The issue of climate change presents unique and oftentimes difficult challenges to those of us working to combat it. Given the controversy and scale of climate change, it’s easy to see that effectively teaching about the topic would present its own set of barriers and challenges. But what exactly are those challenges and barriers in our region? And what are the greatest needs facing environmental educators grappling with climate change in the Bay Area?
Over the past six months, the Institute has conducted over 75 interviews with environmental educators representing 44 different organizations within the Bay Area to try and answer these questions. The purpose of these interviews was to paint a picture of the current landscape of climate change education in the region, identify common needs and challenges, and explore opportunities to support informal educators in tackling this topic.
In this effort, we are excited to announce the release of our newest report: Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment Report.
This report shows that environmental educators in the region are deeply committed to climate education. Seventy-eight percent of assessment participants reported that they are either currently implementing or are in the process of developing some form of climate programming. However it is interesting to note that these programs ranged from entire outreach initiatives based on climate change to one docent-led hike per year or lecture on the topic.
At the same time, environmental educators are facing a number of similar challenges to implementing effective, high-impact climate literacy programs. This assessment found that the primary needs and challenges could be broken into the following categories:
While these challenges may seem daunting, Bay Area educators are also committed to working as a group to address and overcome these barriers. We plan for this report to spark conversation, analysis, and action around how we can work as a community to support each other in addressing this crucial topic. We ask that you read this report with an eye to identifying opportunities and solution, and that you share it with your network of educators, engaging your colleagues in the discussion.
In this, the Institute is helping to lead this charge and playing a support and coordinator role in the formation of a Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. To join or learn more about this collaborative, please contact us or sign up for our mailing list.
Diversity, what is that? One of the main topics of conversation in the environmental movement is that of diversity. Here in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we are home to an incredibly diverse population, both culturally and ethnically. Therefore the question remains how parks can actively engage all of these different communities.
Last Thursday I had the chance to attend an event put on by Latino Outdoors called “Yo Cuento.” The title of the event can be interpreted in various ways – I count (as in numbers), I tell a story, or I matter. The founder of the organization, Jose Gonzalez, brought people together to explore the role of culture as it pertains to an individual’s interpretation of the outdoors.
In essence, different cultures interpret nature in different ways. The park world should therefore step outside of its park mentality and be willing to go into unexplored and perhaps uncomfortable places to reach the non-traditional park user in an engaging and meaningful way. One of the main points of conversation revolved around viewing our ignorance, biases, and preconceived notions of others as a valuable trait rather than a hindrance. In other words, if we are open and honest about our ignorance then we set ourselves up for open dialogue and this honesty can be refreshing. We can do this by framing our data-driven messages with a dose of storytelling.
Ask yourself this, what is the Latino Story? For some it means illegal immigration or Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Here is another question – have you heard of the Monarch Butterfly? If so, how are the two related if at all. Well, it represents both an endangered butterfly, and a symbol to migrant workers. Jose showed two maps – one represented the migration patterns of the butterfly and the other for migrant farm workers in the US. The two could almost be superimposed. This story gives personal meaning to both an environmental concern and a human concern with a much more powerful impact than a more traditional and scientific approach to the conservation of an endangered species.
This led him to talk about the academic research that supports the notion of culturally-dependent interpretations of nature. He showed the following adaptation by Charles Thomas of the original Edwin Nichols model:
He used this table to point out the subtleties of the different cultural interpretations of the outdoors. However, this is not a definitive tool but rather something to help us be open to differing perspectives. According to the table, some groups may be more interested in the scientific approach to nature while others may be more interested in how we can relate to each other in the outdoors as a group. Essentially, we should be using storytelling as entry points to topics of diversity and inclusion. We have to step into the discomfort that may come with changing our programs or services into something that may not fit our vision of what they “should” be.
One of the major questions revolving this topic is that of safety. How do you make people feel safe? One of the best strategies is to be willing to be vulnerable yourself by making explicit the existence of preconceived notions that are created based on biases formed from lived experiences. Once people realize that you are being honest with yourself and others, then it can lead to shared growth. To test, he showed us a picture of a Latino family outdoors as an example. It was a family of 3. They were wearing normal clothes and not the typical outdoor gear that is promoted by places like REI or the traditional Sierra Club member. He then asked the group if they thought that the people in the picture fit into the perceived notion of what gear you need to enjoy the outdoors. When compared to an ad put out by the Sierra Club depicting a lone person fully geared to go backpacking there were even bigger distinctions noticed. The message is essentially the same but it probably appeals to different audiences.
So, he then asked direct-service providers in the audience (mostly National Park Service rangers) to ask themselves, “What am I doing to create opportunities that people then choose to be a part of?”
What can you do? You can spark growth by learning different ways in which you can frame your story. This can manifest itself in doing outreach in non-traditional outlets for job postings, framing the program language so that it appeals and engages non-traditional audiences and finally, exploring what levels of discomfort you are willing to put yourself in to grow as an organization, as a professional, and as a modern conservationist.
“The Philosophical Aspects of Cultural Difference” Adapted by Charles Thomas from original work done by Edwin J. Nichols, Ph.D.
The Institute was delighted to welcome the Oceans Conservancy, Envision Education, Conservation Studies Institute, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and more this fall as part of our Institute-rate bookings in partnership with Cavallo Point Lodge. Through this partnership, environmental groups can apply for discounted, over-night meeting rates for bookings between the months of November and April of each year.
The Institute was pleased to welcome Envision Education back to Fort Baker in early December. IGG Director, Chris Spence, gave a few brief remarks to the group including appreciation for their work providing young people, especially those from underserved communities, with an education that prepares them for the complex and intertwined challenges of being responsible stewards of the planet and society – a truly noble goal.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Science team generously invited the Institute team to hang out around Cavallo Point’s fire pit and shoot the breeze. Staff shared what the Institute has been up to in the last year as well as a brief history of Fort Baker. In turn, the Science team gave updates on the amazing things they have been up to including, but not limited to, 1)work on a thirty meter telescope that will allow scientists to see the farthest reaches of the universe, study light from the earliest known stars, and test the fundamental laws of physics; 2) earthquake early-warning research and where the next big quake will hit; and 3) researching the ongoing aquatic and marine life fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It was a reinvigorating afternoon spent with admired colleagues.
Conservation Studies Institute has met at Fort Baker twice so far this fall and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them back each time. The Institute is proud to call CSI friends and partner as we work together to keep the National Park Service a key player in the conservation world. This fall’s meetings included discussions on urban parks and the urban agenda.
The above are just a sampling of some of the amazing groups that have taken advantage of our Institute rate. To learn how you can apply for this amazing deal and join the thousands of other professionals that have called Fort Baker home for their environmental meetings, check out our Convene page, or give us a call at (415) 561-3560.
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