ASTC 2007 attendees gathered October 12 at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, California, for a workshop that explored climate change issues and the role science centers can play in addressing them. Science centers have an important contribution to make, participants agreed, in building public understanding of the complex science of global warming and elevating the level of public discourse on the topic that ultimately shapes policy.
In the morning, attendees were taken through eye-opening presentations on the science of climate change and new government-initiated efforts to support science institutions in educating the public about the issue. In his opening remarks, Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), described how the agency is now in a unique position to contribute to the science education field because for the first time, it has authority to manage education and outreach efforts.Keith W. Dixon, meteorologist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) at Princeton University, then took workshop attendees through a highly informative tour of the large-scale and long-term effects of climate change and the ocean on one another. He described the problem of educating the public about a “warming commitment.” Even if current emissions levels are drastically reduced, he said, the earth would still continue to warm because of carbon dioxide’s slow rate of dissipation. Ultimately the ocean’s capacity to absorb large amounts of heat is what delays the effects in increase in global temperature and buys us time for action, he said.Waleed Abdalati, head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, finished with a presentation of evidence showing that the Greenland ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate. Are we at the tipping point of global warming, or are there multiple phases of climate stability? The science is still uncertain, he said.
During a late-morning tour, the Aquarium’s Green Team showed measures the institution has undertaken to be more environmentally responsible in its everyday operations. In addition to being a partner in the Sustainable Seafood Forum and serving seafood from sustainable sources to all aquarium animals and guests, the institution uses low-water consumption toilets and has undertaken a green expansion plan where all projects will be LEED-certified.
During the afternoon, participants divided into two groups to discuss informal science institutions as safe havens for public discourse on science policy issues. Although there were differences of opinion about the extent to which science centers should move beyond communicating the science to encourage action, all agreed that science centers have a responsibility to inform the public about complex and controversial topics.
Visit the IGLO web site and look for the next IGLO Newsletter for more in-depth recaps of the preconference workshop.