By Ashley Bradt
When given the task to come up with a way to convey the difficult topic of climate change, my head was spinning. Politics, arguments, personal agendas, oh my! The last thing I wanted to do at my happy place (work) was get into an argument about politics. How was I going to avoid it? As soon as I use the words climate change, some people will tune out. It was a task I knew needed to be done and was vitally important to our Earth, but couldn’t somebody else do it? Wasn’t that Al Gore’s job? Although so many people hate him now… wouldn’t that turn into me!?! What a conundrum….
What if it didn’t have to do with politics? What if we tricked people into learning about climate change without them realizing it? After all… climate change doesn’t have to have a political agenda attached to it. It is simply the way the average climate of our Earth has been changing over a given time. And that’s what we’d teach people. Not the controversial issues, but the simple definitions and facts. Then, hopefully, we get the wheels turning and people can make up their minds after they have the facts.
Next, we had to come up with a fun way to get these facts across.. to all ages. We created a “climate change cart” which is an interactive cart set up with props, activities, and graphs. Everything we need to talk climate change in a positive way. It took a lot of research to be ready. We put together easy how to guides for the activities and an extensive background info sheet for volunteers and staff to read. We made sure we were very comfortable with all of the information out there, the myths and misconceptions included. Training the volunteers and staff took a lot of time. They were apprehensive at first and overwhelmed with the topic and amount of information/graphs. We decided to focus on the fun activities and less on the heavy graphs. We also allowed them to change the name of the cart to the “Go Green” cart. This made the cart easier to approach by guests and still allowed us to talk about climate change in a positive, “Go Green!” way. We focus on what we can do to help the plants and animals on our Earth. We touch briefly on the negative things that are happening… for example, sea levels rising, ocean acidification, and polar ice caps. But, we always pair the negative with something positive that we can do as citizens to make a difference. We have found that this is very important. Keep it light, positive, and fun! 🙂 We give the kids a “go green” stamp after they do an activity and hopefully they leave feeling inspired.
One activity that you can do is about ocean acidification. If you put a seashell (a familiar one so the kids can relate) in a cup of water and then another seashell in a cup that is slightly more acidic (you can do this with lemon juice), you can actually see the bubbles coming from the shell. This helps the guests see first hand why it is difficult for animals like mollusks and gastropods to make their shells in water that is too acidic. You could even have a hermit crab or whelk out for them to touch. This type of interpretation makes the topic more real to them instead of showing them a bunch of graphs.
The goal of the climate change cart is to hopefully have guests leave with a better understanding of what climate change is, how its affecting our planet in a negative way, and what we can do to make a positive change. With motivating words and fun activities, we have found it to be an effective way to get that tough topic across to our guests. 🙂