Our research and experience tell us the best way to inspire broad engagement and public support on climate across a large swath of Americans is to connect the issues to them personally. As professionals working on climate change, there are several ways we can make climate change more personally relevant:
- Make climate impacts more salient, visible, and linked to everyday life.
- Present proven, unambiguous solutions that benefit the economy, our health, and our security.
- Empower individuals, communities, companies, etc. to act with accessible options which contribute to solutions, like urban bike share programs and local produce.
- Build on the moral imperative and responsibility to our children, families, and communities
The Climate & Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) is doing exactly this in New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC. CUSP is a group of informal science educators, climate scientists, learning scientists, and community partners, funded by the National Science Foundation to explore innovative ways to educate city residents about climate change. In Philadelphia, led by the Franklin Institute, CUSP works with 60 local partners to engage city residents on the issue. They have relied on research conducted by our parent organization, ecoAmerica, to build their own framework for climate solutions. Richard Johnson, CUSP Senior Project Manager, explains, "ecoAmerica's research was instrumental in helping us craft our approach to climate change education. When we connected with them, it was funny, because here we were; these four northeast cities who had been experimenting with their research on a hyper-local scale for years, with great results to show for it. We’re really glad to have created a stronger relationship with them recently, and look forward to how their work will inform ours moving forward, and vice-versa.” Utilizing an approach that is “Local, Relevant, and Solutions-Focused,” CUSP maintains an open invitation to any local group who wants to work on climate change outreach, more effectively and more often.
CUSP Philadelphia also has a mini-grants program, which funds a diversity of projects, from the “Climate Disrupted Art Festival & Show,” a festival and gallery show at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education which combined visual art, music, performance, and community education to foster conversations about what attendees can do to be ready for climate change, to the “Climate Change Solutions for Community Health, Beautification, and Safety,” which provided community education to families living near Rainbow de Colores Park on climate change, public health, and the local environment. All of the projects are led by collaboration between a wide range of local partners, leading to a diversity of participation and engagement, in order to maximize community impact.
On the topic of personal connections for effective engagement, health is personally relevant to all of our lives, so it can be a critical element of climate messaging. Climate for Health was invited to speak in to a meeting of CUSP Philadelphia partners and stakeholders about our program. To one of the most well attended meetings of its kind, we presented on ecoAmerica’s mission, our theory of change, and our programs; the health impacts of climate change; the importance of personally relevant climate messaging and the critical role the health care provider can play as a trusted messenger in community-based work; and how to effectively communicate on climate solutions. The audience was very interested in the mental health impacts, especially, of climate change and how those may be adversely impacting the specific communities they are working with within Philadelphia. They were also excited to learn about the interest and momentum in the health sector around climate change. We look forward to continuing to work with CUSP to help build these relationships between health care professionals and other local stakeholders.
Jane S. Chang is the Program Manager for the Climate for Health Program. She has eight years of experience working with the health sector on the impacts of environment on our health and teaching the importance of communty engagement in successful public health programming.