Climate change education in zoos
I'm in San Francisco this week for the annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the world's largest gathering of Earth Scientists. Over ten thousand scientists from all over the world, including most of the world's top climate scientists, are in town this week to exchange ideas to advance the cause of Earth Science. This year, there is much attention being given to communication of science to the public, and the first talk I attended today on the subject was given by Dr. Michael Mann of Penn State University. Dr. Mann has been at the center of much recent controversy over climate science, and has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal titled, "Climate Contrarians Ignore Overwhelming Evidence". His "hockey stick" graphs showing the unprecedented increase in global temperatures over the past 1,000 years has been the subject of heated attack, much of it orchestrated by the public relations wings of powerful industries whose profits are threatened by by possibility of regulatory action to reduce global warming. He has a book coming out in January titled, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Dr. Mann reaffirmed his stance on human-caused climate change in his talk this morning, calling attention to a paper that appeared in Nature Geoscience last week, finding that most of the observed warming of Earth's climate in recent decades—at least 74 percent—is almost certainly due to human activity. Dr. Mann said that this study did not go far enough, and that more than 100% of the warming in the past 30 years was due to humans. Without humans, the climate would have cooled over the past 30 years.
Figure 1. An example of educational material on polar bears that has been developed by CliZEN for use at nine U.S. zoos.
Dr. Mann also introduced a new pilot program he is involved with to advance climate change education through U.S. zoos. The National Science Foundation-funded project is called CliZEN, The Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network. Zoos represent a unique way for people to connect to the natural world, and over 50 million people in the U.S. go to the zoo each year--double that, if one includes aquariums. Thus, zoos thus offer a unique opportunity to communicate how climate change threatens the natural world. People who go to zoos are approximately 50% more likely to be alarmed or concerned about climate change than the general population, Dr. Mann showed. The initial eduction effort has a polar theme, and is being brought to nine zoos: the Chicago Zoological Society of Brookfield, IL; Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, OH; Como Zoo & Conservatory, St. Paul, MN; Indianapolis Zoo, IN; Louisville Zoological Garden, KY; Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, PA; Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, RI; and the Toledo Zoological Gardens, OH. The organization Polar Bears International is helping develop the educational material.