How Can Parks Help Teach Climate Change?


With the exception of the Bay Area, it was another hot summer across America. Not the record-breaking waves of heat that scorched the country in 2012, but hot enough to exacerbate the wildfire season, deepen ongoing droughts and water issues, and get people talking about climate change.

It has also been just over one year since Hurricane Sandy crashed into the East Coast causing more than $50 billion in damage to New York City alone. Many areas will be digging out for some time to come and considering how, and if, to rebuild.

It is impossible to say definitively that one storm or event was caused by climate change. However, the overwhelming tide of opinion—both scientific and cultural—is making the positive link between the changes that we all see and feel in the daily weather and the changes in the global weather and climate systems that we see on TV and online.

Climate change is a problem that demands worldwide action. This is the toughest form of collective action, as most of us naturally pay attention to what is happening in our own communities and interest areas. Just as Twitter, Facebook, and easy cellular access have provided platforms for communicating local stories on a global scale, there are parks and publicly managed lands that touch communities in nearly every corner of the nation and the world.

The Institute at the Golden Gate asks, “What if, in addition to conservation of the natural world, one of the main goals for park systems was to actively help people understand the changes taking place in the natural world at their doorstep?”

The Institute recognizes the vital role that parks can play to help the public understand the local implications of climate change. To support the growing movement among parks to effectively and emphatically fill this role, the Institute will convene Parks: The New Climate Classroom this November. Bringing together leading thinkers on behavior change, communications, place-making, and design, this event will provide practical tools and connections to strengthen existing programs and launch new ones.

Following on the successes of the Institute’s Food for the Parks and Healthy Parks Healthy People work, Parks: The New Climate Classroom is another way the Institute is helping parks respond to our nation’s most pressing challenges and build for a 21st century future.

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