Friday, August 17, 2012

$5.5 Million Grant for Climate Change Education

The National Science Foundation Awards $5.5 Million Grant for Climate Change Education at Aquariums and Zoos : New England Aquarium Leads Consortium

As public understanding of climate change lags behind the consensus among scientists, the National Science Foundation (NSF) since 2009 has been developing the Climate Change Education Partnership program to help the public better weigh the evidence of human-climate interactions. Late Wednesday, NSF announced the awards in its most recent round of funding and granted $5.5 million over five years to the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation led by the New England Aquarium.

The network is a national effort to enable informal science education institutions, such as aquariums and zoos, to better communicate the science of climate change and its impacts on marine ecosystems. The goal of the program is to research communication strategies that more effectively explain the complex processes of climate change and to train educational staff at informal science venues in those techniques. Bud Ris, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium stated, “We are aiming to shift the dialogue about climate change to a tone that is interesting, positive and leads to a problem solving mind set. The network’s challenge is to engage Americans in seeing themselves as part of the stories that they find in our exhibits.”

Among the partners are Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, FrameWorks Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and National Aquarium in Baltimore. Evaluation will be conducted by the New Knowledge Organization, Pennsylvania State University and Ohio’s Center for Science and Industry.

In a given year, more than 60 percent of the American public visits an informal science venue, such as zoos or aquariums. Dr. Paul Boyle, senior scientist for conservation and education at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums noted, “People trust AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums for accurate science education. This climate change education partnership is applying social and cognitive techniques to give front-line interpreters skills in explaining complex topics like climate change in the widely engaging arena of informal science education.”

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is the science partner for the project. Senior WHOI graduate students will provide up to date scientific information about climate change, the role of the ocean in climate change and climate change impacts on ocean chemistry and its ecosystems.

FrameWorks Institute identifies and models relevant communications research that can help interpreters frame the public discourse about climate change at informal science education venues.

“The grant will allow the partnership to scale up its training to hundreds of informal science venues nationwide through both in-person and on-line training models,” said New England Aquarium vice president Billy Spitzer, “With the effects of climate change in the news on a near daily basis, there is an increasing need for more discussion and understanding of these complex issues and challenges.”

RELATED: The Aquarium's climate change programming was recently featured in a New York Times article. Aquarium president Bud Ris is quoted in the piece saying, "We would like as many people, if not everyone, to leave encouraged to take action."

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