Astronomy and climate education

Photo of Earth from space.

The awe and wonder of astronomy has inspired humans for millennia, but more importantly astronomy provides us with a cosmic perspective that transcends geographical boundaries, bringing together rich, diverse cultures under one sky. This cosmic perspective allows us to appreciate the importance and fragility of this “pale blue dot” we call home and encourages us to find ways to reduce our impact on this fine-tuned spaceship – planet Earth.

Professor Travis Rector, an astrophysicist at the University of Alaska (Anchorage) and one of the founders of Astronomers for Planet Earth, visited Deakin University recently and presented a hybrid workshop on how to teach about climate change.  Professor Rector uses his experience as a scientist and communicator to enable both students and the public to better understand the science and effects of climate change, and most importantly, the solutions that exist to address this challenge.

During the workshop he provided strategies to help support students and the public to be better informed, hopeful, and ready to address the problem. These included ways to tackle misconceptions and disinformation; considering your audience and relationship to them; psychological barriers that exist; your goal as an educator; and, perhaps most importantly, to “tell your story”.

Professor Travis Rector

“When talking about Climate Change, tell your story about it!” – Travis Rector

Travis’ story involves the tension between living in one of the areas of the world most directly and starkly affected by climate change – Alaska – and being part of a profession that has one of the largest per-person carbon footprints – Astronomer. The effect of global air travel and the use of large international research facilities has a direct impact on the reproduction and feeding of salmon. The salmon industry is a large economic, social, and cultural aspect of Alaskan life – “and the thought of of having an Alaska without salmon is just horrific”

Drawing on research done in the USA he described the six categories of people – alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, dismissive – and how this impacts how you talk about climate change and its solutions. He also highlighted how the framing of your message about climate change can be achieved via nine broad “themes”: environmental, health, moral, economic loss, identity, security, social norms, austerity, and opportunity.

Most importantly, Professor Rector highlighted that it is paramount to create hope with your communication, to show your students and the public success stories, especially those that are local to your region.

Finally, Professor Rector presented a thought-provoking question: “What do we want our world to look like after we’ve solved climate change?”

Watch the workshop

News 9 May 2023