This week I am reporting to you live from the National Council for Science and the Environment’s annual conference in Washington DC. The conference’s theme this year is “Energy and Climate Change.”
This is my first time at this conference and I was invigorated by the speakers’ focus on real world problems from the local to global scale. It was a very different feeling than an academic society conference, where mention of applied research and policy is often hard to find. The meeting was also somewhat interdisciplinary: lots of engineers (maybe more so this year because of the energy theme), folks from many federal agencies (including NOAA, NASA, USDA, and USGS); academics; people who work for NGO’s; business leaders (e.g. a Toyota VP); and a few policy makers.
However, throughout the meeting I found that there was a missing (gaping?) piece of the conversation–the voice of social scientists. The one speaker I saw who was a social scientist, Dr. Mica Estrada from UC San Francisco and the Climate Education Partnership, received the bulk of the audience’s questions and made the most meaningful contribution to her panel on “Facilitating understanding: Challenges & opportunities for climate change education in a range of sectors”. She is a PI on an ambitious, unprecedented project funded by the NSF. It is an education project focused on educating community leaders not students. By integrating expertise from communication specialists, a social psychologist (Estrada’s area), and climate change scientists, they hope to build a community of people concerned about climate change so that the community has a greater capacity to take climate actions. When asked, 90% of the local leaders in the San Diego area (study area) say privately they are concerned about climate change but they do not discuss it publicly because no one else is concerned—meaning 90% of the leaders in the area have climate change concerns in common but they don’t know it. So, one of the group’s goals is to get community leaders to be able to list six major local climate change impact areas (rising temperatures, sea level rise, wild fires, etc.) so that when the climate change issue comes up they have fodder for discussion.
Estrada has found that effective messaging (get out your notebook):