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Story Map of Climate Change

Harbor sinkhole courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation

This project is developing online interactive story maps designed to provide information about the consequences of climate change to scientists, resource managers, and stakeholders. The climate science is framed within stories about Northwest residents who are taking steps to mitigate or adapt to the consequences of climate change, specifically, sea level rise and drought. A goal is to build empathy and mutual understanding among stakeholder groups, and thus foster constructive negotiations, shared purpose, and long-term policy solutions. Project leads: Lisa Hayward Watts (UW Northwest Climate Science Center) and Josh Nowlis (ECS Federal in support of NOAA).

Mission and Goals

Jim Brown, COO of Karr Group, provides Josh Nowlis and Lisa Hayward with a tour of his Onalaska Wood Energy’s biochar production facility in Chehalis, WA

For many years, the U.S. debate on climate change has been stuck in a ‘is not’-‘is so’ shouting match. To move towards constructive policy approaches, we need to focus less on proving the existence of human-induced climate change and more on examining risks and mitigation options. We plan to start this effort by providing summaries of climate science that combine specific projections with risks to community values. To make our summaries more engaging, we plan to frame them within stories about local residents taking steps to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Our Center for Creative Conservation Project Incubator will support two workshops to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and interests in climate change with experts in crafting relevant stories. Our experiences at the workshops will shape an online interactive story map designed to provide information about the consequences of climate change to scientists and resource managers seeking to justify their work to funders and policy makers. An auxiliary benefit of this story map will be to educate the Northwest general public about potential risks of climate change and to move the debate toward adaptation and mitigation. Our workshops and story map will focus on key risk considerations for the Northwest: sea level rise, which primarily affects coastal areas; and drought, which primarily affects areas east of the Cascade Mountains. These two subregions within the Northwest present dramatically different political atmospheres and receptiveness to climate change information. As such, they provide an opportunity to test whether a new communications strategy can bridge the political gap. In conducting the workshops and developing the story map, we will make use of narrative techniques, which personalize the consequences of climate change and engage both interest and empathy. However, we will also take care to emphasize the underlying uncertainties in climate science to establish common ground and facilitate a discussion about the diverse objectives stakeholders bring to climate policy. These discussions are where real progress can be made, because they build empathy and mutual understanding among stakeholder groups, and thus foster constructive negotiations, shared purpose, and long-term policy solutions.

Nick Cusick recently joined the Story Map incubator project as a volunteer contributor. Nick is a recent graduate from Montana State University who has spent the last years working for Americorps in California. He has expertise in GIS and is currently helping evaluate several freely available alternatives to ESRI’s products, including Mapbox, Carto, and Flourish as platforms for developing and disseminating our story map.

Nowlis and Hayward meet biweekly to develop plans for the story map project, and have begun site visits and interviews to scope climate stories. One story will focus on drought, and another on sea level rise. The story of drought will center on the topic of biochar in Eastern Washington. Biochar is a soil amendment produced by burning agricultural waste in low oxygen conditions. It’s high surface area provides habitat for beneficial microorganisms, and it helps soils hold moisture and nutrients. The story will follow a biochar operator and a farmer who wants to use biochar to amend soil that have been depleted by generations of tilling. The story of sea level rise will center on the Quinault village of Taholah, which is located on the outer coast of Washington. The village is being moved to avoid rising seawater. Moving a village provides a great opportunity to build sustainability into the new infrastructure. This story will follow the experience of one of the long-time village residents. Videographer Fahad Aldaajani has joined these site visits and has begun taking footage to be used in the video version of the story map project.

In a related event, Watts hosted an open house on sea level rise at UW on April 5th with 40 some attendees. This event pulled together experts from across the Northwest to discuss the challenges and adaptation approaches that different groups are taking from federal and state agencies to non-profit group to Tribes. The target audience for the event was science writers, agency and industry communicators, and community advocates who could tailer the information about sea level rise for their own audiences of people who will likely be affected in the coming decades. – Lisa Hayward Watts, PI (June 6th, 2017)