Three Rivers Climate Conversations: Environmental Innovation Winner

  • April 30, 2019
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  • Danielle Jackson

Each generation has a defining moment: “Where were you when…?” For younger and future generations, that moment is quickly becoming “where were you when you learned about climate change?” However, this issue affects everyone, not just youth. That’s why more and more people across our state are educating themselves on what climate change is, how its impacts are affecting our planet now, how it will continue to affect the planet in the future and how they can take action to stop it. In this case, education is the key to change. That’s why educational programs like the Three Rivers Climate Conversations series are growing in popularity — they’re leading the way for an engaged society, which will drive change. We spoke to Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent of the Three Rivers Park District, and Jothsna Harris, Public Engagement Manager of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, about this collaboration.

Three Rivers Climate Conversations — Environmental Innovation

Presented by 3M

The Three Rivers Climate Conversations series is a collaboration between the Three Rivers Park District and Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. The partnership developed naturally out of their aligned commitments to learning and education. The mission of the Three Rivers Park District is to promote environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural resource-based park system, and, according to Luke, “climate change impacts are affecting how we can manage and maintain our natural resources now and into the future.” However, he also mentioned that “as educators, we want to lead by example.” By partnering with Climate Generation, Three Rivers was able design events that share information with their community by highlighting the impacts of climate change in their park. This also allow them to lead by example in order to have a greater impact. For their part, Climate Generation’s mission is to empower individuals and their communities to engage in solutions to climate change. As Jothsna put it, the opportunity to support Three Rivers in highlighting climate science and stories “fell in perfect alignment with the desire to elevate the local and personal perspective of climate change” that exists at Climate Generation.

After coming together around their mutual desire to educate communities, Three Rivers and Climate Generation began to co-create what would become the Three Rivers Climate Conversation series. Using Climate Generation’s proven, award-winning model of convening the public on and Three Rivers’ expertise about their community, five conversations were planned. To date, two workshops have been carried out with great success. First, a conversation at Gale Woods Farm highlighted “Agriculture: A Victim, Culprit and Solution,” and then one at Silverwood was themed on “Climate Change and Art: Bringing Data to Life.” Coming next are conversations at Hyland Hills Ski Area and Eastman Nature Center about “A Warming Minnesota: Love and Loss of Winter” and “Our Changing Seasons: Woodlands and Traditions,” respectively.

Each conversation is driven by the community, with a desire to create a space for everyone to learn and grow and share — together. The planning process begins with a community mapping process, led by Climate Generation and informed by Three Rivers. According to Jothsna, the process looks both at geography and theme as “an opportunity for each park site to look at who makes up their community, who are some of the voices who are included, who are some of the marginalized voices.” Then, they begin “creating the program together and really tailoring it to the audience that we’re hoping to attract.” By creating a specific program for the park and the area, the Three Rivers Climate Conversations program hopes to “elicit emotions that we feel about [climate change] and help other people think about their own personal connections as well.” After the community feels that connection, they begin to think about local solutions, both that already exist and that could exist, and how they could play a role in addressing or raising awareness about climate change.

Education Through Connection

When talking about this program, the role of education can’t be understated. The series was conceptualized when a group of Three Rivers educators desired to incorporate climate change information more broadly into their programming, and the content of each event is tailored to the local environment. From beginning to execution, education is a key component. However, everyone learns differently, and connects differently to this issue. “Whether it’s climate change or other issues, it touches people in different ways. You have to bring it to them to make it personal, with what resonates with them. Some people will see the science, some people will see the environment, some will see the humanistic side of things and how our lives might change, our lives are changing,” says Luke. By creating an inclusive, unique space to share, Three Rivers and Climate Generation create space for everyone to learn and connect in their own ways. As a result, they’re able to begin to build a collective understanding of and compassion for other people and climate change.

Normalizing Climate Change

Beyond educating about climate change and creating space to tell climate stories, the Climate Conversations series aims to build engagement in solutions, too. Education is just the first step in the process — and talking about it is the next. According to statistics shared with us by Climate Generation from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70 percent of Americans understand climate science and believe that it will cause harm to future generations. But two-thirds of people don’t talk about it. By creating space to talk about climate change, this series is beginning to normalize climate change conversations. Once we’re all on the same page about it, we can begin to collectively implement solutions that will help us address the changes we’re seeing in our communities and environment. “What we do today affects the future dramatically. Whether we act or don’t, that’ll affect our society and environment long-term,” says Luke, “so I’m thinking about the impact we want to see today and that future generations will have to live with.” These conversations are just the beginning to building solutions that will engage community members and inspire change in Minnesota and the world. If so, maybe future generations will remember “where were you when you learned about climate change” as a distant memory.

Celebrate the Three Rivers Climate Conversations

The Three Rivers Climate Conversations team will be at the Environmental Initiative Awards on May 22. Register today to celebrate their work and connect with them about the next events in the series.

Learn More & Register