A Summer as a Communication Communicator

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Gina Stovall, Climate and Society 2014

In the vast discipline of climate change there is a valiant group of climate change communicators; a cross-disciplinary group of people who discard the acclaim of research, compassion of advocacy, or practicality of policy and instead tire over how to disseminate one of the world’s most complex (and pressing) topics. This summer I have joined their ranks, even if just for a moment.

Just another day at the office

Just another day at the office

My first assignment starts at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, an organization at the Columbia’s Earth Institute tasked with understanding how decisions can be made when dealing with scientific uncertainty. My project involves writing for a website focusing on glacier melt in the alpine regions around the world. The site, GlacierHub.org, is envisioned by anthropologist and C+S co-director Ben Orlove as a place where glaciologists and glacier-reliant communities can interact and learn about issues and innovations occurring in the environment they share. 

My second assignment takes me off of Columbia’s main campus to the office of the Columbia Climate Center, another division within the Earth Institute. As a research assistant for the Polar Learning and Responding Climate Change Education Partnership (PoLAR), my primary project is the evaluation of FutureCoast, an innovative communication tool that has received a lot of press, both positive and negative. PoLAR is a National Science Foundation funded program to use games to inform adult learners of the changes occurring in polar regions due to climate change. FutureCoast is one such game.

Game designer Ken Eklund, who also developed the popular game World Without Oil, designed the FutureCoast project. The future is described by the public via voicemails from any year between 2020 and 2065, which have mistakenly sent back in time for us to hear. This project is fascinating because it acts as a thermometer for the public perception of climate change and gives incredible insight into the current state of knowledge and hope or the future. What I personally have taken from the voicemails are an interest in the proposed technological solutions people have conceived for issues climate change poses and the wealth of ingenuity average citizens have for solving problems. This project in particular is not simply experts doing the communicating, but is more of a true discourse between many parties affected by climate change.

My third and final communication experience of the summer is my personal blog, Anthroposeen. Titled after our current geologic era, the Anthropocene, and couples with the things I have “seen” shifting our culture as a result of climate change, Anthroposeen is a compilation of short posts covering art, design and lifestyle topics.

I began this blog after my cousin’s husband commented on the massive number of climate related things I post on Facebook. Interpreting this as a gripe I decided to begin putting them elsewhere. As my collection of articles increased, I started to notice themes. And I realized these themes all indicated the creation of new societal norms — effectively a new culture — developing in response to how we’re altering the planet.

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan once said, “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” If climate change researchers use modeling systems, and adaptation experts use disaster warning systems, then I, as a communicator will use the DEW.




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