we face.

    Photo credit: Scott Sawyer

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  • Parks For All

    Photo credit: Kirke Wrench, National Park Service

    Call me sentimental, but I love the holiday season. I love the lights, the flavors, and the smells. I love that we make time in our busy schedules for friends, for family, for loved ones, and for our community. I also love the sense of perspective it gives me – the opportunity to reflect on what is important in my life and how my decisions reflect those values, both personally and professionally.

    I won’t sugar coat it, the past month or two has been a challenging time for many of us. Whatever your political stripes, most people can agree that the rhetoric in 2016 was more divisive than ever, and that we are entering a time of uncertainty and transition. How the things we value may be impacted in the years to come is not yet clear. Now, more than ever, I seek solace and inspiration from those around me, the values that we all share, and the work we are doing to amplify those values.

    Over the past year, the Institute team has dug deep into who we are as an organization, the key beliefs and values that motivate our work, and how those show up in what we do every day. One core value that has come through loud and clear is our belief in the role of parks as safe and healing spaces. We believe that parks must be welcoming and be available to all, no matter their background, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, ability… the list goes on and on.

    Parks have so much to give to society – they are places to build community, to engage in open and respectful dialogue, to deeply connect with people who are different from us, and to explore and overcome our common challenges. This belief is core to who we are as an organization.

    In this time of change and season of giving, we’d like to share just a few examples of park-based programs that are building community and offering healing, growing spaces. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we do.

    Please use the comment box to add your favorite to this short list, we know there are so many inspiring programs out there!

    From Donna:

    As the Institute continuously champions our beliefs that parks are for everyone, we know that our park partners are working tirelessly to make this belief a reality in the different communities around the Bay and country. Through our work in Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, we know that parks have been providing warm welcomes to new users for years through multicultural programming and First Saturday programming.

    East Bay Regional Park District creates large, intentional walks that bring together many different ethnicities to share wellness, culture, and enjoyment through its Healthy Parks Healthy People Multicultural Wellness Walks. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department offers gorgeous scenery while leading participants through Tai Chi and Qigong exercises.

    East Bay Regional Park District Multicultural Wellness Walk at Coyote Hills

    With park leaders playing a crucial role in carving out space for meditation, interaction, and reflection, we hope that you follow their lead to ensure that parks continue to be a democratic space for health, both physically and mentally. If you see prejudice or hate happening in parks, or your neighborhood, speak up and protect your neighbors. Parks are for all, forever. 

    From Oksana:

    This past year has brought to the fore a number of challenges this country still faces around racial, economic, and social justice. Tied in with all of these is climate justice. Parks provide invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and are also uniquely threatened by climate change. Through the Institute’s Climate Education program we work with park interpreters and other informal educators to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be the best climate communicators they can be. This includes not only telling the story of how our parklands are threatened by climate change but also how it will affect neighboring communities, particularly groups that are most vulnerable.

    There are a number of organizations working at the intersection of environmental challenges, public lands, and social justice, with one of the most prominent being Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). LEJ is based out of Southeast San Francisco and provides local residents opportunities in urban greening, eco-literacy, community stewardship, and workforce development. The Institute looks forward to continuing to celebrate how parks and their partners can not only help heal the environment but also how maintaining these democratic spaces is central to building an inclusive community.

    From Elyse:

    Lake Merritt, at the heart of Oakland, CA, is an obvious setting for a picnic, or a walk. As a proud resident of Oakland, Lake Merritt holds a special place in my heart. This park holds many fun memories for me.

    This year, Lake Merritt has also been a site for healing. When Oaklanders were reeling from the loss of friends and artists from the devastating Ghost Ship fire, it was Lake Merritt where we grieved together. After an election filled with dangerous rhetoric, Oaklanders stood up against hatred at #handsaroundlakemerritt, a show of solidarity and appreciation for the diversity of Oakland. These beautiful moments of Oaklanders coming together proved that Lake Merritt is where the best of Oakland can be seen.

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  • The past month has been a difficult one for climate action. The United States is now in a precarious position after having made great strides towards addressing this issue. However, the changing administration has galvanized many people dedicated to fighting climate change. Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council are just some of the organizations that received donation surges in order to support environmental causes like climate change. Countries, including the U.S., are still moving forward on clean energy. Britain has vowed to close all of its coal power stations by 2025. Right off the heels of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Marrakech, it is understandable that many were and still are reeling from the election. However, the wheels are already in motion to tackle climate change and there is an incredibly driven, intelligent, and compassionate community pushing forward.

    At the Institute, we have the pleasure of working with part of this community—local environmental educators—through our work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). The members we partner with are varied. Some of our member organizations discuss climate change through the lens of how it affects the lives of marine mammals while others use the perspective of energy efficiency, providing their audiences with practical solutions they can take home. However, what we have in common and the strength of our collaborative lies in the fact that all of our participating organizations want to showcase the importance of climate change in their educational programs.

    We’re incredibly excited to announce that in the coming year, we’ll be piloting a coordinated climate action campaign at five or more participating BayCLIC member organizations, focused on getting individuals to reduce their carbon emissions. In addition to this we’ll be participating in regional climate communication trainings based off of the proven National Network of Oceanic and Climate Change Interpreters (NNOCCI) model. Finally, we’ll be collecting local climate science data and sharing it through an online database. We’ve got some lofty goals for 2017 but we have the collective knowledge and dedication to push them through, building towards our mission of making the Bay Area the leader in climate literacy and action. With a collective audience of over three million audience members, Bay-CLIC is poised to make a huge impact with the products and services that we provide.

    You can hear more about BayCLIC and our climate action campaign at this year’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the premier conference on geophysical sciences, where we’ll be presenting. We look forward to sharing the Institute’s work with BayCLIC and coming together with the science community around our common cause of fighting climate change.

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  • Last week I traveled to beautiful Madison, Wisconsin for the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) annual conference. The week was full of illuminating sessions on the most pressing issues facing environmental education. There was also a lot of cheese curd consumption.

    One of the most exciting things about the conference was the significant focus on climate change. During the opening ceremony, NAAEE leadership discussed climate change as one of its focal areas, which will inspire future research and professional development opportunities offered by NAAEE. The audience was also galvanized by the opening keynote speaker, famed academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Takayoshi Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki talked about the relatively new phenomenon of the polarization of the issue of climate change as well as the heart behind what environmental education strives to do—cultivate stewards of the planet and safeguard our most precious resources, many of which we could not live long without, such as clean air, water, and soil. Looking at this issue from a 30,000 foot view really helped frame the larger purpose of environmental education; you could tell by the standing ovation Mr. Suzuki received at the end of his speech.

    After this inspirational kick-off, the conference continued to showcase high-quality sessions. Some of the most memorable sessions I attended included one on a comprehensive literature review on what works in climate education. In this session, the presenters shared out some of the main challenges in climate education, such as it being a topic that is invisible, distant, uncertain, debated, and hopeless. After going over 1,000 peer reviewed journal articles and narrowing down the articles that met the standards for academic rigor, the researchers found some fascinating takeaways on combating these challenges. These included much of what the Institute has found in our own research, such as focusing on climate change impacts on local ecosystems, using inquiry-based activities, and involving individuals in community-based climate action projects.

    Another session that really stuck out was a workshop on creating a climate education toolkit. The beginning half of the workshop was focused on looking at excerpts on climate change from science textbooks, paying special mind to the language used. It revealed that even in California some of the language used in public school textbooks gave the impression that human-caused climate change isn't agreed on by the vast majority scientists and that the consequences might not be bad. In the second part of the workshop, we were split into smaller groups and were able to brainstorm a framework for our ideal climate education curriculum. This provided a valuable opportunity to think through what essential elements some educators are hoping to incorporate into their lessons. In our group, we identified that we want climate science curriculum to discuss the scientific consensus around climate change, the scientific processes/methods that scientists use to get to their conclusions, science reasoning skills, basic information on climate processes, and more.

    Overall, I was impressed with the quality and the content of the presentations. I was no less impressed with the dedication of the environmental educators who attended the conference in order to walk their talk and educate themselves. Leaving Wisconsin, I felt energized and confident that we have a brigade of intelligent, passionate, and highly motivated educators that care deeply for the work they do.

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    Two weeks ago, the National Park Service celebrated its 100 years in action. Here at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy we commemorated the occasion with a picnic with our partners and park allies, the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust. In between burgers, cake, and friendly chatter, we had a number of presentations by park leadership representing these three organizations. One of the pervasive themes running through many of their speeches was the topic of climate change. At one point, the audience was asked to think about the founders of the Park Service and what they might have predicted their idea of the parks would look like in a hundred years. 

    We hear so much about tipping points in the climate conversation and it got me thinking that this centennial is a symbolic tipping point and an opportunity to re-envision many of the roles of parks and public lands on the issue of climate change. In a recent interview Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, stated that “fundamentally, [climate change is] the biggest challenge the National Park Service has ever faced.” Undoubtedly, it is a threat to the cultural natural resources that make American parks special; however, parks have a unique opportunity to serve as living laboratories for addressing this problem.  Parks also benefit from dedicated staff who are trained communicators, many of whom are becoming educated on this issue and are using their parks as a venue through which to talk about climate change in a way that provides this issue with a physical, personal context that visitors are interested in. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, for example, park staff no doubt emphasize that sea level rise could harm many of our coastal resources from Lands End to Crissy Field. 

    It’s no secret that acceptance and action on climate change has lagged in the United States. It’s amazing to think that prior to 2009, the National Park Service’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, did not have a formal policy on climate change. However, given this bumpy start, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. The National Park Service now has a number of strategic plans to address climate change, offers trainings on climate science and communications, and provides overall support across the service through its Climate Change Response Program. While this commitment to addressing climate change is laudable, many park interpreters face challenges in discussing this issue at their park sites. The reasons range from worry over visitor reaction (particularly negative reaction) to a lack of information on local, place-based climate impacts.   

    The good news is that many of these challenges are remediable. Communications specialists and social scientists are churning out new research regularly on tips and tricks for communicating on climate change which park staff can take back home to their sites. This includes focusing on clear, concise messages, giving visitors actions that they can take to address this issue, and infusing the conversation with personal stories as opposed to just statistics. Perhaps most importantly, a recent survey showed that most park visitors would like to receive information on climate change at the parks they visit; 91% even stated that they would change their behaviors in the park or refuge they visited to mitigate climate change.

    We’ve come such a long way since President Woodrow signed a bill in 1916 mandating that the National Park Service conserve the cultural and natural resources within the parks and ensure that they are both enjoyed by the public and preserved for future generations.  Now we are grappling with new, 21st century challenges such as how to make sure park provide welcome environments for the changing racial makeup of the United States as well as how to tackle human-caused climate disruption, which still has many unknown impacts. Luckily, our national parks are making brave efforts to discuss and address these issues head on. 

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  • The Institute is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2016! Lea and Maria recently joined our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are very happy to have them. We've asked both of them to share a few things about themselves so that we can all get to know them better...

    Growing up in Los Angeles, I was constantly reminded of how wonderful our environment is. Both of my parents were involved in the local park system, which led to my participation in tree-planting and beach-cleaning initiatives from a young age. Griffith Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., was a few minutes’ walk from my childhood home; the hilly terrain, winding trails, and untouched wilderness were my backyard and playground. This fostered a love of parks and the outdoors that I still have today. I was also fortunate to spend four years in Ithaca, known for its numerous gorges, waterfalls, and lush, green landscape (during the summer!).

    During my final semester at Cornell University, I was still wondering what in the world I wanted to do with my life. Meanwhile, it seemed as though everyone else had finalized their post-college plans months, even years, before graduation. Unrealistic as that notion was, the pressure to know exactly what one would be doing after leaving Cornell was palpable and undeniable. In the midst of my job search, the Health Fellow position with the Institute immediately caught my eye. In its description, I found my academic passion, public health, intertwined with my personal interest and devotion to public parks, nature, and the environment. The six-month fellowship also seemed like the perfect segue into the job market, allowing me to grow professionally before pursuing long-term job opportunities. I was sold! During my fellowship I will be focusing on two projects: creating a webinar series for the National ParkRx Initiative and assisting with Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. I am endlessly excited to be working at the intersection of public health and parks, and can’t wait to see where this fellowship will take me.

    Lea Kassa
    Health Fellow

    Hi, my name is Maria and I am the new Emerging Leaders, Climate Fellow for the Institute at the Golden Gate. I recently graduated from Simmons College in Boston where I majored in both environmental science and computer science. I was born and raised in San Francisco and I am so excited to be back at home! My past experience working at informal science institutions like the California Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Science in Boston has instilled in me a strong passion for science education. I became interested in this position because of its potential impact on the way educators teach climate change in the Bay Area.

    In addition to working with the Institute team, I will be working closely with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) which is comprised of environmental educators focused on increasing climate literacy and action. Bay-CLIC has identified three initiatives which represent the needs of educators to better address climate change. From these initiatives, my project was created. Over the next few months, I will be creating a database for educators of scientific resources and data related to climate change. As an additional tool, I will be researching existing public engagement campaigns focused on behavior change. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Institute team and am looking forward to all of the learning I will do during this fellowship.

    Maria Romero
    Climate Fellow

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  • For nearly two years, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) has been galvanizing some of the most well-known and well-regarded environmental education institutions in the Bay Area behind the common agenda of improving climate literacy and action in the region. During this time, the group determined its strategic plan, created a sustainable governance structure, and identified priority initiatives that will direct our next one-three years of work, all while establishing consensus across more than 30 organizations! Last Wednesday, we were pleased to be able to launch Bay-CLIC publicly and share out not only what resources and services Bay-CLIC hopes to soon offer—with opportunities for new partners to get engaged—but also put a necessary spotlight on the importance of climate change education.

    President & CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Greg Moore, opened up the meeting by getting right to the core of why everyone was in the room: to elevate climate education. Greg highlighted how the San Francisco Bay Area is particularly vulnerable to climate change and warmed up the crowd by sharing his personal experiences talking to family members about climate change.

    Following Greg, Ann Reid, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, articulated the need for more professional development opportunities for educators on climate science, detailing their recent report, “Mixed Messages.” The report found that: there is dearth of climate science knowledge among America’s public school teachers, over 30% of educators are giving mixed messages on the causes of climate change, and educators desire to know more.

    Milton Chen, Senior Fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, followed Ann’s comments by presenting on the opportunity within environmental education to address these challenges. He enlivened the room with success stories in place-based experimental learning models, touching on the unique niche that non-formal education inhabits by providing complementary learning opportunities outside of the classroom. After their presentations, Milton and Ann took part in a panel discussion that delved deeper into the most pressing issues in climate education, such as how educators might inspire behavior change through their climate education programs, which can oftentimes be new or uncomfortable, and very difficult.

    Finally, we dove into presentations from Bay-CLIC members themselves, representing the steering committee and working groups. They provided an overview of Bay-CLIC, our formation, our mission and vision, and went into more detail on the three initiatives that we will be working on in the coming months.

    With a turnout of almost 70 individuals—comprised of educators, scientists, government representatives, and other climate communicators—the collective knowledge and dedication in the room was incredibly impressive and heartening. Being fortunate enough to work with a number of inspiring partners, the Institute is keenly aware of the fact that the Bay Area has a strong community of folks dedicated to improving climate education and the sheer turnout for last week’s launch affirmed this. Bay-CLIC’s launch signaled a new and exciting chapter in our work and we’re honored and eager to continue to support it into its next phase.

    To learn more about Bay-CLIC, please visit our web page. If you're an informal educator in the Bay Area and would like to get involved in the group, please sign up for our newsletter for updates on the collaborative, including meeting dates.


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  • 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. 

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  • Earth Day held special significance this year. In December of 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (known as COP21), brought together over 170 countries to decide on and agree to an internationally-binding climate deal limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, officials convened in New York at the high-level signing ceremony. This is an important demonstration of the progress we are witnessing with climate action.

    Started in 1970, Earth Day is not only one of the catalysts of the modern environmental movement but also, with over 1 billion annual participants, it is now the largest civic observance in the world. Environmental educators, environmentalists, and other allies can recognize that while the growth of the environmental movement hasn't been the result of one concrete intervention but rather many intersecting actions, its growth is undeniable. 2014 was the first time in 40 years that the global economy grew and carbon dioxide emissions fell (Source: ThinkProgress).

    This incredible feat was thought nearly impossible by many; however, proponents of taking action to protect the environment recognize that, with enough collective will, making steps to reverse unsustainable global habits is possible.

    Starting last year, the Earth Day Network also initiated Climate Education Week (which runs from April 18th to the 25th) to spotlight the unique and integral role of climate change education within the broader scope of environmental education--with climate change affecting all aspects of the environmental system. Having the Earth Day movement give voice to climate education is huge and reflective of the elevated status that climate change is rightfully receiving in environmental discourse. 

    In addition to Earth Day, National Park Week (April 16-24) has just wrapped up. These two campaigns naturally intersect, with both focusing on the stewardship, preservation, and innate significance of our natural resources. The Earth Day Network even launched two campaigns that relate to open spaces: endangered species protection and reforestation. Our open spaces, whether wild or highly cultivated, are integral parts of our ecosystem and provide a multitude of benefits. Parks and other open spaces are not only threatened by environmental issues, such as climate change, but they also serve as outdoor classrooms that provide the perfect conduit to convey environmental education. 

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  • This week we have a guest blog post from Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at The Marine Mammal Center and member of Bay-CLIC. In honor of Earth Day (April 22) and Environmental Education Week (April 17-23), we asked Adam to speak on the importance of place-based climate education.

    The idea behind the Climate Change Education Initiative at The Marine Mammal Center is to bring climate change into the conversation.   We utilize the sick and injured marine mammal patients at the hospital as a vehicle to communicate the science of climate change, the effects it is having on animals, ecosystems and people, and what people can do in their own lives and communities to help curb carbon pollution. So often with climate change, the effects communicated today are very abstract and foreign to the everyday member of the public.  By highlighting marine mammals suffering direct consequences of changes in their ocean environment (and California's “backyard”), we can bring climate change to the forefront of the conversation and connect the community to the ocean ecosystem.  With the ultimate goal of releasing our patients back to the wild, we are able to inspire our guests to take action to help give marine mammals and ourselves a healthy environment to live in.

    I have been fortunate over the last 5 years to be heavily involved in many climate change focused projects, and have gained the skills, experience, and confidence to engage people around such a complex topic.  Beginning as part of a study circle with the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), and then being chosen as a Community Climate Change Fellow by the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), has provided me with a network to learn from and collaborate with. I am thrilled to continue to utilize those networks and contribute as a regional leader for the Central California NNOCCI alumni and a member of the Steering Committee for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) as I build our climate change programs at The Marine Mammal Center.

    (Adam Ratner in Center making the “Home Alone face” along with the other North American Association of Environmental Education Community Climate Change Fellows)

    Through a system of training classes focusing on climate change, we introduce hundreds of adult and youth education volunteers and staff at the Center to the science of climate change; providing them with tools for interpreting the science to audiences of all ages, and techniques to guide guests to identify solution-based actions to reduce their carbon footprint and become better environmental stewards. The “train the trainers” program allows us to capitalize on the great experiences that some of our education staff have had the opportunity to be a part of, and share it with hundreds of passionate volunteers that not only engage our visitors, but our community leaders of their own.  We have utilized the knowledge gained from the NNOCCI system where they provided staff and volunteers at zoos and aquariums around the country with climate change science direct from the climate scientists and scientifically-tested communication strategies from social psychologists to guide visitors toward strategies to reduce their fossil fuel use. Bringing together experts from different fields of science, communication, and social psychology allows us to build messages that are powerful and relatable, leading to stewardship in our communities.

    Through the project, in addition to the conversations had at the Center, we wanted to have a digital presence and create tools that can be used by the community.  One of the most exciting elements of the initiative is the development of a climate change animated short, in collaboration with the California College of the Arts and Bret Parker of Pixar Animation Studios.  Utilizing animation, under the direction of Bret Parker, highlights the science of climate change and effects on marine mammals in a way that can be engaging for both kids and adults.  The video will be launched in May 2016, along with web content on various aspects of climate change, to help us reach new audiences online and communicate our work at the Center for our guests.  Be sure to check out our website in May 2016 to see some of the great work that has come out of the first year of our Climate Change Education Initiative at


    Dr. Whizzlepuff and her assistant from the new climate change animated short by The Marine Mammal Center and the California College of the Arts

    © California College of the Arts

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  • Addressing Sea Level Rise Hands On

    This past Saturday, community members concerned with climate change, Crissy Field enthusiasts, and park staff converged together at the Presidio Officer’s Club to discuss how projected sea level rise might impact our beloved coastal parklands. Looking specifically at Crissy Field as a case study, workshop participants were able to learn about the anticipated climate change impacts on Crissy Field as a result of 3-6 feet of sea level rise, with additional scenarios illustrating how conditions would be compounded by the king tides (exceptional high tides) and 100-year floods (a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year). After learning about these potential threats, the room was divided into groups and each table was tasked with finding unique solutions to protect Crissy Field, such as building seawalls, restoring wetlands, elevating buildings, and more—including the unfortunate but sometimes necessary option of retreating (evacuating).

    Put on by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, and the California Coastal Conservancy, and facilitated by landscape architecture firm, CMG, this workshop engaged participants on the practical realities of climate change but also invigorated them with potential solutions. Despite it being a Saturday morning and climate change being the main topic up for discussion, the positive energy in the room was palpable. During the workshop participants were given maps of Crissy Field, which functioned as game boards, and they were able to add icons to represent the adaptation tools of their choosing. They were able to protect the fragile habitats of Snowy Plovers at the west end of Crissy Field Beach or elevate the Warming Hut store. After being informed that cost was not a deterrent, participants moved across the board with excited hands.

    The workshop had a number of highlights, including Superintendent Lehnertz’s stirring introduction which helped provide context for the day and illustrate the commitment by the national parks to address climate change head on. However, I think the main takeaway for me is that one of the best solutions to engaging community members on their own climate resilience is simply to ask them what their solutions might be. It’s amazing the response you get just by asking “what would you do?” As a San Francisco native, I couldn’t help leaving the Officer’s Club that morning with a lingering sense of having been a part of something incredibly significant for the special places and people of this unique region.

    Stay tuned for the results from the workshop!

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  • Cheers to 2015 – On to 2016!

    As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.

    2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.

    Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:

    Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.

    Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!

    Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.

    Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!

    Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.

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  • Last week Oksana and I headed downtown to join the throngs of scientists, researchers, students, and educators flocking to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting at the Moscone Center. AGU is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, attracting over 24,000 attendees. While Al Gore and a sneak preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stole the AGU headlines, there was also a strong contingent of people exploring how to improve and strengthen climate literacy at a national scale.

    The opening afternoon of the conference, Oksana kicked off a union session titled Enabling Effective Climate Literacy through Collective Impact. In her presentation, Oksana discussed the formation of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, the strategic planning process, and lessons learned for others interested in similar collaborative initiatives. The other presenters represented a range of unique collaboratives and engaged in a lively panel discussion where they shared diverse insights into common challenges such as funding, member engagement, and scalability.

    The Institute also helped to convene a poster session looking at the impacts of place-based education on climate literacy. The posters included place-based initiatives from across the country and included a unique partnership project between our partners at the Exploratorium and NOAA. In speaking with the various presenters it was interesting to note the different ways in which organizations define “place-based,” which ranged from a strong focus on nature, to a broader geographic definition, to an individual’s connection to community. As the Institute continues to explore this space, it is interesting to note the use of place and what it means to different people.

    In between the myriad sessions, we had the opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with folks from government, academia, and the private sector trying to tackle some of the most intractable challenges to climate education. The buzz and energy coming out of Paris was tangible throughout the conference and the critical importance and timeliness of this work wove a sense of urgency into every conversation. We explored the importance of site-specific efforts and the potential impact of regional collaboration. We came out of our days there feeling simultaneously drained and energized; the scale of the problem often felt overwhelming but seeing the passion and diversity of those working with us to tackle this issue was inspiring.

    Photo credit: AGU Blog

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  • COP21 and Global Implications on Climate Change

    Paris, like Beirut and Baghdad, has been rocked by a terrorist attack in the past few weeks, resulting in many casualties and a nation in panic. Despite a backdrop of grief and introspection, world leaders have decided to move forward with the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to take action on global climate change. While dissimilar in its level of devastation, global climate change poses many global risks to environmental and human health. The urgency of this conference is bolstered by a number of harrowing facts. Concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached a record high, new research links climate change to the severity and likelihood of the extreme weather events that occurred in 2014, each coming month breaks the record for hottest month ever recorded, and one of the major contributors to climate change, China, was recently outed for underestimating how much coal it burned in the past decade—hence under-reporting its contribution to CO2 emissions.

    However, not all the facts leading to the Paris talks are negative—far from it. Slated to have attendees from 190 nations, COP21 in and of itself is a testament to the global commitment to hold every nation accountable for its contribution to climate change. Additionally, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, indicating his commitment to elevating the United States as a key player in addressing rising CO2 rates.

    This year’s COP21 will run from November 29th to December 11th, continuing an effort that began in 2011 in Durban, South Africa. The ultimate outcome of this conference will be to create a legally binding, multi-national agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—considered by scientists to be the tipping point towards catastrophic climate change. Provisions in this treaty will likely include strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change impacts, and help countries that need assistance.

    Two years ago at COP 19 in Warsaw—well in advance of the Paris conference—countries were asked to provide their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), illustrating each country’s self-determined mitigation goals starting in 2020. While 156 countries submitted their INDCs, a UNFCC analysis shows that the INDCs submitted fall short of the 2 degrees Celsius benchmark. In order to get back on track with the intended goal, this Paris agreement will aim to create a flexible but sustainable global framework, building in provisions that require countries to return to the table periodically, potentially working to revise their INDCs or encouraging them to draft new ones.

    COP21 is significant not only in its commitment to creating a system of accountability for global climate change but also in highlighting the potential of the world to come together on an issue of grave importance regardless of religion, ethnicity, culture, or national border. This week the world is still healing from immense tragedy; however, our collective hope and the power of human progress keep us going—in Paris and beyond.

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  • Global Climate Change Week is just around the corner, starting October 19. This unique initiative encourages educators around the world to challenge students and their surrounding communities to take action on climate change. It recognizes that educators of all disciplines play a significant role in fostering civic engagement among students, not only teaching about climate change, but also empowering young people to take action. Action and climate solutions are spotlighted to illustrate that while climate change literacy is important, adapting to and deterring climate disruption will require action. The Institute at the Golden Gate supports related local efforts by playing a backbone, coordinating role for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. 

    Created in August of 2014, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative is composed of a diverse group of informal environmental educators dedicated to making the Bay Area the leader in climate literacy and action. While the Bay Area is a hub of progressive values and policies, there is still work to do in moving the needle on climate change. In a 2013 study conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, researchers found that while most San Franciscans believe global warming is happening (87%) only 11% are convinced that people can take action to reduce global warming and that they will do so successfully. This sentiment presents a serious obstacle—if people are pessimistic about our ability to take action against climate change they might be likely not to make individual changes or support collective action.

    The Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative hopes to empower educators to communicate to their audiences that while climate change is real and dire, there is hope and people should feel encouraged to take action. For the next 1-3 years the group will dedicate itself to three priority initiatives, or focal areas, aimed at helping educators build their communication toolkits in order to better convey this message and develop strategies that spur behavior change. These initiatives are listed below.

    • The first initiative is providing climate trainings for environmental educators. This will involve organizing trainings or larger gatherings targeted towards environmental educators and communicators. The goal of these trainings would be to increase knowledge of climate change and increase comfort and ability to effectively discuss the topic.
    • The second initiative, connecting educators to local impacts and science, will initiate projects that being together local scientists and climate communicators. Fostering this relationship will enable educators to refine climate messaging so that it is up to date, accessible, and relevant to local audiences.
    • Our most innovative initiative, piloting joint sustainability projects, will leverage the collective power of the group and serve as a catalyst for behavior change.

    These initiatives will be developed and implemented by three working groups, with working group members representing prominent organizations ranging from the California Academy of Sciences to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The steering committee will be responsible for making sure the group sticks to its lofty, yet achievable mission of increasing climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area by sharing successes and building capacity of climate educators and messengers. While our work is specifically focused on the Bay Area, the Collaborative is proud to join educators all around world in the call to action of Global Climate Change Week—to halt climate change through increased knowledge as well as personal and community level-responsibility to take action.

    If you are interested in getting updates on the Collaborative, please feel free to sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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  • Here at the Institute, we are BIG believers in collaboration. As a small but mighty team, we realize that to have the biggest possible impact and to create the change we want to see, we need to seek out, engage, and support other organizations to achieve our collective goals.

    As such, a number of our programs focus on supporting collaborative efforts. Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative are two such projects. In both, the Institute plays the “backbone” role; supporting the collaborative through coordination, holding the vision, and ensuring that the group is functioning effectively in the pursuit of its goals.

    Through both of these initiatives, we at the Institute have learned a lot about supporting multi-group collaborations (HPHP: Bay Area has over 40 members while our younger Climate Collaborative has over 20). By keeping an open mind and constantly striving to learn from those around us and our mistakes, we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks along the way. This week, we thought we’d combine our collective knowledge and share our top pieces of advice for building effective collaboratives.

    Kristin: The first step is always the hardest. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

    Easier said than done right? Bringing together a group of individuals or organizations for the first time can strike fear in even the most seasoned collaborator. After ten years of community organizing and coalition building I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, stumbled over a few hurdles, and certainly learned some valuable lessons. Some of the biggest, and translatable, lessons I’ve learned for getting an effective collaborative off the ground are:

    • Define a vision that all partners see themselves in. It’s essential that each partner recognizes the value of being part of the collaborative. To ensure this feeling sticks, take the time to establish a vision that sets out a clear path to a future that all partners wish to be a part of. Make it inspiring, big, hairy, and a little audacious and you’re on the right path. The vision sets the stage and provides an anchor point for the collaborative to grow from, swing from, and come back to.
    • Accomplish something tangible in the first six months. We all know how good it feels to check an item off your to do list. This is the same feeling you want the collaborative to have early on in its formation. Grab onto a piece of low hanging fruit that gets everyone to participate and results in something tangible. It could be as simple as writing external messaging about your collaborative or doing a stock taking of partner organizations capacity and resources. Pick something strategic and with a clear end date. And don’t forget to pause and celebrate your early successes along the way.

    If you go in knowing the collaborative is a process not a project you’re already ahead of the game. Just don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Have you had enough metaphors? Great. Get out there and do it and don’t forget to report back on your lessons learned.

    Oksana: Manage structure without managing content.

    Supporting collaborative initiatives is exciting work but requires unique skills, separate from those of collaborative members. One such skill that I have found to be incredibly helpful is the ability to manage structure without taking over managing the content coming out of the collaborative. For example, I may present on some best practices for drafting mission statements but will follow it with an opportunity for the collaborative members to use these tools to craft their own mission statement. Collaborative members must have the opportunity to share their thoughts, have their questions taken seriously, and make the ultimate decisions on the direction of the work, as they are the driving force behind the collaborative’s success. As the facilitator, I am best able to provide coordination and backbone support—setting the agenda, providing logistical support, keeping meetings on track, and jumping in if meetings are diverging dramatically from the agenda. However, the vision, goals, and activities of the group are decided by its members. Providing space for their input is crucial to creating a successful group where all members feel like they have buy-in.

    Donna: Humility is crucial.

    Humility is a crucial mindset to have when in a backbone position because it is the main bridge between a theory of change and its practice. As a backbone, it is often the case that you are not a practitioner in your topic of interest; for example, as a backbone to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative, the Institute neither leads park programs nor prescribes time in parks. While being a backbone organization allows you to dive deep into the needs and future goals of your collaborative, this theory of change is colored by your role as a non-practitioner with a different set of agency constraints. When a collaborative’s practitioners implement these goals, they will necessarily adapt them to fit their own agency constraints. Humility and keeping an open mind is important when drafting these goals, but it is especially important considering that implementing these goals may look very different from the theory of change. Understanding the crucial role that humility plays in collaborative efforts ensures that there is flexibility and feedback when charting the course forward.

    Catherine: Have patience!

    Kristin’s sage advice that collaboration is a process, not a project, is something that has stuck with me since we first started thinking about forming a regional climate literacy collaborative. If I have learned one thing since then, it’s that processes take time! This is especially true when you want to ensure that all of your partners feel ownership of the process and are inspired by the results. In today’s grant-driven, output-oriented world, it can be scary and challenging to dedicate the time that it takes to make sure you have the right people at the table, that they’re all on the same page, and that they all feel connected to you, to each other, and to the work. While walking through the process can seem slow, creating a strong foundation is critical to the overall success and sustainability of the collaborative.

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  • Blog co-written with Donna Leong 

    At the Institute, we look at health inequity and climate change as imperative social issues, particularly now that mounding research is illustrating how the two are inextricably linked. Specifically, we create and join conversations where taking action includes viewing parks as part of the solution to these issues. Community health inequities and climate change are problems that affect societies on a collective scale. That is to say, the actions of a single individual are not necessarily the root of the cause, but the collective actions of many individuals can be. For example, one group may decide to close a grocery store in an underserved neighborhood or another group may open a coal mine, leading to food deserts and expanded fossil fuel emissions, respectively.

    The individual scale on which most people operate creates a powerful psychological barrier to acknowledging the realities of climate change and health inequities. Climate change in particular is still perceived by some as a distant threat that is not directly relevant to existing communities, even despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe global warming is happening. Spurred by the misinformation campaign against the realities of climate change, this mentality of “not here, not now, not me” is quite tempting to adopt. However, illustrating the connection between climate change and health inequities is one powerful tool to make this issue more tangible and resonate with more Americans, without the political polarization which often arises in discussions of climate change as such.

    There is robust research illustrating the connection between these two issues, ranging from the severe effects of extreme heat exposure, leading to preventable heat-related injuries and deaths, to increased levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses as a result of air pollution made worse by climate change. These impacts are already being felt locally, nationally, and globally.

    • Between 1999 and 2009, extreme heat exposure caused more than 7,800 deaths in the United States.
    • In California, we are facing a first-ever statewide executive order for water reductions in order to combat the current drought likely resulting from climate change.

    The infographic below illustrates the vast impacts that a warming climate can have on communities. The effects of climate change on health are far-reaching, effecting people living in rural, woodland areas, where they are more at-risk for wildfires, as well as urban populations that are disproportionately affected by heat-island effect. Particularly vulnerable groups include young children, the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, and people of low-income.

     (Infographic source: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    While these impacts are pervasive, and perhaps daunting, people ranging from grassroots organizers to President Obama are discussing the connectivity of these issues with renewed vigor and taking action. At the Institute, we believe parks are problem solvers that provide unique solutions to the greatest issues, including the health impacts of climate change. Parks, especially urban parks, offer a number of ways to combat the effects of higher temperatures exacerbated by heat island effect. They temper high temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration, improve wind patterns in cities via park breezes, moderate precipitation events, and trap carbon in addition to other pollutants that adversely affect the ozone. Parks are also incredibly effective classrooms, acting as neutral venues to discuss—and witness—the effects of climate change. Additionally, parks are well-documented for having far-reaching physical, psychological, and mental health benefits.

    When confronted daily by the immense challenges facing our environment and our public health, advocates for these issues are sometimes tempted to despair. At the same time, simple and tested policy solutions like parks tend to be overlooked in the political discourse surrounding climate change. As Occam’s razor would have it, though, the simplest answer can often be the right one. As part of a comprehensive program for addressing climate change, parks are the practical and scalable seed of environmental advocacy, ready to be nurtured in every community.

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