AGU Workshop on Communicating Climate Change: Media, Dialogue, and Public Engagement
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
A week from today, at their annual meetings in San Francisco, the American Geophysical Union will be sponsoring a workshop I co-organized on research related to climate change communication and public engagement. In the context of debates over Copenhagen and the stolen climate change emails, the session is particularly timely and relevant. Details are below and advance registration is at this page. So far, roughly 100 attendees have registered.
Re-Starting the Conversation on Climate Change:
The Media, Dialogue, and Public Engagement Workshop
Sunday, 13 December (1:00 PM -5:00 PM)
Inter Continental Hotel Grand Ballroom C
Panel organized by
Matthew C. Nisbet, American University, and Inés Cifuentes, American Geophysical Union
Presenters: Maxwell Boykoff, Matthew C. Nisbet, and Gwendolyn Blue
Increasing public understanding and action on climate change requires the application of research and expertise from the social sciences. This workshop features presentations from three leading researchers who are examining the factors that shape media coverage, public participation, and public dialogue. Discussion will emphasize lessons learned from the first two decades of climate change communication initiatives and the promise of several new directions.
Mass Media and the Cultural Politics of Climate Change
Max Boykoff, Ph.D.
University of Colorado-Boulder
Mass media serve vital roles in the communication processes between science, policy-makers and the public. This presentation reviews contextual factors as well as journalistic pressures and norms that contribute to how issues, events and information become climate 'news'. A particular focus will be on how these factors have contributed to misperceptions, misleading debates, and divergent understandings that undermine efforts at policy action.
How Framing Matters to Wider Public Participation on Climate Change
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D.
American University, Washington, DC
This presentation discusses research analyzing the extent to which new frames of reference and narratives can generate wider public interest and participation on climate change. The results of qualitative interviews and surveys are reviewed, focusing on public reactions to various policy proposals and messages. The research is designed to provide scientists, policy experts, government agencies, journalists, and other stakeholders with practical guidance on how best to increase public understanding of the implications of climate change.
Worldwide Views on Climate change: An International Citizen Deliberation on Climate Policy
Gwendolyn Blue, Ph.D.
University of Calgary, Canada
The UN Framework Program on Climate Change is holding its next round of discussions to update the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in December, 2009. These climate change policy discusions have always involved government representatives and organized groups such as industry alliances and non-government organizations. For the first time, an international effort to hear what citizens around the world have to say on the policy questions was organized by the Danish Board of Technology, involving the participation of 38 countries, each with 100 citizen participants. This presentation describes both the process of mounting such an effort and the outcomes from the participating countries, with particular attention to differences between developed and developing countries. The challenges for global governance will also be discussed.
Biographies of Presenters
Maxwell T. Boykoff, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California-Santa Cruz. Max's research interests involve: 1) analyses of the transformations of carbon-based economies and societies, and 2) examinations in cultural politics and the environment. Recent publications include peer-reviewed articles in Geoforum, Global Environmental Change, Transactions of the Institute of British Geography, Political Geography, Environmental Research Letters, and Climatic Change. He has also written commentaries for Nature Reports Climate Change and Nieman Reports as well as co-authored a background paper for the 2007 United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports. Max recently published 'The Politics of Climate Change' for Routledge/Europa (November 2009) and is working on 'Who Speaks for Climate? Making Sense of Mass Media Reporting on Climate Change' for Cambridge University Press (2010).
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at American University, Washington, DC. As a social scientist, he studies strategic communication in policy-making and public affairs, focusing on controversies surrounding science, the environment, and public health. He is the author of more than two dozen journal articles and book chapters and serves on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Press/Politics and Science Communication. Nisbet's current research with Edward Maibach on climate change communication is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation where he is a Health Policy Investigator. He has also worked as a consultant to the National Academies, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation and other leading organizations. Nisbet is a frequently invited speaker at universities and meetings across North America and Europe.
Gwendolyn Blue, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary, Canada. Her research interests focus on public engagement with and governance of environment and public health issues, particularly as these unfold in unconventional political realms such as lifestyle politics and emergent dialogue-based democratic initiatives. She is currently the lead researcher on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded project on Environmental Citizenship, Global Public Participation and Climate Change. She was part of the project team for World Wide Views on Global Warming, the first global citizen deliberation on climate change.
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
The migration of birds — and we didn't even used to know that birds migrated; we assumed they hibernated; the modern understanding of bird migration was established when a white stork landed in a German village with an arrow from Central Africa through its neck in 1822 — draws us in the direction of having an understanding of the world. A bird is here and then travels somewhere else. Where does it go? It's a variation on the poetic refrain from The Catcher in the Rye. Where do the ducks go? How many are out there? What might it encounter along the way?
While there is a yearly bird count conducted every Christmas by amateur bird watchers across the country done in conjunction with The Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently released the results of a study that actually go some way towards answering heretofore abstract questions: every fall, as per cloud computing and 143 weather radar stations, four billion birds migrate into the United States from Canada and four billion more head south to the tropics.
"In the spring," the lead author Adriaan Dokter noted, "3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border."
In other words: the birds who went three to four times further than the birds staying in the U.S. faired better than the birds who stayed in the U.S. Why?
Part of the answer could be very well be what you might hear from a conservationist — only with numbers to back it up: the U.S. isn't built for birds. As Ken Rosenberg, the other co-author of the study, notes: "Birds wintering in the U.S. may have more habitat disturbances and more buildings to crash into, and they might not be adapted for that."
The other option is that birds lay more offspring in the U.S. than those who fly south for the winter.
What does observing eight billion birds mean in practice? To give myself a counterpoint to those numbers, I drove out to the Joppa Flats Education Center in Northern Massachusetts. The Center is a building that sits at the entrance to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and overlooks the Merrimack River, which is what I climbed the stairs up to the observation deck to see.
Once there, I paused. I took a breath. I listened. I looked out into the distance. Tiny flecks Of Bonaparte's Gulls drew small white lines across the length of the river and the wave of the grass toward a nearby city. What appeared to be flecks of double-crested cormorants made their way to the sea. A telescope downstairs enabled me to watch small gull-like birds make their way along the edges of the river, quietly pecking away at food just beneath the surface of the water. This was the experience of watching maybe half a dozen birds over fifteen-to-twenty minutes, which only served to drive home the scale of birds studied.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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