The Quality of Cranes

Another beautiful line from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages – to the beautiful, to the valuable, to that yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”

– Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy, Sand County Almanac (1937)


What is the most important question facing environmental education in light of climate change?

This week’s question from the EECapacity Climate Change Education Course:

What is the most important question facing environmental education in light of climate change?

Some responses from participants:

Here’s one question I wonder about: How can we (environmental educators) advocate for climate change action at different scales while maintaining credibility and trust among varied audiences? How much should funding (or risk of losing funding) determine what actions we do or do not advocate for? — Sara Cole

I’m taking a second stab at what’s the key question facing environmental educators in light of climate change: Who do we most need to influence, and who are we most capable of influencing? If we try to teach everyone everything they need to know to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we’re bound to fail. We need to focus, and focus especially on the people who can and will do something now to make a difference. This could be partly an environmental justice issue–we need to be taking the case to the perpetrators, such as the CEOs of companies involved in deforestation, more than raising awareness of deforestation in impoverished schools which need to focus on their local issues. It could have ethical ramifications too in the common EE focus on school children–is it ethical for educators to raise fears of, say, global famine, among children too young to participate in solutions? Given the limited resources of EE, focusing on the “gatekeepers” of change seems more likely to be a fair and justified approach, and more likely to succeed in rapid change (if only we can figure out how to do it!). This new tool from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications may be helpful to get started, because it helps identify current attitudes and beliefs at a very local level. — Julie Dunlap

From my point of view I think it is not only ONE the important question that the EE is facing regarding climate change. Because results of scientific studies indicate that the current state of pollution because of emissions of greenhouse gases already have inevitable consequences in the mid-term, environmental education programs must simultaneously target the mitigation of impacts and adaptation processes for purposes of global warming.
Given this conditions, EE should target the diverse audiences in the country (from political levels to rural and urban communities).

For example, schools should not have “Environmental Education” as a separate subject from mathematics or sports. Contrary, curriculum should be “different” from the traditional approach by disciplines and have “integrated” curricula, enhancing students to be more analytical in the resolution of complex problems while leading to structured explanations to issues such as climate change.

In rural areas, EE should not focus its programs in showing the consequences of inadequate agricultural practices but instead come up with new and effective techniques that improve crop development in a sustainable way with the environment. This would contribute further, to minimize the emigration to cities for lack of opportunities in the rural area.

In urban where an unsustainable consumption model is marked and pronounced, EE programs need to be addressed differently.

Not less important, and being aware of our disappointment about politics and policies, advocacy and civic engagement is a huge challenge for EE. (Rocio Gutierrez)

Regarding the most important question facing Environmental Educators in light of climate change, my first answer would be that it’s impossible to narrow down to one question. Environmental Education can be an important route for increasing climate change awareness and concern but of course it’s not the only means. It’s important, I think, to keep in mind that it’s such a complex and trans-disciplinary issue that crosses so many sectors. While I may have come into climate change concern via environmental education, others may be more motivated by seeing it through lenses such as physics, economics, social-justice, religion, or public health. It’s our challenge as educators to know how we can frame it most effectively for our audience -and to collaborate effectively across sectors. The other struggle we have is how to communicate the importance and urgency of this “wicked problem” without scaring, alienating or numbing those who might be willing to listen. Oh and of course, leading by example (i.e. walking the talk ourselves) -not always easy given current structures and boundaries. — Beverly Helen

I can honestly say that the question: “What is the most important question facing environmental education in light of climate change?” overwhelmed me. There were so many important factors listed in our readings for this week. However, I have to say that the most important factor to me is the political climate. Conservatives have the power to cut funding and control government rules and regulations. For example, Senator James Inhofe is the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has also stated that the Bible refutes climate change. Unfortunately, Inhofe is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Therefore, he has a lot of power to limit climate change legislation. The budget of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has cut environmental education as well as other environmental functions. The officials of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have been ordered to not use the terms “climate change” or “global warming.” — Lenore Hitchler

To me the most important question facing environmental education in light of climate change is to ask why there are not more active citizens around the globe who value the environment and are speaking up about climate change and changing their own behaviour, AND recognizing that, how can EE help to foster that in the next generation? — Chelsie Amy

More soon!

How do you communicate about climate change?

Here are some of my reflections taken from the Climate Change Communication seminar I took in my last year of graduate school. I am saving them here with hopes to share and build on them in the EECapacity Climate Change Education course I am currently enrolled in.

  • Above all else – be respectful; model respectfulness. Be honest and open about your objectives and approach. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Don’t be manipulative; be transparent and open. Build trust.
  • Don’t assume that people aren’t capable of learning, doing, or caring about something new. They are – and can. Acknowledge their abilities, qualities, achievements – and potential. People will go to the moon and back for things that are dear to them; if you can find a way to relate the issue to something they already care about, and if you can create a setting that allows chances for people to take meaningful action, they will be ready and willing to do the rest.
  • Strive to know your audience; make communication a conversation and not a one-way “transmission.” Be open to hearing what others have to say. When appropriate, acknowledge that you can learn a lot from them and their ways of thinking about an issue. Really try to understand where they are coming from – try to create fertile ground where new ideas, insights, and solutions sprout.
  • Strive for credibility, legitimacy and salience. Have trusted sources or be a trusted source (credibility); get to know your audience, or at least make an effort to incorporate stakeholders’ values (legitimacy); make the message as salient as possible (easy to understand).
  • Humans process all information cognitively and emotionally. Design communications with both kinds of processing in mind. This class has led me to having a more nuanced view of emotions as well as their place in communications. I have come to learn that (1) all information, no matter how objectively presented, is always processed emotionally to some extent; (2) it is sometimes okay, and sometimes even best, if the communicator gives some clues about how the recipient should feel about something (if you care about X, then you should feel concerned about Y); you can’t always assume that the recipients will make the connections themselves. It is not unreasonable to think that people sometimes prefer being told how information relates to what they care about. As an educator, I will always try to design communications with “emotion” or “value” aspects in mind (rather than treating them as if they are non-existent or not important).
  • Highlight the near and far; the tangible and the intangible. It is erroneous to assume that people only care about concrete things that are happening right here and right now. While it is important to focus on the small-scale (which, arguably, are not be focused on enough), highlighting both the small-scale (e.g., household actions) and large-scale (e.g., collective impact) aspects may actually be the most effective way to motivate action. Powerful communication aligns both.
  • Talk about the how and why. When addressing what can be done about climate change, don’t only give factual or procedural knowledge. Appeal to values and connect to them the bigger picture. I think of MLK giving his “I have a Dream” speech: What if he only talked about how to achieve civil rights, but not why?
  •  Provide a frame – or else the audience will apply one of their own. Smart framing can overcome traditional communication barriers. Audiences use framing to make sense of an issue; journalists use it to make appealing news reports; policymakers use frames to make decisions. If you don’t provide the frame, audiences will apply one of their own. The most effective frames are ones that are compatible with a person’s “mental model” (existing interpretation). Frames can be social, economic, moral, scientific, and more.
  • You never know what’s truly effective until you methodically and objectively evaluate it. You can’t assume that something worked without doing an evaluation; also, be wary of others who claim that their approach was effective but don’t have any data or evaluations to support what they’re saying. Risk communication is a very delicate process – evaluations will help you make sure that your approach is not doing more harm than good.
  • Make the process participatory. There is not a lot of research on them yet, but they seem to be a promising way to build relationships, foster a sense of “ownership” over the issues, give people in the community a chance to understand the constraints within which they are working, provide chances for citizens to gain technical competence, reduce conflicts, achieve satisfying outcomes, and so on. I look forward to reading more about how, why, and when to use participatory processes.
  • Don’t just read about communication theories – talk with others about it, and eventually get out there and practice it. It is one thing to study the theories about risk communication; it is an entirely different thing to discuss it with others (as we did in our seminar class). There is no substitute for a good conservation – especially one in which notions, beliefs, and ideas are challenged (and then modified/defended). Getting rigorous experiences with friends first is a great way to prepare yourself for work in the actual field.

Targeting Microplastics in the Great Lakes


This is a story I recently wrote about microplastics research for the SNRE blog. You can view the original post here.

Microplastic particles – from facial scrubs, toothpastes, nylon and fleece clothing, and plastic debris – have entered the Great Lakes and opened new areas of research for scientists.

Most current research has focused on studying the impacts of microplastic particles on marine ecosystems. Research on microplastic particles in freshwater ecosystems, particularly the Great Lakes, remains largely understudied – but is just as critical, since the Great Lakes are central to the region’s health, providing vital life support for its interconnected ecosystems and drinking water to 30 million people.

Researchers at SNRE have taken the lead on tracing the effects of microplastic particles in the Great Lakes – although the current research has only scratched the surface, says SNRE’s Jennifer Daley.

Daley, a research fellow in Allen Burton’s Ecotoxicology Lab, recently gave a lecture at the Cranbrook Institute of Science as a part of their new exhibit, Plastic Waters: From the Great Lakes to the Oceans. The exhibit is presented by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes and the California-based 5 Gyres Institute.

Some of the most urgent research areas so far include:

  • In a 2013 study, 12% of the microplastics came in the form of microplastic fibers, shed from synthetic fabrics like nylon and polar fleece. The source? Our washing machines, suspects Daley, who highlighted the need for more research on microplastic fibers.
  • Microplastic particles can affect organisms in unknown ways, impacting an organism’s behavior or morphology – such as reducing mobility or delaying ovulation, in for example.
  • Microplastic particles can also carry chemical contaminants which can interfere with growth, development, and reproductive health.
  • Microplastics are continually being broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, making it both easier for plastic to enter ecosystems and harder to clean up.

Research on microplastics in the Great Lakes has only led to more questions – like if microplastics are reacting with other chemicals in the environment, like legacy contaminants such as PCBS.

The research has also led to a movement to ban microplastics from personal products, and increased pressure on companies to find biodegradable alternatives.

“With young science, it’s beneficial to look at other focus areas to do our research, and some of those directions I can see in the future would be understanding the types of microplastic that are the biggest current threat,” Daley said.

Read the original story on Craig’s Detroit Business.

2015 Visit Day


Me, Arman, Adithya, & Kelly (featuring Kate Leigh as the wonderful photobomber).

A snapshot of some of my closest colleagues and me from last week’s Visit Day at SNRE, which I attended wearing the hat of ‘official event photographer.’ (Really, it was fun — this year, we had a Climate Change Teach-In, Cornhole Championship, and more.) Here is the one photo of me from the camera roll, proving my recent existence. 🙂

Hope everyone is doing well!

Birding Down Under

So we recently returned from a family trip to Sydney, Australia! This was my second time visiting the Eastern Hemisphere — the first time being to Japan during a study abroad program in high school, years and years ago.

Most of our time was spent with family. Most birding was incidental, looking out for them during our morning walks or visit to the park by the pond.

Still, knowing how much there was to see, my husband and I made sure to talk at least one bird walk outside of the neighborhood. We connected with the local birding club and arranged to go on their next outing, in downtown Sydney’s beautiful green and spacious Centennial Park.

The park features many different types of habitats, including ponds, forest patches, grasslands, swampland, and more. Great for seeing a wide variety of birds; it definitely delivered. We saw currowongs, ibises, spoonbills, cormorants, a Toulouse goose… well, a whole lot of birds — the list is down below, along with some photos.

The walk we took was guided by Trevor Waller who not only found and identified birds we saw, but shared lots of interesting natural history information about each one. (The striking blue-and-black Superb Fairywrens, for example, are nicknamed “the least faithful birds in the world” as up to 76% of chicks are sired by fathers outside of the pair-bonds. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to learn that fairywren parents feed one another’s chicks. Superb fairywrens are also said to be Australia’s favorite bird.)

Centennial Park was beautiful and the weather was perfect, given you like lots of sunshine. There weren’t many cars, but lots of walkers and even more cyclists. The 189-hectare area park features amenities like sandwich shops and restrooms. I definitely recommend visiting this very large park if you like green spaces and walking trails. If you go, be sure to bring sun protection (there will probably be lots of bright sunshine and not as much ozone to protect you from it).

Here are some of the birds we saw while in and around Sydney:

Our Centennial Park list (with some notes):

Pacific Black Duck
Dusky Moorhen – Red faceplate with yellow tip
Purple Swamphen – Very tame birds
Eurasian Coot – White faceplate
Australasian Grebe
Australian Figbird – two preening at the tippy-top of the weeping willow
Black Swan
Pied Cormorant – On the island with all of the ibises
Great (Black) Cormorant – Also there, panting in the sun, moving the cool air over its tongue
Little Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Australasian Darter – “Snakebird” with very sharp, spear-like bill
Australian White Ibis
Royal Spoonbill – Black legs and black bill. Foraging with ibises.
Channel-billed Cuckoo – Two flying between trees around the pond; the largest cuckoo and nest parasite in the world.
White-faced Heron – By the second pond, further in. The same pond with all the nesting birds.
Crested Pigeon – Foraging on the ground in the sun.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo – Several, all around the park.
Rainbow Lorikeet – Flyover, by large fig tree.
Magpie Lark – Serenading us from a low branch on the fig tree.  Black eyestripe.
Reed Warbler – Quietly moving about in the reeds. Spotted briefly as it reacted to pishing.
Fairy Martin – The “white ping pong ball” flying to and fro above the big pond at the intersection of Musgrave & the Circle road.
Welcome Swallow – Flying with the martins.
Noisy Miner
Common Myna
Powerful Owl – Sitting still in the tree, way up high
Spotted Dove – by the Reed Warbler

This was my first time birding in a place where I knew almost none of the birds. It was thrilling to discover and observe so many new species.

I’d like to one day sit down and read more about what we saw, and maybe prepare a little bit more for next time — since we will probably be going again at least once every few years since we now have family there.