The vast majority of climate scientists agree that our planet is warming and that human activities are the primary cause. In spite of this consensus, several studies have shown that the public does not understand that there is general agreement among experts, nor do they understand the basics of climate change science. This understanding gap is significant because research shows that people are more likely to support policy actions to reduce carbon emissions if they are aware of the overwhelming agreement among experts that humans are causing climate change.
At Lyndon, we understand that climate change presents humankind with a monumental challenge. We think it is crucial for today’s scientists to instill a sense of urgency for climate change action by educating the general public and key decision makers. This kind of engagement is beyond what is traditionally expected of scientists and takes a tremendous amount of passion and courage. We therefore provide our Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Change Science degree-seeking students with many opportunities to learn about and practice effective climate change communication skills. They do this through their coursework and participation in The Climate Consensus group.
The Climate Consensus group
The Climate Consensus group was established in 2014 by Lyndon students and faculty with two goals:
- Teach undergraduate students about effective ways to communicate basic climate change science to non-scientists.
- Improve public understanding of climate change science and the consensus gap, moving us toward a more sustainable future.
The Climate Consensus website
In 2017, we launched a website called TheClimateConsensus.com with a mission of educating others about the real science behind climate change. The website provides a platform for students, scientists, and organizations to produce and distribute clear and engaging data visualizations, informed discussions, and research findings about human-caused climate change. Like The Climate Consensus on Facebook, and follow The Climate Consensus on Twitter.
The Climate Consensus group meets monthly during the school year to discuss current events involving climate change and their impacts and to learn about ways to effectively communicate these ideas to non-scientists. The group often invites guest speakers. Past speakers have included Dr. Alan Betts and Dr. Ben Luce.
Visits to local schools
Students in The Climate Consensus group have visited several local schools including Lyndon Institute, Newark Street School, Burke Town School, Danville School, and Woodstock Union School. Visits to Concord School and Danville School were covered by Lyndon's News7 team. The group has worked closely with student members of the Lyndon AMS & NWA Club to serve as agents of change as NOAA Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors. Often, grade school students are not exposed to climate change science, and these classroom visits helped them to understand important topics such as the greenhouse effect, rising oceans, and more. These visits are also an excellent opportunity for the students in the group to practice explaining the science to non-scientists.
The Climate Consensus group members have engaged in a variety of community outreach activities including visiting a church, attending the Youth Rally for the Planet in Montpelier, the Youth Environmental Summit in Barre, and the Burke Community Fair. They have organized public lectures and movie screenings for the community. The group has even been invited to present on the science at town hall events to help inform policy decisions and local initiatives.
At Lyndon, we think scientists should be part of the solution. Many of our students have participated in peaceful demonstrations to promote climate change action. For example, on April 29, 2017, twenty-four Lyndon State College Atmospheric Science Department students joined over 200,000 others for the People's Climate March in Washington, DC. The goal was to pressure world leaders to act on climate change, as a direct response to a distressing reality -- while climate change is often talked about as a future problem, it is actually a current problem.
Communication among experts is crucial for the advancement of scientific understanding, but communication with non-scientists is necessary for climate change action. Atmospheric Science Department courses provide a platform for young scientists to practice the important skill of informal climate change communication. Much of this work is highlighted on The Climate Consensus website.
Presentations at national meetings
Interest in climate change communication is strong among higher education institutions across the country. Atmospheric Science faculty have highlighted student outreach efforts at regional and national conferences including 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the 2017 American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, and the 2018 Bridge/Work Conference at Valparaiso University.
Climate Courage Awards and Scholarships
In recognition of our students’ outreach efforts, local Vermont residents have established the Climate Courage Award and the Climate Courage Scholarship. The Award is given annually to a graduating senior and the Scholarship is given annually to a current student, both of which recognize students who have accepted the responsibility to educate other about the urgency of climate change action as demonstrated through their involvement with The Climate Consensus.
Why students participate in these efforts
"This is really important to me because I want to try and combat climate change in as many ways as I can..." - Arianna Varuolo-Clarke, Class of 2016 (founding student member)
"I wanted to educate the public on climate change in hopes that we may see a change in our agricultural system, fossil fuel consumption, and other areas that have a high impact on climate change." - Kayla St. Germain, Class of 2015 (founding student member)
"...it is a huge problem that not enough people care about... You have to find a careful balance that makes them care without scaring them and I wanted to be a part of this challenge and this process." - Jacqueline Laviolette, Class of 2015
“I love interacting with younger students because of their eagerness to learn, so being able to share my knowledge of climate change with them gives me a lot of joy.” - Lauriana Gaudet, Class of 2016
“The whole reason I am going to school is to learn how to keep the planet a better place for people after me, by using science. Climate change communication is a huge part of this.” - Melissa Segall, Class of 2016
“I joined CCC to learn more about climate change and how to communicate it to the general public. I also wanted to get to know others who had similar interests to me." - Allison LaFleur, Class of 2016
"The group has helped me learn more about climate change and I've been able to use a lot of the information learned form the group when talking to friends and family about climate change." - Jeremy Sousa, Class of 2017
"I feel more confident about my understanding of climate change so I feel more comfortable asserting and explaining myself in conversations."
"The more I discuss and answer questions on climate change to an audience of non-scientists, the more comfortable I become in presenting and answering questions."
"Instead of shying away from this controversial topic, I now welcome conversations about climate change from my family and friends who do not 'believe' in climate change."