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Communicating Climate Change — a book you should definitely know about!

In a presentation about science communication I gave on Monday, I recommended a couple of resources for scientists interested in science communication. For example the amazing climatevisuals.org for advice on which images to use to communicate about climate change (plus lots of images that even come with explanations for what purpose they work well, and why!). And of course my #scicommchall to get people inspired to try out a new micro scicomm format every month.

But here is an (open access!) book I wish I had known about then already but only came across two days after my presentation: “Communicating Climate Change” by A. K. Armstrong, M. E. Krasny, J. P. Schuldt (2018).

This is a book aimed at educators who want to communicate climate change in a literature-based and effective manner. It consists of four parts: A background, the psychology of climate change, communication, and stories from the field, which I will briefly review below (and you should definitely check out the real thing!). It’s nice and easy to read, and there are “bottom line for educators” at the end of each chapter as well as recaps at the end of each part, making it easy to get a quick overview even if you might not have the time to read the whole thing in detail.

Background

This part of the book begins with an introduction to climate change science, reporting state-of-the-art science on climate, greenhouse gases, evidence for climate change, and climate impacts. It then moves to how climate change can be addressed: by mitigating or adapting to its effects, how it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how that can be achieved both on an individual level and by collective action. It ends with a “bottom line for educators” summary that stresses that climate change is real, that misinformation campaigns are an unfortunate reality, and that educators can contribute to solving the problem.

The next chapter then deals with what is known on attitudes and knowledge about climate change in different audiences internationally and at different ages, explaining that attitudes are actually a pretty bad predictor for behaviour, but nevertheless important to know about if you are an educator! For example, if you want teens to be concerned about climate change, a useful approach might be to involve their parents along with them, since what family and friends believe about climate change is very important to what an individual teenager believes, as is how often they discuss climate topics with their friends and family. Again, the “bottom line for educators” breaks this down into advice, for example to focus on different topics depending on how concerned about climate change a given audience already is, or to focus on areas in which a common ground between them and their audiences exists in order to generate a constructive and positive dialogue even though there might still be areas in which they do not agree with their audiences (which they should think about beforehand, hence the importance to know about the audience’s attitudes).

The next chapter suggests possible outcomes for climate change education — how do we know if a climate change communication activity was successful? — and stresses the importance of defining these goals in the first place. Outcomes can be defined on the level of individuals, of communities, of the environment, or of resilience of all of the above. For individuals, outcomes could for example be literacy (understanding essential principles, knowledge of how to assess scientifically credible information, ability to communicate, ability to make informed and responsible decisions) of climate change, or attitudes and emotions, the feeling of confidence that you can reach your goals, or environmentally friendly behaviour. For communities, outcomes could be positive development of youth, building of social capital (e.g. trust or positive action), the belief that the community can reach a goal together, or action taken together by the whole community. Focussing on the environment, an outcome could be adaptation to, or mitigation of, climate change.

The next chapter then presents three climate change vignettes — three examples of how different educators address different audiences in different settings — and a discussion of why they chose to design their activity a certain way and react to questions or comments the way they did.

The psychology of climate change

This part of the book presents psychology research on why knowledge about climate change is not sufficient to actually change behaviours.

Identity research especially is very helpful, as it explains how in order to feel like you are part of a group (something that we as humans are hard-wired to crave) we tend to conform with our group’s norms and values. We might be part of different groups at different times as well as simultaneously (for example our family as one and our colleagues as another, or inhabitant of a city, or student of oceanography), and contexts trigger specific identities that might even not be completely congruent with each other. When new information is presented, we interpret it in a way that does not threaten our identity in the context the information is presented in. Therefore, in order to not threaten anybody’s identity and making it impossible for them to take on our message, it is important to make sure that climate change is not communicated as something polarising or political, but rather choose to trigger identities that are inclusive, like for example “inhabitant of place x”, and focus on outcomes that benefit that community independent of what other identities might exist, by for example protecting a local beach.

Psychological distance is another lens through which climate change communication can be viewed. The more distant a problem seems, the less important it is perceived. Therefore focussing on local relevance rather than global, on places that are important to people, on communities they care about, might in some cases be helpful — although not always; the results of the research on this are not conclusive yet.

Then a few other relevant psychological research areas are discussed, like for example “terror management theory”. This leads to the recommendation to avoid “doom and gloom” presentations of climate change that might kick people into a defence mechanism of ignoring the topic to protect their emotional well-being in the moment, and to focus on hope and positive action instead. Then there is the “cognitive dissonance theory”, according to which we try to ignore information that conflicts with what we think we already know or threatens other goals we might have. The recommendation here is to give people ideas of easy things they can do to combat climate change to combat cognitive dissonance.

Communication

This part of the book presents three aspects of communicating climate change: How we frame it, which analogies and metaphors we use, and how we, as a messenger, can build trust.

“Framing” is about how a message is featured in a story line to help the audience interpret it in a certain way, by making certain aspects of it especially visible, for example economic aspects or tipping points. When thinking about framing a climate change message, it is important to think about audiences and their identities and to avoid wording that will trigger identities which make it difficult to accept the message. Depending on the desired outcomes, climate change communications could, for example, be framed for solutions, hope, or values. There are ways to build entire climate change communication programs around those frames, and there are several examples given for how this might be done.

The next chapter focusses on analogies and metaphors. For example, “osteoporosis of the sea” (which I had never heard in use before) has been found to be a successful metaphor for ocean acidification. However, as all metaphors, it only highlights similarities between issues and neglects to mention the dissimilarities which makes them tricky to use because it’s hard to make sure people don’t take a metaphor so far that it breaks down. In fact, to address this problem, the authors recommend to explicitly talk about where the analogy or metaphor will break down.

Establishing trust in the climate change messengers: This is tricky as people tend to trust other people that hold values similar to their own. Therefore it is helpful to think about the messenger and to use trusted middle persons. [There is are actually some very interesting work on trust out there, for example by Hendriks, Kienhues and Bromme (2015) that isn’t mentioned in the book, but that I’d be happy to summarise for you if anyone is interested!]

Stories from the field

The book ends with a part called “stories from the field” in which examples of different climate change communication activities, focussing on different goals, audiences, messenges and happening in very different settings, are given and the design choices that were made explained in detail. Also for each of the story, an example is given how the message is phrased in actual interaction with the target audience. All of this is super interesting to read because all the theory the book provided in the previous chapters is applied to real world cases, which makes it easy to see how they might be applied to your own climate change communication activities. Also these best practice examples are inspiring to see and give me a sense of hope.

To sum up: I really enjoyed reading this book! So much so that continuing reading it was more important than getting a good Instagram pic of my latte while writing this blogpost. I would really recommend anyone interested in climate change communication to check it out! When I finished my talk on Monday, on my second to last slide I put the African proverb along the lines of “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room”. I used this to talk about using messages of hope in climate change communication, and then also applied it to science communication — don’t think you are too small to make a difference there, either! And that’s a message that this book conveys really well, too, providing a good idea of what one could do and how one might go about it, and inspiring one — or at least me — to do so, too.

A #scicommbookforkids for #scicommchall

I hope by now you have heard about my pet project of the moment: #scicommchall! For #scicommchall, I give myself (and quite a few other people by now) monthly challenges related to trying out new science communication formats. And this month, we are doing science communication books for kids! (For more instructions, see #scicommchall’s post. And everybody is welcome to join!).

My book deals with learning to observe where the wind is coming from (English version at the end of this post, too).

I think it turned out quite nicely!

I did struggle a little with the very short format — only six pages inside the book, plus a cover — but quite liked the challenge of having to come to the point.

The flag on the cover, in case you were wondering, is that of my hometown Hamburg.

I hope this book is actually useful and fun for kids (I did include some kids’ humor, or at least I tried ;-))

And I know what I would include if I wasn’t too lazy to re-draw the images: A question about on which side of some kind of structure one would sit down if one wanted shelter from the wind. Bummer I forgot to include that!

Anyway, here is the download (German & English). Please let me know what you think, I’d love to get some feedback!

Click to download

5 years of blogging on “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching” today!

5 years of “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”!

Today I am celebrating my blog’s 5th Birthday! 5 years of documenting my “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. That feels both like an enormous amount of time, while at the same time it feels like only yesterday that I started one evening on the spur of the moment while sitting on the couch at my friend A&I’s former apartment, babysitting (Happy anniversary, A&I!).

When I started, I did not really have much of a plan of what I wanted to do with the blog, in the beginning I didn’t even plan on sharing it with anyone. I had, at that point, been teaching and doing science communication in oceanography for several years, and had done some pretty cool and innovative stuff (if I say so myself). Only trouble: I did not remember what I had done from one year to the next!

Kitchen oceanography

The main thing I wanted to archive were “kitchen oceanography” experiments: Experiments on processes related to the ocean that can be done using only household items. In honour of my blog’s 5th Birthday I have gone through some 700 posts introduced the new category, “kitchen oceanography“, to bring together all the blog posts that match that description. And it’s quite impressive how much cool science stuff you can do using only things you have in your home anyway!

I am a big fan of those experiments that can be done impromptu — for using them in teaching and outreach as planned features, as well as just whipping something out when the opportunity presents itself (for example on a skiing trip using our last drops of red wine as dye tracer). Once people get over the initial “what kind of kindergarden trick are we about to be presented with here?” reluctance, they ALWAYS get so engaged and want to start experimenting themselves. Those are the best moments!

Observations everywhere: from my sink to rivers to the sea

Another kind of teaching resource I wanted to archive on my blog were observations that I was making every day but didn’t have a good way to store: Oceanography in my kitchen sink, on puddles at the bus stop, in drains during a huge downpour (I was still living in Bergen back then), and when looking at the sea. There is so much physics everywhere that most people don’t notice, and as a proud, semi-new-ish smartphone owner, I had so many examples of what people could observe if they knew what to look for. I wanted to collect all those pictures together, have them searchable by keyword, and have them at hand whenever I wanted to show them to someone, whether in teaching or any other occasion.

Literature on teaching, learning, science communication

And then I had started reading literature on teaching and learning, and later on science communication. And while a good system to archive your literature is necessary in any case, I liked the idea of summarising relevant literature for the readers of my blog (and for my own reference, too). So that became the third main “genre” of blog posts on my blog.

Building an archive

So yes, the main idea when starting this blog was that I needed some way to archive pictures of experiments I had done together with short descriptions in a way that was easily searchable. For a while I had used Facebook (and I did like all the positive feedback I got when I posted pictures of experiments!) but in the end I wanted something I could customise to meet my needs and that would stay “mine” independent of what happened to other platforms.

Maintaining curiosity

But there were so many other benefits to this blog that I came to realise over time! The biggest one for me personally is that I now have a “reason” to get out my phone, snap a picture of the layers in my latte or other interesting features I come across in my daily life, and think about them more than just in passing. And it makes me so happy when I bake cupcakes with my sister just to use them for a blog post on ice coring or borrow a huge set for experiments on venturi tubes. I don’t think I would have gone to all that trouble if I didn’t have a blog to post the pictures on, and I would have missed out on so much fun! To me, doing those things is really rewarding and something I definitely want in my life.

Building a portfolio

But since the blog sometimes make me go to more trouble that I would without, and since I want it to be an archive of all this stuff, it has become a great portfolio. Going back over those 700-ish blogposts to tag all the “kitchen oceanography” ones, I noticed different phases related to different employers and places I lived at, but also in how much effort I put into blogging. And my blog has definitely become an asset: Based on what I put online here, I am fairly regularly contacted by people who ask for advice on teaching and especially experiments, or by people who found my blog for other purposes, for example for finding out how much salt there is in seawater in order to use it to beak bread! And I really value the interactions that have risen from people reading things on my blog and then getting in touch with me. I would never have been able to build such a diverse and fascinating network of people around me had it not been for my blog!

Professional development

And then this blog has had a huge influence on my professional development. Not only have I gotten over the fear of writing and publishing things online completely. I have also, by building this portfolio, created opportunities for myself that might not have been possible otherwise: I changed from a traditional postdoctoral career in oceanography research into providing advice to oceanographers and climate scientists on their teaching and science communication! And this is the career I have been dreaming of long before I was able to put it into words, and then long before realising that I had already put it into words, because it lets me combine the best of both exciting worlds: Oceanography and teaching!

Making of my new book! Part 3: Sketching

So now that I knew I wanted to do the book in water colours, and with fairly realistically-looking people in it, I started sketching out what I wanted individual images to look like. I had a couple of requirements:

  1. I only wanted to show Line from behind, so a) she wouldn’t be offended by how I painted her face, and b) I wouldn’t have to do paint her face ;-)
  2. Since I was going to scan the images in order to digitalize them to be able to finish and print the book, I wanted to be able to insert rectangular images (rather than weirdly shaped ones) to get clean borders where the scanned paper (which likely wouldn’t come out as completely white) meets the white of the printed pages
  3. I wanted the images to be square, so I could have the one or two sentences that should accompany each of them underneath

So here is the sketch of the first four images in the book. I am never quite sure whether in the fourth one one can actually recognize what is going on. And at this stage I really considered doing the whole book as sketches with a normal pen because I quite looked how it came out!


But sketches is not what I went with in the end… Stay tuned for more! :-)

Making of my new book! Part 2: Deciding on style and colors

When November came around, I needed to actually stop imagining the book I wanted to give to Line for Christmas, I had to start creating. But where to start?

I wanted Line to recognize herself despite me painting her only from the back (guess why? Yep, I did not want to have to do faces!). So I inquired with my sister about the color of Line’s rain clothes. Because on the day the pictures above were taken we did bring her rain pants, but didn’t put them on her…. And also we then were both in blue trousers and red jackets, and that seemed a little boring in a picture book that would be mainly blue anyway.

Turns out that she basically had rain clothes in all colors and I could just pick whatever outfit I wanted…

In my head, I had had a vision of all these beautiful water colour (ha! no pun intended) pictures that I wanted to include in the book. But turns out that the last time I did anything with water colours was in 2003 (yep, that was the date on the last picture on my water color pad), so the idea put me off a little because it seemed like a lot of work. On the other hand, I didn’t want to have black-and-white sketches only, because I wanted good depictions of the wave phenomena (because I wanted my goddaughter to enjoy reading the book, but also to learn about waves at the same time…). So I played around with water colours a little and it turned out to not be as bad as I had imagined…

Then, I decided that I would actually put some effort into getting the proportions right, so I used a picture taken of Line and me at an art exhibition earlier that year.

This lead to the ratios seen below:

But it’s still a long way from this to a finished book… So stay tuned! :-)

Making of my new book! Part 1: The story

This one has been a long time in the making. Last year, I wrote and illustrated a book for my goddaughter as a Christmas present. I didn’t manage to finish it early enough to go through the publisher I had used for my first book and have it ready for Christmas, so I printed and bound it myself and pretty much forgot about it. Until now — last night I sent it to the publisher and I should receive the proofs in a couple of days! Super exciting!

Luckily, my goddaughter is as much into water as I am, so we have always had a lot of fun playing in puddles.

One day, we had so much fun that Line ended up completely wet. These pictures are from that day… And they served as inspiration for my new book!

Here is a peek into the making of the book. I had known for a while that I wanted to do a children’s picture book on waves.

The story line is pretty straightforward: Line and her aunt (me!) are going for a walk and discover different kinds of wave phenomena. Basically, I came up with a small story around everything you find as photos in my first book, except this time I painted it (and included Line and myself in most of the pictures).

This is what my story board looks like:

Curious where we are going from there? I’ll be back with a post on my next steps in a couple of days!

A sketch of a learning sequence on fjord circulation experiments

I’ve been wanting to develop a good fjord circulation experiment for a long time now — I wasn’t happy with the one we used back when I was teaching in Bergen, and then 1.5 years ago I talked with Steffi and Ailin who took over the tank experiments in Bergen a while back and we wanted to do something about it, but it just never happened. Life, you know, and jobs with other foci…

But then when I couldn’t sleep, I decided that 4:15 in the morning is a very good time to sketch out how I would develop a learning sequence on fjord circulation. Let’s see how I feel about it at a more normal hour after some more sleep, but right now I am happy with it, and excited to flesh out the sketch a little more with actual instructions for experiments. Would you be interested in reading that? And where would you look for instructions like that (except for on my blog)? I am hoping to maybe publish it somewhere “official”…

Awesome outreach collaboration to continue: We won a Bjerknes Visiting Fellowship 2018!

We are excited and grateful for a great opportunity for continued collaboration that has recently presented itself: Elin won a Bjerknes Visiting Fellowship 2018 for me to visit her and the rest of her team in Bergen for a month in 2018!

We have several goals for that visit, but the main one is to develop more hands-on experiments (which we lovingly call “kitchen oceanography”), which parents, teachers, and other educators can use to get children excited about oceanography (and obviously for the grown-ups to play with, too :-)). Between Elin and me, we do already have a lot of experiments which we use regularly and recommend (for Elin’s, check out this site, and mine are here). But we would love to bring them in a different format so that they are easy to find and use, and are well integrated with the ekte data project. And then, obviously, we want to let everybody in Bergen (and all of our faithful readers) know where to find the experiments, and how to use them in science communication.

So plenty of stuff to stay tuned for! We’ll absolutely keep you posted on our progress on here!

Of a pool that sits on a merry-go-round and how we use it to investigate ocean circulation in Antarctica

You know I like tank experiments, but what I am lucky enough to witness right now is NOTHING compared to even my wildest dreams. Remember all the rotating experiments we did with this rotating table back in Bergen?

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Those were awesome, no question about that. But the rotating tank I am at now? 13 meters diameter.

Yes, you read that correctly. 13 METERS DIAMETER!

I’m lucky enough to be involved in Elin Darelius & team’s research project on topographically steered currents in Antarctica, and I will be blogging on her blog about it:

Follow the blog, or like us on Facebook!

In any case, don’t miss the opportunity to see what is going on in a tank this size:

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Yes, they are both INSIDE the tank. Elin (on the left) is sitting on the tank’s floor, Nadine (on the right) is climbing on the topography representing Antarctica. For more details, head over to the blog!