Today’s Guest Post is by Sara Poirier, founder of Spark Strategic Science Communication & Public Engagement. Sara has 18 years of experience developing exhibits, educational programs and writing for publications like Yale Climate Connections.
Innovative museums across the US and Canada are creating exciting programs to change the conversation around climate change from one of doom and gloom to one of hope about the future. At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit 2017, 240 speakers shared their success stories and proposals for solving important conservation and sustainability issues. Online streaming brought in thousands of virtual attendees from around the world. Youth-centered events included conservation salons and maker-style sessions on topics like how to launch a kickstarter campaign. Satellite public programs were held at 14 of the Smithsonian’s museums in Washington, New York, and Panama.
These museums understand that hope is more than a feel-good emotion.Sara Poirier
Hope is a powerful antidote to feelings of powerlessness around climate change. Scholars like Maria Ojala have shown that people are more likely to take action when concern about climate change is paired with hope about the future.1 Hope serves as a powerful motivational force that empowers people to act even in the face of uncertainty, and brings a greater capacity for constructive thinking. 2, 3
Hope as a set of cognitive processes
In his widely accepted model, C. R. Snyder describes hope as a set of cognitive processes with three main components:
- goals (things we want to happen),
- pathway thinking (our ability to think of paths to reach our goals), and
- agency thinking (motivation to follow paths to reach our goals).
Museums looking to apply Snyder’s cognitive model of hope might use approaches like:
- Inspiring people to consider alternative futures (fostering goal-setting).
- Helping people to understand climate change concepts to better navigate a way forward (supporting pathway thinking).
- Sharing inspiring stories of actions communities are taking to address climate change (providing motivation).
The following museums are already going this route.
The Changing Climate Show at Science North in Sudbury, Canada, will inspire audiences to take action on climate change, locally, nationally, and internationally. It will explore how the process of science helps us understand our changing planet; how our actions have impacts that we all feel; and how our individual roles in global action can bring about solutions. A review of key climate concepts will help audiences navigate paths forward, while video vignettes of local impacts and actions being taken by real people will help motivate audiences to take action.
Early testing found that visitors want more information on solutions. As a result, this new experience will focus on ways that individuals and communities are taking action. This messaging is reinforced with examples of how Science North is implementing climate-friendly infrastructure, including a solar microgrid and Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging stations.
See also Green Initiatives: http://sciencenorth.ca/green/
Understanding the interrelationships between the many components of natural systems is an essential skill for navigating paths forward on climate change. At the New York Hall of Science in Corona, NY, Connected Worlds’ fantastical environments allow visitors to experiment with different elements in a system and see the effects of their actions.
The timeframes and impacts are scaled so that visitors can comprehend the relationships between components. The experiences in Connected Worlds are not about good or bad outcomes, but rather showing users how different elements within a system are related. This supports the exhibit’s goals of increasing knowledge about environmental systems and fostering empowerment and agency in visitors.
Under the Arctic: Digging into the Permafrost is a traveling exhibition from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon, that explores the frozen ground under the Arctic, and what happens when it thaws. The gravity of the subject—the massive release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost—led developers to create an emotional journey through the exhibition so that by the end, visitors would leave with a sense of resilience, hope for the future, and desire to take action.
This transformative approach was inspired by the Inzovu curve, a model developed from the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. After learning how thawing permafrost affects the lives of Alaskans, visitors encounter stories of community resilience: engineering roads with insulation to prevent freezing and refreezing, and elevating sinking houses to increase airflow flow and keep the ground frozen.
Following the success of the 2017 Washington D.C. Summit, plans are underway for a 2020 pan-institutional event involving all of the Smithsonian’s museums, galleries, and research institutes. Initiatives like Earth Optimism can help cultivate Snyder’s cognitive model of hope by bringing people together to discuss ideas about the future (goal setting); formulating ideas for how to get there (pathway thinking); and motivating action through the celebration of success stories and creation of communities of support (agency thinking).
As the impacts of climate change become even more fully realized, anxiety and feelings of helplessness around the issue could be transformed through museum experiences that activate hope.Sara Poirier
This article mentioned a few examples. Know of any others? We would love to hear from you.
Sara Poirier, founder of Spark Strategic Science Communication & Public Engagement, has 18 years of experience developing exhibits, educational programs and writing for publications like Yale Climate Connections. Her current projects include online games and television shows on climate change for educational networks and independent producers. She has a MSc. in Science Communication and Public Engagement and a BSc. in Astrophysics.
- Ojala, M., 2012. Hope and climate change: The importance of hope for environmental engagement among young people. Environmental Education Research, 18(5), pp.625-642.
- Drach-Zahavy, A. and Somech, A., 2002. Coping with health problems: The distinctive relationships of hope sub-scales with constructive thinking and resource allocation. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(1), pp.103-117.
- Courville, S., and N. Piper. 2004. Harnessing hope through NGO activism. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 592: 39–61.