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Climate Change Town Hall at AAAS Annual Meeting Feeds into Larger Efforts

Burke Hales working with the Burke-o-Later, a device he developed to study ocean chemistry.
Burke Hales and the Burke-o-Later, a device he developed to study ocean chemistry.
Photo credit: Impact Media Lab/AAAS

On February 15, 2020, the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science ran one of the first “town hall” sessions held at a AAAS Annual Meeting. Geared toward involving meeting participants in discussion, this town hall introduced the Center’s recent climate communication project, How We Respond, and showed one of the short films developed as part of it. The film tells the story of a shellfish hatchery in Oregon adapting to ocean acidification through collaboration with scientists. Burke Hales, the lead scientist from the film, was present at the town hall, along with two How We Respond project advisors, Jessica Hellmann and Margaret Redsteer. Hales and Redsteer offered some of their observations from working with communities on climate issues, and Hellmann moderated. Attendees participated both through live polls (answering questions like, “When you talk about climate change, what topics do you focus on?” “What kinds of communities have you engaged with?”) and discussions of other prompts.

Participants talked about what kinds of approaches and messages seem to work best in inspiring action. Several people shared stories of engaging specific industries or interest groups already being affected by climate change, such as rural/farming communities, winemakers, and skiers. Their strategies included starting interactions by having small group conversations, talking about shared concerns like public transit, and pointing out ways people are already doing something that contributes to a solution. One person noted that partnerships with environmental justice organizations and other local community groups were integral to success. Max Boykoff, a climate communication researcher, described some of his work on the use of comedy and laughter to engage people in a way that brings hope and action rather than despair. In concluding the session, Redsteer, who has worked for years with tribes in the Southwest on water availability and climate adaptation, commented that scientists may sometimes think their role is just to provide information about the science – but it is time now to also think about solutions.

This town hall feeds into the AAAS Center for Public Engagement’s work developing additional resources to help scientists and communities have conversations about climate change responses. The Center is collaborating with the newly launched AAAS Local Science Engagement Network, which is supporting scientists first in Missouri and Colorado, and then elsewhere, in advancing regional, evidence-based responses to climate change and other pressing issues.


Elana Kimbrell

Project Director

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