FrameWorks helps ocean scientists communicate on climate change

We depend upon our oceans for life on this planet. Our oceans not only provide food that we eat, but they also regulate the air that we breathe. However, climate change is disrupting the ocean’s ecosystem and its abilities to provide these services.

How can scientists communicate effectively to the public about the effects of climate change in the ocean?

The FrameWorks Institute was at the Woods Hole Ocean Institute in Massachusetts recently to guide science practitioners in this important endeavor.

On the first day of our engagement, we heard a presentation from Dr. Anne Cohen about the latest research on ocean acidification. She explained how carbon dioxide released from the burning of petroleum and coal for energy and transportation is absorbed by the oceans, which acts as a carbon sink. This carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. The increase of carbonic acid in the ocean makes it difficult for marine organisms and animals to thrive. This is leading to an ecosystem collapse for marine animals such as plankton, coral, and shellfish – all of whom play an important role in the marine foodchain.

We then heard from the FrameWorks Institute President, Susan Bales, on how scientists and aquarium interpreters can best share this knowledge with the public. She spoke about the importance of starting this message with values, such as interdependence, to frame this topic in a way that connects the public to our relationship with the ocean. Bales also spoke at length about how to integrate simplifying models, causal chains, and community level solutions into an effective story on ocean warming and ocean acidification.

Afterwards, I led a workshop during our working lunch called “Learning By Seeing: Spokesperson Scientists Speak on Ocean Acidification.” In this part of the presentation, I showed a series of ocean scientist interviews to our audience so that participants could learn the “do’s and don’ts” of framing on this issue.

We spent the rest of the afternoon working one-on-one with WHOI scientists to help them better communicate their research and its importance to the media.

Our second day with the aquarium interpreters in our study circle focused entirely on how to tell the core story of climate change and the ocean in a way that establishes why the public should care, what the science tells us, and what are the most feasible solutions. Alexis Bunten and Suzanne Lo led the group in a series of exercises so participants can integrate this knowledge into their communications practice.

Finally, Dr. Susan Avery, the Director of WHOI, visited our group towards the end of our engagement. She mentioned to participants that the oceans are a place where climate change effects are immediate and measurable. She encouraged participants to apply their best communicative skills so that we have public support of initiatives that restore balance and vitality to the marine ecosystems of the world.

Shannon Arvizu, Frame Works Institute, 23 June 2011. Article.

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