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Reframing the climate discussion


Staff Writer

Intent of discussing tactics for increasing the public understanding of global climate change, environmental educators hosted a workshop at Salisbury University attended by conservationists, professors and both former and current SU students.

At the heart of the Feb. 19 workshop was “strategic framing,” a method for guiding and shaping discussion which has long been used by for-profit industries to convince people to think or behave a certain way.

Several years ago, a network of physical and social science communities formed to become the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), who decided to repurpose the marketing tool as a new way of educating the public.

“They wanted to create a standardized way of speaking about climate that would end up in a really productive conversation,” Coreen Weilminster said, education coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. “(One where) people wouldn’t get stuck in the sticky issues and where solutions were really framed as a paramount part of the conversation.”

The hope was to train enough educators in such a method of delivering information as to start a “social movement” that would better address the problem of climate change in a positive, effective manner, Weilminster said.

At its core is the idea that there is a gap in people’s understanding of climate change, and that opportunities abound for teachable moments in public presentations, educational exhibits and even general conversations to fill those spaces with something both simple and memorable.

The workshop examined how to deliver easily understood yet thorough explanations and metaphors to describe what research on climate change has found, couched in positive tones and designed, above all, to motivate action.

“The end goal is to create solutions,” Samantha Pitts said, volunteer coordinator at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center. “We want to foster engagement and hope and create a ‘we’ attitude to problem solving.”

Madeline Kelsey, a senior at SU dual-majoring in environmental studies and communications, was drawn to the workshop in hopes of finding new ways to talk about climate change.

“I like the idea of strategic framing, especially when you’re also being honest and accurate,” she said. “One problem I find is that when you’re talking about science, there’s so much jargon in it. There’s a disconnect between professional and public knowledge, and a big part of that (addressed here) is making it engaging and interesting.”

And that discussion has devolved to a critical stage, said Bill Nelson, an adjunct lecturer in environmental studies at SU.

“It’s become so contentious, so divisive, that almost as soon as there’s any mention of it, normal discourse stops,” Nelson said. “There’s name-calling from both sides, and that doesn’t go anywhere. As time goes on and we either do nothing or don’t do much, the problem just gets worse and worse, and it becomes more essential to have an intelligent discussion about it.”

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