During the final session of the workshop, presenters, panelists, steering committee members, and workshop attendees discussed the themes and issues that emerged. The session began with the perspective of James Mahoney, chair of the Roundtable on Climate Change Education, followed by comments of workshop participants and closing remarks by the steering committee chair and the directors of the Board on Science Education and the Committee on Human Dimensions of Global Change. This chapter is organized by the major themes that emerged during this discussion.
GOALS OF CLIMATE CHANGE EDUCATION
A broad range of goals for climate change education were discussed during the workshop, representing a variety of objectives pursued by communities with interest in a climate-literate public and climate-literate decision makers: from increasing basic knowledge of climate science to enhancing the capacity of individuals and groups to respond to the challenges posed by climate change. Few common definitions or directions exist across those communities, however. Although documents have been developed that define the term “climate literacy,” further elaboration of its meaning is needed, particularly around expectations for actions or activities to combat climate change (“stewardship”).
Thomas Bowman explained that the goals of climate change education can be expressed as a continuum from climate literacy (or under-
standing how and why climate change is occurring) at one end to social change that will reduce societal impacts on the climate at the opposite end, with stewardship somewhere in between. At a more fine-grained scale, the goals of climate change education include improving understanding of climate-related issues (e.g., climate systems, climate change, and the impacts of climate change), raising awareness of the potential strategies for limiting the impacts of climate change, encouraging specific action to minimize human impacts and adapt to the changing climate, and helping individuals and groups to make climate-friendly choices. Bowman gave an example of a simple educational metaphor (a thermometer that describes what is likely to occur at various average increases in global temperature) to illustrate how complexity can be reduced in ways that allow general audiences to grasp the seriousness of the climate threat.
William Spitzer echoed the idea that the goals of climate change fall along a continuum, adding that climate literacy is different from other kinds of literacy in that understanding climate has become a politically charged issue. Therefore, stewardship education becomes a “battle for hearts and minds” of the public, with the goals to encourage long-term intergenerational change in what people fundamentally believe in and do. The realization that there is only so much that individuals and communities can accomplish within any given time results in a common sentiment, expressed by many participants at the workshop, that there is a need for a social change movement based on basic values and behaviors congruent with a more climate-friendly culture and economy.
During the session, some participants identified the existence of a split between goals that are focused on education about climate change and options to address it (cognitive and behavior change) and goals that are related to intention and seek to motivate individuals and groups to take action (whatever that may be). Many participants found it difficult to bridge the divide between cognitive- and action-oriented goals. Several questions around this issue were raised but not answered:
• Why do we want people to know something if we do not expect them to act on that knowledge?
• Why do we expect people to act if they do not know why action is needed or what actions will address the issue?
• What is the connection between cognition and action? How does the connection between cognition and action relate to beliefs and values?
• Where is the line between education for increased capacity and advocacy in the area of climate change?
THE ROLE OF SCIENTISTS
Physical and natural scientists were identified as a group that tends to focus on the cognitive goals of climate change education. Mahoney explained that scientists see their role in climate change education as “developing information on climate change, testing the validity of that information, and then making sure that this information, which is so important to the public and to nature overall, is conveyed as broadly as possible.” Scientists, he remarked, are most comfortable sharing knowledge and information developed through measurements, interpretations, and model projections. However, most scientists do not share their findings directly with the public but instead disseminate information about climate change in peer-reviewed journals or science media; the role of scientists is to be honest brokers or neutral arbiters of information, he said. William Solecki stressed that scientists should not overstep these roles or they risk losing their considerable legitimacy and trust. He further noted that there is, in fact, a tendency for scientists to hesitate when asked to speak directly about their research in ways that relate to the concerns or values of specific audiences, or to discuss the actions that can be taken to address their scientific findings. Left to interpret the science themselves, the media, with its increasingly fewer resources may therefore report on scientists’ results in a gee-whiz manner that simplifies the claims, ignores the remaining uncertainty, and fails to describe the collective validation processes in scientific communities.
Mahoney went on to explain that scientists are rightfully concerned with going beyond the knowledge of the “what” and “why” of climate change, because they don’t want to be viewed as advocating for certain types of actions that are not supported by (their) evidence and thus lose their status as objective researchers. He also suggested that the scientific community needs to keep doing the basic science, keep communicating, and develop better connections with the education community so that their work can be leveraged by education efforts.
Martin Storksdieck (Board on Science Education) raised the issue of the frames in which climate change education takes place, expressing concern that educators could lose track of the very idea of educating about the climate for the sake of connecting to audiences. He noted that many excellent suggestions to avoid resistance by skeptical audiences were posed, such as framing the issues as a matter of energy independence and security. Yet he cautioned that this raises a question about whether climate change education is a frame for discussing related issues, or whether the issues of energy independence, national security, and so forth are
the broader context in which climate change could be discussed. Some participants, including Don Duggan-Haas, thought that climate change cannot be understood without also understanding the earth as a system, and the implications of climate change cannot be understood without also understanding how they fit into the social system.
Kristopher Krause (National Environmental Education Foundation) thought that framing climate change as an issue of individual rights would be more productive. During the workshop, several participants discussed the point that dismissive groups often feel as though their rights are being infringed upon by climate change education efforts because they are being told they need to act in a certain way. A more productive frame might be to show how individual rights are being infringed upon by not passing greenhouse gas legislation or mitigation measures, because without such legislation people cannot, for example, exercise their right to a cleaner and safer environment. This moves the argument away, he said, from a policy focus (e.g., fossil fuel subsidies) to something that people value more: their individual rights.
Mahoney observed that the climate change education community needs to balance the fact that climate change is a massive issue that affects the overall earth system, with the reality that individual actions often result in limited, if any, impact on mitigation. This can pose a problem for communicating with individuals or specific groups, who may find it difficult to make the link between climate change and their own behavior, or why they should support the election of political representatives who support climate change mitigation or adaptation policies.
Many of the discussions highlighted the importance of understanding the various target audiences and the need to tailor information and educational services to the specific needs of various groups. Audience segmentation, such as the work of Leiserowitz with the Six Americas, was found to be a useful mechanism for thinking about how to identify and serve different segments of the public and defined communities, such as local decision makers. However, several participants commented that even groups with similar interests often may not agree on or be receptive to the same types of information. Audience segmentation may refine the approach, but it will not solve many of the fundamental issues for climate change education that were identified over the course of the workshop, they said.
Steering committee chair Joseph Heimlich (Ohio State University) emphasized the need to contextualize educational efforts and the teaching-learning exchange. This would allow individuals to situate
themselves in the learning in a very authentic manner. He further stated that the climate change education community needs to recognize that within the various target audiences are embedded multiple social rules, identities, life stages, and community values that are often in conflict with values associated with addressing climate change. He suggested that educators consider places where that conflict can move individuals in positive ways. He went on to state the need to include the affective, motivational, behavioral, and cognitive strategies available in educational efforts and rely on assistance from people with expertise in these areas to provide the proper framing and (technical) support. He reiterated that many successful strategies were highlighted during the workshop and emphasized the need to transfer these strategies into the appropriate communities and programs.
Mica Estrada-Hollenbeck (California State University, San Marcos) mentioned the need to consider issues of diversity, pointing to the lack of it in the climate change education community (exemplified by the participants at the workshop). She observed that demographics in the United States are changing, emphasizing the need to be literate in terms of cultures as well as science and to partner with communities that are currently underserved in science, environmental, and climate change education.
Heimlich observed that the lessons learned at the workshop may reinforce the participants’ understanding of the inherent complexity in climate change education and reiterated the need to employ many approaches and strategies targeted at different audience and goals. He went on to say that meeting these needs requires active listening by both climate change scientists and educators, who must engage with the public in meaningful ways. He said this includes “courageous listening,” in which scientists and educators are receptive to and honor ideas and statements with which they may disagree. As part of this engagement, clearer insights into people’s wants and needs are required to help guide the matching of the message and goals to those receiving them. In sum, he said, climate change education communities need to exhibit respect for multiple audiences and not simply try to change people’s beliefs, values, and understandings to reflect those of the scientists and educators themselves.
Several workshop participants subsequently stressed the importance of reaching out to so-called influentials or opinion leaders. These are individuals who, by their standing in their community, can influence peers and engender community and group engagement—something of particular importance for youth and adolescents. Another approach
that was mentioned repeatedly is the need for education strategies to be action-oriented, whether targeted toward the public or decision makers, not necessarily because behavior change is often defined as the ultimate goal of climate change education, but because many audiences would like guidance on what they can do personally and immediately to address climate change issues. These actions should not only address issues of mitigation, but also focus on adaptation, a topic many educators are still reluctant to address, it was noted. Heimlich then cautioned that actions should not simply lead to isolated behaviors, but rather move toward transferable ways of encouraging both critical thinking and changes in behavior patterns.
Connecting with local issues and engaging with people on their own terms resonated with many workshop participants. Kevin Coyle and Greg Hitzhusen provided compelling examples through their work with communities that are often skeptical of climate change information: the hunter and angler communities and faith-based groups, respectively. Aaron McCright further noted that most individuals have multiple identities, and educators need to find the rules of evidence and modes of argument that are accessible to all members of the population.
The need for multidisciplinary approaches was also mentioned by many participants. Michel Boudrias (University of San Diego) pointed to the importance of multidisciplinary training approaches for college and university faculty, K-12 teachers, and informal and other educators who are engaged directly with climate change education. He further emphasized that the multidimensional nature of climate change requires people with various expertise to work together. To meet this need, the idea of creating a network of networks, with the goal of capturing the vast expertise that already exists across climate change education communities, gained traction among a number of people.
Paul Stern (Committee on Human Dimensions of Global Change) observed that an essential focus of the workshop was to build capacity and bring together people who do not interact in their daily work to learn about the legitimate perspectives of their colleagues. He noted that many participants may now realize that the concept of climate change education was not the same for everyone. A successful outcome for the workshop would be more communication between people from various communities.
CHANGING THE TRANSITION MODEL
The comments of the workshop participants on the goals, audiences, and effective practices for climate change led some to question the need for a new model of how knowledge is transferred to nonscientist audi-
ences, the rationale being that the public generally accepts scientific findings, but many individuals do not believe the scientific findings related to climate change. The predominant way that scientists have framed their messages, as one participant noted, has been “trust us, we have the best scientists in the room, we considered this repeatedly.” Simply informing the public that several rounds of assessments have led to incontrovertible evidence about climate change has not led to overall changes in public understanding, interest, or engagement in climate change issues. This leads to core questions about the role of scientific information in climate change education efforts: “What scientific information is really needed to bring about collective action?” “What is the type of scientific information that needs to be communicated?” “What are key strategies for providing the public with information regarding climate change?”
Following this thread, the plenary discussion went on to consider how education fits with values and beliefs and how to approach and truly communicate with people who disagree with one’s positions. A question was raised about effective entry points to finding common ground between communities that differ in their values and beliefs and how the focus can shift from “where we are separate to areas in which we are actually the same.”
Several responses suggested a new system of knowledge transfer, characterized by:
• messages and information tailored to the specific needs, values, attitudes, and interests of the audience;
• engagement in active learning experiences as an individual and as part of a group; and
• interactive and ongoing interactions to sustain relationships.
Furthermore, messages could be tailored to the audience’s specific needs, values, attitudes, and feelings in a system of productive climate change information transmission for the public and decision makers. Tailoring messages in this way is a key aspect of the work discussed by Coyle, Hassenzahl, and Solecki, each of whom stressed that to be successful is to create a dialogue with people and groups based on respect for their values and interests.
It was also noted that engaging audiences in active learning experiences is critical. Efforts can move from expecting the broad goals of climate change education to be reached by having audiences read journal articles, hear presentations, or watch science-focused TV. As discussed during the earlier sessions of the workshop, Gober suggested audiences can have the chance to engage in scientific observations and have interactions with changing ecosystems, data collection, and discussions of
empirical data. Susan Clayton added that engaging in such activities supports a more social learning process, an important aspect of climate change education for the public.
Heimlich followed up by emphasizing the need to intentionally create many different intersections between educators and audiences; people need multiple access points to be receptive to climate-related messages. He asked “How do we look at the intersections of people’s lives in the social roles and communities in which they belong, considering both the ascribed communities as well as the affectational communities?” “How do we begin to give people multiple opportunities and intentionally create consistent messages from our formal education programs all the way through to various alternative ways of reaching people?”
Many participants shared the view that effective education and communication efforts directed toward the public and decision makers are interactive and ongoing. Participants indicated the need to move beyond one-off interactions, which fail to build trust or momentum or to engage stakeholders. These efforts were seen as ineffective because they do not allow for feedback of shared knowledge or provide a forum for sustained discussions of implications for decision making. Decision makers typically take the information from the scientists and make decisions based on community values, needs, and interests. Many workshop participants thought the presentations and discussions during the workshop made it clear that meaningful efforts in climate change education need to engage the audience in a dialogue in which all viewpoints are understood and considered. Such interactions would provide people and groups with opportunities to learn about different views of climate change and be confronted with the idea that there are multiple plausible ways to address the impacts of climate change (including some they may not have thought of).
Jill Karsten (National Science Foundation) gave a brief overview of the coordination in climate change education across the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and described NSF’s climate change education funding efforts. She emphasized that federal agencies are currently working in a more coordinated fashion; discussions among NSF, NOAA, and NASA in 2009 led to the development of the Climate Change Education Partnership (CCEP) Program.
In addition, Karsten noted, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has developed an interagency working group related to education. This ad hoc group, which is not officially part of the USGCRP
structure, led by Frank Niepold (NOAA) and Min-Ying Wei (NASA), engenders cross-agency conversations that include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Forest Service, and other agencies involved in the climate research agenda, in order to create a strategic plan at the federal government level for addressing climate change education.
Within NSF, Karsten pointed out, because of the pervasiveness of climate change across all NSF scientific and education activities, individual climate change education efforts could be funded through nearly any of the core programs. Janet Kolonder (National Science Foundation) pointed out that climate change education has many different components that are also important to other kinds of education. Thus, research on how climate change is best taught and learned can be informative for other kinds of education, which should be considered when seeking funding for climate change education, she said.
FUTURE RESEARCH NEEDS
Various research questions were proposed as ways to encourage further development of climate change education. Hassenzahl reminded the audience that climate change educators are interested in changes in attitudes over long periods of time. Thus, not only is there a need for careful studies on what it is effective in terms of changing individual behaviors and attitudes in the short run, but also to understand how and why longer term changes occur and how they can be sustained. This may require retrospective work on how and why people became aware of climate change, since it seems that even people who are skeptical of climate change science are engaged in a conversation about it. And there is a need to better understand what would be likely to change the attitudes and behaviors of substantial numbers of people, an issue of considerable complexity and a serious challenge for education researchers, he said. Hassenzahl noted that thinking needs to go beyond examining measurable outcomes to measuring effective processes for achieving the desired results.
Storksdieck thanked participants for their active contributions to the workshop and reminded them that the workshop was proposed by the Climate Change Education Roundtable, an activity of the National Research Council that brings together federal agencies involved in climate change education with various experts to discuss issues of common concern. He noted that similar activities have become more common in Washington, an encouraging sign for increasing awareness about the
need to coordinate climate education efforts. Moreover, he interpreted the many activities around climate change as the sign of a changing cultural dialogue in which, despite the controversies and challenges, society is slowly moving toward the realization that the issue of climate change needs collective attention.
Storksdieck noted that as the community reaches out to different audiences, it is important not to lose sight of core audiences. He emphasized the need to grow from a base and connect with an increasingly larger number of people who share common values and beliefs. He continued by noting the limits of education in addressing climate change and that incentive systems, infrastructure, and culture provide powerful determinants for personal behavior. Referring to previous remarks by Heimlich, Storksdieck noted that much of people’s behavior and actions occurs subconsciously, unconsciously, as habit or ritual, and that informed decision making is not primarily guiding how people behave in everyday life. He closed with what he saw as important realization: in addressing climate change, there is no single strategy, approach, or community.
Stern, in reflecting on the goals of the workshop, focused on ideas of quality, legitimacy, and capacity. In his view, climate change education should lead to “good-quality decisions,” based on wide acceptance of the science and an increasing “capability to do decisions well in the future.” He noted that the workshop focused on today’s decision makers, but that a future workshop might tackle the education of the next generation of citizens through formal and informal education.
He noted the value of bringing together communities with different goals and audiences. As the workshop demonstrated, interesting and fruitful learning may occur when different sub-communities of the larger climate change community interact with one another. To Stern the workshop suggested a variety of near-future priorities that federal agencies and private foundations could focus on, including solid evaluation research on climate change education projects based on clearly defined indicators for various goals.
Michael Feder (Board on Science Education) closed the workshop by pointing to the value of building a climate change education community that sees itself connected to the various communities it serves based on shared values and common ground.