Ep 45 – Film Club – Arrival

When gigantic spaceships touchdown in 12 locations around the world. Linguist Louise Banks is approached to lead a team attempting to find a way to communicate with  extraterrestrial visitors. Pressure mounts as nations teeter on the verge of a global arms crisis which could be set off by a simple misunderstanding.

You may want to watch the film before listening and consider:

  • How does Louise’s approach to communication differ from the other characters?
  • Are there lessons which can be applied to environmental and science communication?
  • What preconceptions do other characters bring to the situation? 
  • Are the preconceptions helpful or a hindrance?

Guest on this episode: Atul Kumar, fundraising consultant, author, and podcaster

Changing perspective and reevaluating priorities

In the film

  • Shifting perspective and changing ways of thinking are major themes in the film
    • Louise must convince the military to accept a more nuanced view of what they want in order to reduce chances of miscommunication with the aliens.
    • We come to understand that the memories we are shown in the film is Louise gaining access to memories of her whole life, allowing her to see the consequences of her choices. This gives extra depth and poignancy to her decisions to begin a relationship with Ian and have a child.
  • In tackling environmental challenges
    • Nationalist concerns appear less significant when taking a global perspective. Greenhouse gas emissions do not respect national boundaries. Impacts of climate change will be felt globally. Etc.
    • Historical and future emissions are as important and current emissions.
    • Short term benefits might not be worth it when weighed against long term costs.
    • Evaluation of costs tend to focus on the local and short term.They ignore externalities (costs which are not born by the producer of a product). For example, environmental damage from resource extraction and the impact that has on local communities. Unless companies are forced to repair the damage or contribute to the community, often the cost of this damage is ignored.
    • Being able to shift perspective allows us to better take into account externalities and re-evaluate what is important

More about externalities:

IMF – Externalities: Prices do not reflect all costs – Article

Personal perspectives, biases, and ideology

  • Perspective relates to what we can see. What information is available/hidden.
  • Ideology encompasses ideas about: value/importance, morality, responsibility; and that a version of these ideas are natural or universal truth. Like a lens which colours what we see.
  • Bias describes the result of how ideology interacts with our perspective. Our blind-spots; how we interpret things; the directions we lean; what we are likely to believe or agree with

Starting point for further reading

Malka A, Krosnick JA, Langer G. The association of knowledge with concern about global warming: trusted information sources shape public thinking. Risk Analysis. 2009 May;29(5):633-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01220.x. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

In the film

  • Louise has a very different perspective from Ian because she knows what will happen if she has a child. 
  • Her perspective may give her a bias towards choosing not to change her decision to have a relationship with Ian and to have a child because she has experienced the positives of the loving relationship with Ian and their daughter. 
  • Ian doesn’t have a clear bias one way or another when asked whether he would change things if he could see his whole life, start to finish. He has no relevant experience to inform him.
  • Louise places high value on the experiences with her daughter, and that this outweighs consequences of her daughter dying young. Ian’s values and sense of morality, lead him to a different conclusion. Differences in their ideology (values etc.) lead them to different conclusions about the ‘rightness’ of their choices.

In communication about the environment

  • Confirmation bias – people are more likely to believe information which fits in with what they already ‘know’.
  • Trust in science/scientists can have an effect on how knowledge is correlated with concern or willingness to take action.
  • The reality of climate change, its causes and consequences, is as removed from individual ideologies as we can get. This is the goal of scientific processes.
  • There is an understanding of what we need to achieve: reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. What should be done to reach that goal is less clear because it is tightly linked to ideology; what we place value on, how we think about morality and responsibility etc. 
  • Being aware of our own bias and attempting to take different perspectives can help us recognize how ideology affects how we interpret physical reality and rebalance how we weigh information. It tends to encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate surroundings, and instead consider the global community and long term consequences.

More detailed explanations of ideology

How we communicate affects how the message is received

  • Louise points out that using a game as a medium for communication can frame messages in terms of opposition and conflict.
  • How we communicate about climate change can affect how those messages are received.
  • Too much focus on the scale of the problem can be overwhelming, or lead to a kind of ‘compassion fatigue‘.
  • Learning more about a problem may not help with taking action if the learning doesn’t include solutions.

Bjarne Bruun Jensen (2002): Knowledge, Action and Pro- environmental Behaviour, Environmental Education Research, 8:3, 325-334

Ep 26 – Teaching about Climate Change

In our experience, many non-school education providers offer 45min – 1hour sessions. In an effort to help teachers and attract bookings these are often curriculum focused. This has meant that climate change has been an add-on to the session, if the educator is able to fit the topic into the timeslot. However, in the last couple years, many organizations are reevaluating and redeveloping their programmes to incorporate climate change in a more substantial way. 

Organizations which work with schools on longer programmes seem to be better able to approach big topics requiring systemic changes, like climate change. The multi-lesson format allows these providers to teach key concepts, investigate consequences, and work with students to create solutions to problems.

It may be better for providers offering only short sessions to not worry about directly addressing climate change in sessions which already have another focus.Instead these sessions could emphasize developing pro-environmental attitudes as it is this attitude which forms the basis for willingness to take action on climate change. 

Addressing climate change in schools

Climate anxiety

Climate change is a big problem with frightening consequences. It can cause anxiety in adults and children.

  • Approach the topic in manageable chunks
  • Acknowledge students’ feelings
  • Give students agency by identifying problems in their environment which they can tackle
  • Give students opportunities to have positive experiences in nature

Developing pro-environmental attitudes

Chawla, Louise. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world: A theoretical framework for empirical results. Children, Youth and Environments. 17. 144-170. 

Asah, Stanley & Bengston, David & Westphal, Lynne. (2012). The Influence of Childhood: Operational Pathways to Adulthood Participation in Nature-Based Activities. Environment and Behavior. 44. 545-569.

Send in your questions and comments!

Email: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Twitter: @kn_podcast

Music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Ep 25 – Introduction to climate change

A quick guide to the basics of climate science and the impacts of climate change.

Guests on this episode: Catia and Maggie

A few keywords

Global warming – Describes the pattern of increasing average temperatures seen in records from around the world.

Global heating – Describes the same pattern seen in data, but without the potentially misleading positive associations with warmer weather. 

Weather – What’s happening outside right now.

Climate – Long-term average conditions. (BBC explainer for the UK climate)

Climate change – Changes in long-term average conditions

Climate breakdown – Changes in average conditions causing a change or break in systems which maintain the climate of an area. An example of this would be if the gulf stream slowed significantly or stopped altogether. This would likely lead to much colder climates in western Europe.

Forcing – A factor which tends to push temperatures up or down. 

  • Examples include: 
    • Sunlight being absorbed by dark surfaces and becoming heat, forcing temperatures up.
    • Carbon dioxide absorbing heat which would escape into space and reradiating it back to the surface, forcing average temperatures up.
    • Snow/ice reflecting sunlight back into space, forcing local temperatures down.

Feedbacks – A change in a factor which affects itself.  For example, a warming climate reduces ice cover. This means less light is reflected out into space, further warming the climate and causing even more ice to melt.

Tipping points – When conditions change in such a way that the system moves from one state to another. For example, glaciers generally get larger in winter and shrink in summer as some of the ice melts. If the glacier shrinks too much, the warmth generated by sunlight being absorbed by the ground could mean that the climate of the area becomes too warm for the glacier to melt each summer more than it grows in winter. 

Climate models– A simplified system which simulates the effects of a set of conditions. Usually these are computer programs which are run many times with slight changes in certain conditions or assumptions. Simulations which match existing data are then used to predict what is likely to happen in the future.

A few of the impacts

  • Plants
    • Warmer temperatures can increase plant growth. However if temperatures are too high then plants can be damaged or die. 
    • Warmer winter temperatures can cause plants to begin growing earlier. However they are then at greater risk of damage from frost.
    • Temperature can affect plants and their insect pollinators differently. This may eventually cause plants and their pollinators to emerge from winter out of sync with one another.
  • Animals
    • Warmer winters have been linked with bees and other pollinators emerging earlier in the year. However it is also linked with higher winter mortality and poorer body condition.
    • May allow insects which transmit diseases which can affect humans to spread to more areas.
  • Humans
    • Melting ice sheets is causing sea levels to rise. This threatens coastal and low lying communities.
    • Warmer global temperatures have been linked with more extreme weather events. Of particular concern is hurricanes, which are powered by warm ocean waters and may become more frequent and/or more powerful.
  • Climate justice
    • Impacts of climate change will not impact all communities in the same way or to the same degree. Current and predicted impacts hit poorer communities and countries harder. (Example: Bangledesh floods.) 
    • Wealthier countries are more likely to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

UN sustainable development goals – Climate justice

Sources for more information

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Send in your questions and comments!

Email: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Twitter: @kn_podcast

Music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License