Climate and Rural Systems Partnership (CRSP)
Starting a conversation about climate change doesn’t have to be scary. Many people feel uncomfortable or unprepared to talk about climate change, especially if they aren’t sure of people’s beliefs, emotions, and values. The good news is that the majority of people across western Pennsylvania know the climate crisis is real, it’s serious, and we need to act now. Climate change is a crisis of science, human health, economics, policy, culture and ethics. It’s a wicked problem that touches all aspects of our lives, which means everyone has a stake in finding solutions.
That’s where the Climate and Rural Systems Partnership (CRSP) comes in. The project believes in the collective power of community relationships to cross social and political barriers and encourage conversations around the climate issues that impact all of us. We do this by exploring meaningful processes for engaging community members in deliberation around complex socio-scientific topics.
To break the stigma, we create space for open conversations about climate change. CRSP brings together diverse networks of educators, students, farmers, business leaders, government officials, community groups, scientists, outdoor recreationists and others who want to work together to solve the climate crisis in communities across Western PA
CRSP partners have worked with rural communities to gather feedback about perceived impacts of climate change, creating the word cloud pictured on this page, a weighted word display of some of the most prominent concerns.
How many times does it have to flood before you start looking at the infrastructure and say we need to do something. […] I think designing for a 100-year storm is not overdesigning at this point.
—Participants are asked about the real or perceived impacts of climate change in their community, and their responses are then used as boundary objects to focus facilitated observation, discussion, and decision making within the group.
THE CLIMATE AND RURAL SYSTEMS PARTNERSHIP SUPPORTS PEOPLE TO:
• Share their perspective on climate change and climate justice. People are most able to speak and listen when they trust that their perspective will be heard and valued.
• Build and rely on trust. Research shows that we are most able to impact the beliefs and actions of people that know and trust us. Talking with our friends, families, neighbors and colleagues is a great place to start.
• Find common ground. Starting conversations around resources, examples and evidence co-developed with rural communities can highlight connections with locally-relevant impacts and workable solutions.
• Build a vision for a hopeful future. Acknowledge what has happened, what you hope for, what you fear, and what you expect, with a focus on opportunities for actions that move us toward the future we want.
• Practice having conversations. Working with peers to refine your message can increase your comfort and confidence to deliberate the problems, solutions, policy and ethics of climate change.
• Meet people who think, feel and live differently. In partnership with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments, CRSP is encouraging people to understand themselves, one another, and the issue differently through the development the reflective practices and ‘boundary objects’ that facilitate dialogue.
TOOLS FROM CRSP
Climate Conversations Starter Guide for the Laurel Highlands
When it comes to climate conversations, where do you begin? This guide is meant to help you get conversations started with eight different “Have you noticed…?” questions regarding locally relevant solutions and impacts of climate change drawing on the latest scientific evidence. The booklet also has some general tips for talking about climate, six actions you can take today to help reduce future climate change, and a section on climate change basics that answers questions like “What’s the difference between weather and climate?” This guide was instigated from a Laurel Highlands CRSP network meeting in 2021 and co-produced that year by Laurel Highlands CRSP member Paula Purnell (Sense of Place Learning) and CRSP team members Alexis Boytim, Nicole Heller, and Bonnie McGill with feedback from the network at several stages.
The Road to Farm Resilience to Weather Extremes
[Pamphlet PDF for Mercer County] [Pamphlet PDF for Indiana County]
This tri-fold pamphlet was co-produced by farmers and ag professionals at the Shenango River Valley CRSP hub (Shenango Climate and Rural Environmental Studies Team or S-CREST) and Bonnie McGill, a CRSP scientist and illustrator. During 2021, the group explored local climate data and worked to write the pamphlet text for their intended audience, conventional farmers in the region growing corn and soybeans. The group wanted to make a resource that could help them have conversations with such farmers about how certain conservation practices will help farmers build resilience in their operations to the current and worsening impacts of climate change. Many of these practices also build soil carbon, which mitigates climate change. Recently, the pamphlet has been adapted for Indiana County for our partners at the Indiana County Conservation District.
Signs of Climate Change in Migratory Songbirds of Pennsylvania
[view webpage or blog post]
In CRSP we emphasize that climate change is here and now, not somewhere else and in the future. How do we know it is here and now? This infographic looks to migratory birds as teachers. These birds (and the Powdermill Avian Research Center scientists who study them) show us how climate change is speeding up their arrival from the south and their nesting dates. Often climate change is framed as a political issue, but this local evidence of climate change moves the conversation beyond that because the earlier arrival of birds is something everyone in rural PA can notice and migratory birds do not belong to any political parties (as far as we know!). This infographic was developed by CRSP scientist and illustrator
Brook Trout in a Warming World
Trout fishing is deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, yet many stewards have been noticing how climate change is changing the narrative. This story navigates climate change from the perspective of the Brook Trout, holding a hopeful call to action front and center. Organizations a part of the Laurel Highlands CRSP Hub will be able to use this resource to spark climate conversations with various Brook Trout stakeholders (from anglers to students to conservation groups) that inspire stewardship on behalf of both the Brook Trout and ourselves. This story was produced by Alexis Boytim, CRSP educator and GIS professional, with important contributions from conservation professionals of the Laurel Highlands CRSP Hub.
Striving for a Better Future on the Shenango
When talking about climate change, CRSP recognizes the need to keep the conversation locally relevant. For the SCREST Stormwater and Flood Resilience Group, the Shenango River is the perfect natural feature: it is both an outdoor recreation destination loved by many and the subject of climate change impacts, most notably flooding, that threaten nearby communities. This story utilizes the Shenango River to explain the relationship between climate change and the water cycle, as well as the different organizations and projects currently trying to address climate change in the Shenango River Watershed. This story was co-produced by stormwater and conservation professionals of the Shenango River Valley CRSP Hub (Shenango Climate and Rural Environmental Studies Team or S-CREST), and Alexis Boytim, CRSP educator and GIS professional.
CO-PRODUCING NEW SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
Despite the best of intentions, scientific analyses are often not useful in community decision making. Co-production of new knowledge between scientists and communities is becoming the gold standard for work related to climate change, sustainability and the Anthropocene. Some of the key components of co-production are keeping data context-based, recognizing multiple ways of knowing and doing, focusing on a clear shared goal, and engaging community members in analyzing, interpreting, refining and visualizing data. The process is as important as the knowledge produced.
In collaboration with farmers, and representatives from PSU extension office, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and community groups, Carnegie Museum of Natural History Science Communication Fellow, Dr. Bonnie McGill, is co-producing climate communication resources that are tailored to the lives and livelihoods of western Pennsylvania farmers. The goal is to empower the agricultural community with the right data types, in the right format, to allow them to make sense of the environmental changes they are witnessing and make informed economic, ecological and ethical decisions.
This methodology pushes scientists to think more deeply about how we conceptualize and communicate shifts in environmental variables like temperature and moisture by relating them to plant and animal biology, farming practices, and the broader social and political systems governing agriculture.
Farmers often know best when it comes to workable solutions to challenges with policy and practice, and their expertise is guiding our scientists to co-produce data that is both relevant and useful. Late freezes in the spring are disastrous for orchards, while summer droughts make corn unsellable. Farmers must keep livestock cool to preserve milk or wool production. Timing of soil freeze and thaw impacts when farmers can put equipment on their fields. The typical format for average annual temperature and rainfall projections won’t necessarily help them make informed decisions that their livelihoods depend on, but co-production provides an opportunity to produce climate data that is ready-made for action.
ABOUT THE REGIONAL LEADERSHIP TEAM
A cross-disciplinary team collaborates on this research-practice partnership, with Carnegie Museum of Natural History providing expertise in ecological science, climate adaption science and climate communication; the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments providing expertise in learning research; and rural network hubs centered at Powdermill Nature Reserve, and the Mercer County Conservation District providing expertise in environmental education, conservation, and engagement with rural communities.
Contact Carnegie Museum of Natural History CRSP Team Member
Major Goals of CRSP
- Support rural Western PA communities to have socially safe, science-based discussions about human-caused climate change.
- Build regional capacity for information exchange among the museum, rural organizations, and individuals in Western PA to support greater community engagement when addressing the impacts of human-caused climate change.
- Improve methodologies and practices for organizations to effectively address climate change issues with audiences across rural and urban communities.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #1906774.