Experience is a Great Teacher: Communicating Climate Change Through Local Observations
Abigail Long, Resilience Outreach Fellow, describes her personal experiences with climate change and the power of community science.
As someone who has lived in the same town for the majority of my life, I have many memories of the same places during every season. I would spend Spring and Summer catching and releasing butterflies and watching the bees fly from flower to flower, and my winters sledding down the hills at my elementary school. As I grew older, those seasons started to look different. I noticed less bees and butterflies flying around and there were fewer snow storms to provide enough snow to sled. In those 18 years in my hometown, I observed a dramatic shift due to climate change. I am shocked and sobered by my own observations of rapid change in what feels like a brief moment.
Climate change has been and will continue to be studied by scientists around the world, but what impact do their findings have if people do not understand or believe them? Science communication is the practice of educating and informing people on scientific practices and discoveries in a way that is comprehensible and accessible to all audiences. It is an important practice as we experience anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change. I share my own experience because there is power in speaking about climate change in an experience-centered way. It is powerful to reflect on your experienced environment and observe the current conditions to compare to the past. Personal observations and knowledge are valuable data points for researchers – they give insight into the local impacts climate change is having and the perspectives of those who are experiencing it first hand.
Community science is collaborative, community-based research that assists in capturing, analyzing and sharing information to assist in the understanding of a central research topic. Projects that utilize community science are able to gather a wider range of perspectives and a continued interest and involvement in the question researchers seek to answer. Allowing for the input of diverse voices and continuous participation in important projects paints a more cohesive picture and brings to light the true problems the community is facing.
At the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), where I am serving this year, there are several ongoing community science projects that mobilize communities to collect observational data, creating an army of community scientists. I am focused on expanding the Coastal Flooding Community Science project to all of the coastal Cumberland County municipalities. The project asks participants to make observations and share their perspectives on coastal flooding and is used as an educational tool to teach about sea level rise to an audience of all generations.
Coastal flooding observed in Portland.
The hope of GMRI’s community science projects is to bring awareness to coastal challenges and through active participation, increase the amount a community understands and cares about the issue and its impacts. Awareness and passion leads to increased pressure to act and therefore real action within a community.
Utilizing community science as a form of communication allows for individual agency over overwhelming issues like climate change. I have come to realize that in all of those years spent running around with butterflies and getting excited for snow storms, I was collecting my own personal data to be used as evidence in my understanding of climate change. As we continue to be faced with environmental threats, local observations and sharing of experiences are key to building resilience and stewarding an environment fit for future generations.
Abigail is originally from Setauket, NY on the north shore of Long Island. She recently graduated from Binghamton University with bachelor's degrees in biology and environmental science with a concentration in ecosystems. Through her studies, she developed an interest in sustainability and the growing connection between humans and the environment. By working in the parks department, interning on an organic farm and being involved in a variety of community groups, Abigail has developed a greater understanding and interest in building strong community relationships. She believes that community focused organizations are the cornerstone to creating positive change. Abigail loves everything about the outdoors, but also loves to cook, listen to music, make (and eat) charcuterie boards, meet new people and spend time with friends and family. She is excited to learn more about community science efforts in Maine and connect with the Greater Portland community!