Public Engagement and Science Communication
Climate change is one of today’s most-pressing societal challenges, yet it is still highly contested, also in the Netherlands. While efforts are underway to place climate change science into Dutch and international formal education such as secondary school curricula, informal education on climate change science is far less structured. Many different projects aim to support Public Engagement and other forms of informal education with climate change science to a broad audience from school pupils to concerned citizens.
Attempts to measure the effectiveness of such projects in terms of changing knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour of citizens, are sparse. Therefore, we remain uncertain whether resources allocated to public engagement are well spent. For a proper and systematic evaluation there is a need for an established general framework for assessing public engagement activities. Such a framework will allow comparing the efficacy of different projects, and devising and evaluating strategies for improving particular projects.
In this postdoc project, we will develop such a framework and accompanying measuring instruments for the effectivity of Public Engagement and other forms of informal education projects that focus on climate change science.
Supervisors: Erik van Sebille, Wouter van Joolingen en Madelijn Strick
Project duration: February 2022 – June 2024
The ocean plays a pivotal role in the climate system of the Earth. Approximately 25% of all carbon dioxide emitted through anthropogenic activities ends up in the ocean, and more than 90% of the heat due to climate change has gone into warming ocean water. This excess heat and carbon puts severe stress on marine ecosystems, from rising temperatures to ocean acidification. Add to that the pressures from other anthropogenic activities such as overfishing and noise pollution from shipping, and the picture emerges that even the most far-flung marine ecosystems are impacted by our human actions.
Most of these impacts on the ocean are receiving considerable attention in public and social media, and one type of oceanic pollution in particular seems to be hitting the headlines a lot: microplastics. But while plastic obviously does not belong in the ocean, there is no scientific evidence that the amount of microplastic pollution currently in the ocean is high enough to be harmful to marine ecosystems. Meanwhile, the scientific evidence that climate change harms ecosystems is unrefuted.
Ao here is a dichotomy: while the scientific evidence for the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems is clear, the public’s concern for ocean warming and acidification has been relatively limited. The situation is reverse for marine plastic pollution, where the public concern is much larger than the scientific evidence for its harm seems to warrant.
In this PhD project, we will be teasing out the mechanisms behind this dichotomy, and then particularly with a focus on the role and messages of scientists and other important stakeholders such as journalists, activists and policy makers. How have these different groups engaged with the general public and each other about marine plastic pollution and oceanic climate change, and what impact did that have?
Supervisors: Erik van Sebille en Mark Bos
Project duration: November 2021 – October 2025