Global sustainability: Where do science centers fit in?

How can science centers better catalyze public understanding and local action on climate change? At a plenary session October 19, ASTC conference participants joined in an animated, action-oriented discussion moderated by Joe Palca, science correspondent for National Public Radio.

Providing background for the discussion were Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and principal investigator for Columbia University‚Äôs Center for Research on Environmental Decisions; Lynne Cherry, author of the children’s book How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming; and Philip C. Myrick, urban planner and vice president of Project for Public Spaces.

Citing results of a series of empirical assessments of worldwide public values, attitudes, and behaviors regarding global sustainability, Leiserowitz reported that while awareness of global warming is high in the United States, it is commonly seen as a distant problem. Raising awareness in countries where it is now low, helping to make local connections, and providing the understanding required for informed action are educational challenges science centers can help to address, he said.

Cherry spoke about the power of children to catalyze action among older people and shared stories she has collected of young people engaged in local research and educational activities. Myrick said that science centers should “put the knowledge and power of science into the hands of communities.” Science centers and museums can provide much-needed places where people can come together, make connections, and help each other to move from denial and grief to action, he said.

ASTC has already put a number of initiatives into motion, including a coordinated day of National Conversation on Climate Action, the Albedo Project, and the recently funded project Communicating Climate Change. Conversations among those participating in today’s session will continue online, led by a task force that includes Sheila Grinell of Phoenix, Arizona; Charlie Trautmann of Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York; Emlyn Koster of the Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, New Jersey; and Kim Cavendish of the Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.