Preparing for Climate Change with State-Specific Information (and Messages)

The Purdue Climate Change Research Center, where Jeff Dukes is director, created this infographic about the local effects of climate change.

Jeffrey Dukes gets straight to the point. “Climate change is real and it isn’t going to correct itself. The wise thing to do, in my opinion, is to prepare for those changes, and try to minimize [them].” He notes that communicating climate science is about engaging your audience, “speak[ing] to their values and concerns, not just tell[ing] them what you think they should hear.” 

Dukes is a professor of forestry and natural resources and biological sciences at Purdue University, where he explores how ecosystems and invasive species respond to climate and atmospheric changes. He directs the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, where interdisciplinary teams study the causes and impacts of climate change, develop predictive models, and examine novel ideas for mitigation and adaptation (in this short video, Dukes describes why they’re doing this work). Dukes also directs the Boston Area Climate Experiment, focusing on ecosystem responses to gradual changes in climate, and the Integrated Network for Terrestrial Ecosystem Research on Feedbacks to the Atmosphere and Climate (INTERFACE). This network fosters collaboration among researchers conducting field experiments and those using computer-based models of the climate system, to make Earth system models more realistic and improve our ability to plan for the future.

Jeff Dukes conducting a mock interview with Science senior correspondent Liz Pennisi during his AAAS training week in June 2016. | Credit: Mary Catherine Longshore.

Dukes is applying the training and networks he gained as a 2016-2017 Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow to another major project: coordinating the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment. The assessment focuses on creating climate change information that can be used by Indiana’s decision-makers. As part of this, Dukes and his teammates are engaging stakeholders in government, energy, municipal planning, agriculture, disaster planning, natural resource management, and risk management through presentations and conversations at state-level meetings.

The basic message he is using for Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment stakeholders is:

Preparing for climate change will benefit Indiana.  The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment is working to address the coming challenges.  This project:

  • Includes scientists and people working in many sectors around the state;
  • Is catalyzing a conversation on climate change in Indiana; and
  • Is empowering better decision-making by Hoosiers (with an audience-specific example).
  • Interested people can get involved. A first step is signing up for our newsletter.

Dukes acknowledges that public engagement related to climate can be a challenge in Indiana, where climate change discussions are often avoided, and little state-level information is available (a gap the impacts assessment is trying to fill). With the proper framing, however, he believes certain sectors are open to talking about climate change and preparing for future impacts. 

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.