[Coral-List] Public Perceptions about Climate Change

Judith Lang jlang at riposi.net
Fri Oct 30 17:36:17 EDT 2009

Hello Mary,

Thank you for articulating your binational concerns.

Florida State University's  "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections"  
traveling exhibit will be touring Belize for the next 6-8 weeks and  
perhaps will be on display for part of that time somewhere near  
Placencia? (If not, you can download the pdfs of the design files at www.ourreefs.org 

The dangers of a warming world on Western Atlantic coral reefs and  
coastal communities, including increases in peak wind speeds and  
rainfall during hurricanes, and the destructive effects of mass  
bleaching, are introduced in one module. Our example for the latter  
was the 2005 bleaching mortality event in the Eastern/NE Caribbean,  
but southern Belize had already experienced mass bleaching in 1998, so  
it has not been unaffected. I would hope the examples of Caribbean- 
based attempts to reduce carbon emissions that form the rest of this  
module could inspire some new efforts in your area.

You ask how to make this more personal to people in your home town of  
St. Louis, Missouri, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi  
(that transports sediment, nutrients and pollutants into the Gulf of  
Mexico, creating an immense "dead zone" and occasionally even washing  
over the Florida Keys reefs). The quickest I can think of is to  
establish an email/Internet-based connection between a teacher and  
some students in a St. Louis school and those in Placencia's St.  
John's Memorial School. Children can't learn about each other's homes  
and lifestyles in 2009 without discussing the effects of climate  
change... at a level that even their parents could understand.

Good luck,
Judy Lang

On Oct 30, 2009, at 10:21 AM, Mary Toy wrote:
> Hi all:
> I'm not a scientist (by any means), but I've been following your  
> discussions
> for the last few days on public perceptions about climate change  
> with great
> interest.
> In the midst of those discussions, I found myself having to write a  
> Website
> page about climate change for the Website of a grassroots  
> environmental
> organization on the Placencia Peninsula in southern Belize.
> I'm not the most well informed person, nor the least informed.   
> Probably a
> bit more informed than most people in North America simply because  
> of where
> I live and what climate change will to this area.
> However, I found writing that page very, very difficult.  I wanted  
> the page
> to address local issues on the Peninsula, but also to give basic  
> information
> to non-Peninsula readers.
> First, local.  What concrete evidence of climate change have we  
> seen?  It's
> been hotter than usual - hotter than just 10 years ago.  We had a  
> Cat 4
> hurricane in 2001.  Rains this year produced a lot of flooding in  
> places
> people don't recall flooding before (but that could have been  
> because of the
> 7.4 earthquake we experience on 28 May of this year).  We have beach  
> erosion
> in some locations, but no one is sure what's causing it - there's a  
> lot of
> speculation that the erosion is being caused by dredging of the  
> South Stann
> Creek River so we don't have as much sand in our sand budget as we  
> formerly
> did.  Coral bleaching, of course.  No local effect yet on mangroves  
> or sea
> grass beds to my knowledge.  One of WWF's climate change witnesses  
> said he
> thought the sea had risen, but has it?  I certainly don't know, and  
> haven't
> personally perceived a rise in sea levels. Our water supply could be  
> lost
> because of saltwater intrusion, but nothing has happened yet.
> Yet, I could point to SOME concrete measurable effects on climate  
> change to
> a local audience that does know something about why coral is  
> important and
> how we'll be affected by changing weather patterns, potential loss of
> mangroves, etc.  Not a lot of visible effects yet, but some.
> Now, what about the non-local audience - say someone from St. Louis,
> Missouri, where I grew up.  I can say something about how climate  
> change is
> adversely affecting Placencia, but what do I say to someone from St.  
> Louis.
> Yes, climate change can adversely affect corals, mangroves, sea grass,
> plankton, fish, lobster and other marine life; cause flooding,  
> drought, sea
> level rise and beach erosion; change weather patterns causing it to be
> hotter or colder or wetter or drier than usual.
> So what?  What do all those things mean to someone from St. Louis?   
> A lot
> you say, because . . .  And that's where my problems began --  all the
> because's that have to be explained and all the connections that  
> have to be
> made.  Coral bleaching - hey, I'm from St. Louis - we don't have any  
> coral
> here - and I may or may not ever have enough money to go see it in  
> person,
> so, so what?  Mangroves - what the heck are they?  Who cares if  
> they're all
> destroyed, what does that mean to me?  Sea level rise?  We don't  
> have any
> sea here in the middle of the country.
> Ultimately, what climate change currently comes down to for someone  
> from St.
> Louis is weather.  They have weather.  Is it hotter or colder?  Is  
> that
> caused by climate change or not?  That's an easily debatable topic  
> around
> the water cooler, while the universal effects of loss of coral reef,  
> much
> less mangroves and sea grass (sea weeds), certainly isn't.
> Heck, I had to do a lot of research myself to try to write that  
> page.  For
> example, climate change will adversely affect mangroves and  
> seagrass.  OK,
> but how -- exactly?
> Having scientists explain all this stuff about corals and mangrove and
> plankton, et. al  is good.  But somehow, a personal link for that  
> person in
> St. Louis or Des Moines or Little Rock or Scottsdale or Boise has to  
> be made
> -- just as it's had to be made here in Placencia, where the  
> connection is so
> much easier to make.
> What's going to happen to ME (and maybe my kids)?  Will I still have  
> a job,
> can I still go to Walmart and buy cheap tennis shoes, can I still  
> buy a car,
> send my kids to school, barbecue spare ribs in the backyard in the  
> summer,
> grow tomatoes in my backyard, go sledding in the winter, watch sit- 
> coms on
> TV, fish for crappie on the weekends?  Will my kids have a better or  
> worse
> life than I have? Will they have a chance to do better than I'm doing?
> I don't know enough to make all this more personal to people who  
> aren't
> likely to be DIRECTLY affected by climate change in the immediate  
> future.
> But there has to be a way, and maybe some of you who do have this  
> knowledge
> need to start talking to people who know about marketing and  
> advertising and
> public opinion so that the people around the water cooler something  
> to talk
> about other than the weather.
> I'm sure all of you have identified this problem, but I somehow felt
> compelled to write this email to give you an idea of how climate  
> change is
> so hard for us non-scientists, even moderately educated ones, to  
> understand
> and personally integrate enough to just even be able to talk or  
> write about
> it on a basic level.
> And, if you're still reading this, thanks for taking the time to wade
> through it.
> Back to work. . .
> Mary

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