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How to Talk about Climate Change So People Will Engage

Tucker Smith


It’s a new year----- and time we talked.  My husband and I attended a day-long workshop devoted to this topic late last November.  Long-time educators at New England Aquarium/Zoo New England and Naragansett Bay Research Reserve, members of a 1500-strong nationwide network at “informal science centers” (think museums, zoos, aquaria, parks,nature centers, etc.) led the session.  This NNOCCI.org network collaborates to provide every visitor with solid understanding of climate science and common values.  Why? So that everyone can engage in positive, civil, personal conversations about Climate Change confidently and talk about solutions to the emergency it is causing. What did I learn? 70% of Americans now believe Climate Change is real, however, 65% never discuss it [source: Frame Works Institute]. Remaining silent denies each of us the opportunity to connect with each other, to work collectively for large-scale changes that Climate Change solutions require, and to feel empowered by our shared endeavor. ‍ What common values do we agree upon?  Frame Works Institute’s research indicates that people relate strongly to values of protection, stewardship, and management.  Protection is the desire to keep from harm what one cares most about: families, communities, property,planet – even pets. Stewardship is the acting-out of caring, such as by changing old habits that pose environmental risks.  Management is using natural resources responsibly and taking practical steps in the best interest of future generations.   ‍ So…. Why don’t we talk? Frame Works Institute’s research shows that many people feel confused about climate science and uncomfortable with their understanding of it. As a result, awkward silence and avoidance prevail. Here are four science metaphors NNOCCI has designed to help: ‍ HEAT-TRAPPING BLANKET of CO2: When we burn fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) for energy, we add more and more Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This over-accumulation resembles a too-snug blanket that traps heat around the world, upsets the atmospheric balance, and disrupts climate stability. ‍ REGULAR / RAMPANT CO2: “Regular” Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is created and used by normal life processes (such as when animals exhale and plants absorb it).  “Rampant” Carbon Dioxide is excessive, primarily from burning fossil fuels for energy.  Rampant CO2 is growing out of control and must be reduced by using alternative, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. ‍ THE OCEAN AS CLIMATE’S HEART: A human heart circulates blood and regulates the body’s temperature. In a similar manner, the ocean controls the circulation of heat and moisture throughout the world through winds and currents.  When we burn fossil fuels, we stress the ocean’s ability to maintain a stable climate, which leads to extreme weather events. ‍ EXCESS CO2 LEADS TO “OSTEOPOROSIS” OF THE SEA: When the ocean absorbs excessive Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere, it changes the ocean’s chemistry, a process/result called “ocean acidification.” This reduces the amount of Calcium Carbonate available to sea creatures for building strong shells and bones.  This disrupts the food chain and the ocean’s ecosystems. ‍ Takeaways from these simplified explanations are that: [1] everything, land and sea, is connected and interdependent, and [2] we can choose to be part of solutions --doing so gives everyone a sense of shared agency and purpose.  Sustainable Milton has contributed to local solutions and benefits since its founding in 2006.  It’s time now to do your part to preserve our planetary future in amplified, collective ways: TALK (and listen) to each other; register to vote; VOTE; know your legislators (town, state, federal),communicate your stance and expectations of them as their constituent; follow and champion pending legislation -- participate in the next Intergenerational Climate Lobby Day on Beacon Hill, January 29…. Easiest of all, visit Sustainable Milton.org and join!  It feels great to work together.

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