Why is it that a vast majority of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing and that human activity plays a part in it, yet the American public continues to argue about it? How can the working professionals that LTER sites interact with talk to their stakeholders about climate change – and listen respectfully to their point of view – given the topic’s polarizing nature?
Julie Doll, KBS LTER Education and Outreach Coordinator partnered with Claire Layman, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Public Policy Specialist, to create a two-day informational session and interactive program to explore and answer these questions with working professionals in Michigan.
The impetus for this idea came from the professionals themselves. KBS has a long legacy of investigating the climate impact of various cropping systems. Doll shared this information with MSU Extension educators at their fall conference in 2011 as part of a Climate, Water, and Agriculture in-service training. Extension educators work with individuals, communities, and businesses across the U.S. to extend university research findings. At this meeting MSU educators expressed that they were struggling with how to talk about this contentious issue in their communities.
In response, Doll and Layman hosted a Climate Change Communication Workshop at KBS in April 2012. Mixing theory, history, tools, and practice, they focused on the social science of climate change and the importance of understanding the audience, values identification, and becoming an effective messenger of climate change information. The workshop engaged participants through group discussions, videos, readings, dialogue with a local journalist, and presentations. To put a human face to climate change, participants viewed and discussed Sun Come Up, a documentary nominated for an Academy Award in 2011 that follows the world’s first climate change refugees, the Carteret islanders, in search for a new home.
To apply what they learned to their own work, each participant committed to writing an MSU Extension News article related to climate change and their particular program area. In evaluations, they expressed appreciation for learning how to communicate contentious scientific issues in a nonthreatening and clear way.