Monday, March 20, 2017

How's the Climate? Inspiring Climate-Savvy, Creative Solutions Among Future Generation


Across countries and cultures, for all of humanity, the default conversation piece is “How’s the weather?” And could there be a more interesting time to be alive to ask and answer this question? Every person can add an essential piece to the weather question: “How’s our climate, and how do my actions and the actions of my community affect it?”

Students test water quality 
aboard M/V Alletta Morris.
Climate Interpretation 101

At Save The Bay, we are in the unique position of touching the lives of some 15,000 K-12 students every year. As we introduce them to Narragansett Bay and the life it supports, we try to instill a keen sense of understanding of our ecological surroundings — starting with “how’s the weather” and continuing deeper in how and why our climate is changing.

The truth is, despite being one of the most politicized and overwhelming environmental topics humanity has ever faced, basic climate science is only now, and very gradually, reaching the American public. Save The Bay is changing that trend, one student at a time, by translating essential scientific concepts in a meaningful and engaging way.

Our work in climate change education is guided by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change and the world-renowned Frameworks Institute. These organizations offer our staff cutting-edge interpretation techniques that have shaped our hands-on, multi-disciplinary climate change curriculum and inspire students to take action. Take a peek at these tested and proven techniques in the field:

Use of Metaphors

The mechanism of climate change can be taught in less than one minute with this simple metaphor:

“When humans burn fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gasoline for transportation and electricity, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This excess carbon dioxide works like a heat-trapping blanket, holding too much of the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and warming our planet.” As a result, water and air temperatures have risen an average of 4°F and 2°F, respectively, since the 1930s, and precipitation trends in this region are becoming heavier and more frequent. In fact, rainfall rates in R.I. increased by 12” since 1905, with a 104% increase in heavy downpours.

Save The Bay’s education staff integrates such metaphors into our programs. On a series of boat trips for Westerly Middle School students on the Pawcatuck River, we review with students the climate change metaphor before doing water quality testing, and then probe further: “We heard that burning of fossil fuels can cause a rise in water temperatures. Did you know that warmer waters hold less oxygen? Let’s test this water to find out how warm and how oxygenated it is. Can we find a trend between surface and bottom samples?”

Students also draw connections between the release of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels and ocean acidification. “Did you know that rampant carbon dioxide from transportation and generation of electricity can also influence the acidity of the water? How can we test for acidity in our water? Let’s review our pH scale and see what the pH of the Pawcatuck River is.”

Exploration Center and Aquarium interns and staff 
talk with guests about climate change causes, 
effects and solutions whenever possible, 
drawing connections to the marine life in the aquarium.
Shared Values

At Save The Bay, we realize our students and audiences come to us with varying philosophies that guide their perception of climate change. We attempt to transcend these viewpoints by focusing on shared values. We rely on the natural resources around us, so it is up to us to protect these resources from the harm caused by a changing climate. We can responsibly manage this problem by coming together with our schools, towns, and communities to reduce our use of fossil fuels. In doing so, we give Narragansett Bay and all of its incredible assets a fighting chance to be healthy for future generations.

This technique has been successful at our Aquarium and Exploration Center as a means for meeting a deeper engagement level with guests. When we meet our constituency around common values, they are more curious and willing to engage about real problems and real solutions.

Community-Scale Solutions

Climate change is overwhelming; it is up to us to communicate and mobilize our audiences around options for resiliency and success. Community-based solutions meet the scale and scope of the problem and motivate and inspire. Individual solutions such as “ride your bike,” and “turn off the lights” tend to convey blame onto “you” or “me” and are proven to be much less effective than community-focused solutions. By saying “WE can work together to address this problem,” educators turn the conversations toward step-by-step solutions and ask the audience to join ongoing efforts to mitigate climate change, such as home energy auditing and solar installations.

Fourth-grade students at Save The Bay often play an interactive game called “carbon travels” where they learn about how carbon molecules move through different forms on our planet. After this explorative activity, students participate in a Greenhouse Gas Tag, an active game that allows students to model the cause of climate change. They travel through the “atmosphere” and into the “earth” as a “light ray. If they make it to “earth,” they get re-emitted as a “heat ray.” If they are tagged by a “carbon dioxide molecule” they must become part of the “heat trapping blanket.” In order to escape the “blanket,” they must cite an activity that could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Student-driven community-scale ideas have included: plant a tree in our school yard, start idle-free zones at schools and churches, join a walking school bus, advocate for bike safety/bike paths in their communities, put reminders in our school to turn off lights and computers and get friends to play outside instead of with video games. All great stuff!

Our educators integrate information about Save The Bay’s 
work around climate change into our teaching, inviting 
students to suggest activities that could 
reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Mission: Possible

All in all, Save The Bay’s work around climate change solutions and action is a process of learning and growth for all of us. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is going to take a tremendous cultural shift and require the concern and commitment of everyone. We’re just at the beginning, but we’re already seeing signs of success:

As part of our Project Narragansett program, local fourth-grade teachers complete our professional development program, “Kid Friendly and Fun Climate Interpretation Techniques and Curriculum Building,” and then bring their students to Save The Bay for several environmental sciences experiences throughout the school year. Seeing the value in learning about climate change solutions as a means of protecting our waters, more and more teachers are choosing our “Carbon Cycle and Climate Change” curriculum for their students’ field trips with us.

We occasionally survey our guests, using NNOCI tools, following a seal tour or visit to our Exploration Center and Aquarium. More than two-thirds of these folks say they have a better understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, as well as a sense of obligation to do something about it.

Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, and it’s been our belief since our beginnings that we can better achieve our mission with the help of future generations of Bay stewards who will continue our work far into the future. That what we are doing for climate change education is so well received, and the majority of audiences we work with leave our program with an increased sense of stewardship and empowerment to protect it from harm, tells us the future of Narragansett Bay is in good hands.

Become a climate interpreter! Visit and sign up for Changing the Conversation on Climate and Ocean Change.

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