Polar Bears International

Participants in last year's Climate Alliance training gather on the shores of Hudson Bay. This year's session will begin in early October. Photo copyright Kt Miller/Polar Bears International.

9/12/2016 8:22:26 PM

Countdown to Climate Alliance 2016

By Marissa Krouse, Programs Manager 

Recently, as I sat on the plane on my way to the 2016 AZA Annual Conference, I realized that every conversation is an opportunity. I've woven strategic climate change messaging into my work and personal life for almost two years now. That's why it was gratifying to find that my chat with the sales rep for Ashland Chemical-the middle-aged man seated next to me in 19A-flowed straight to a set of values that resonated with him: the fact that climate change is a human rights issue, with impacts on not only polar bears but also northern communities and people worldwide.

We talked about how, without action to reduce CO2, the probability of ice-free summers in the Arctic increases significantly from the middle to the end of this century-greatly reducing the polar bear's ability to hunt during the summer months and impacting people and wildlife around the globe. We also discussed how polar bears rely on sea ice for catching their seal prey. And that the polar bear's main prey, ringed seals, rely on sea ice, too-for giving birth to and raising their young. We went on to talk about how changes in the sea ice impact the economy, health, and traditions of northern communities that rely on the ecosystem for transportation and hunting. And, finally, we discussed the impacts on people worldwide-and then pivoted to available solutions.

I also answered the popular "Why Churchill?" question. Every fall, hundreds of polar bears gather near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, on Hudson Bay to wait for the sea ice to form. It's one of the most extraordinary events in the natural world, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of these normally solitary animals. Churchill's polar bears live on the front lines of climate change. Sharing their story with the world-and that of the Arctic more broadly-brings home the message that urgent action is needed to reduce carbon emissions and transition to a renewable energy future. By doing so, we'll benefit wildlife on every continent and help people too, leaving a livable planet for future generations. 

This is our basic messaging and framing strategy, one tested by behavioral scientists from NNOCCI for its effectiveness. We rely on our network of Arctic Ambassador Center zoos, museums, and aquariums to help us spread this message and lead their communities in sustainability. Did you know that more people visit zoos and aquariums than all sporting events in North America combined each year? And that zoo professionals are trusted messengers on climate change? That's a lot of opportunity-and we can't wait to get to work with our Climate Alliance participants this year, as they are the voices of their institutions!

This is the first time we have ever invited marketing and PR teams from our AAC network to our Climate Alliance training, and I think this year's participants will play a significant role in supporting existing on-staff teams and working collaboratively with other AACs. Over the years, we have worked with a number of keepers and educators; adding marketing and PR staff to the mix should make for some powerful teams and outreach efforts.

As our participants head north, I challenge each of them to have climate change conversations: with their team members when wrapping up day-to-day duties before leaving; with the person sitting next to them on their flight to Winnipeg; and with friends and family members eagerly awaiting the chance to follow their adventures via social networks.

My recent conversation was a good example of the effectiveness of strategic messaging. While traveling, I've noticed that I'm encountering fewer climate science deniers these days. Instead, I'm meeting more folks who are on the same page, but need a little motivation to plug into solutions.

One thing I noticed with my seatmate is that he was especially interested in human impacts. That really validated the need to include values in the conversation, along with a discussion on how we can solve this. As our chief scientist, Dr. Steven Amstrup, says: Humans have caused this problem, and humans can fix this. I look forward to working with this year's Climate Alliance participants on solutions.

Follow this year's Climate Alliance journey online via our blog and social media. #saveourseaice 

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