When it comes to communicating climate risks, Jamie Herring Ph.D.’07, president of Habitat Seven, thinks that climate data can be used to make people feel closer to the impact of climate change and thus to urge them to act.
According to Herring, a current problem is that climate change has always been perceived as a distant problem by the public. As scientists cannot attribute an extreme weather event to climate change, people don’t feel like individual action matters or that climate change is an urgent issue, Herring said.
At the same time, vast amounts of research conducted in climate communication show that “people act on urgency and perceived risk … the more proximate the risk, the more likely you are to act on that risk.” Therefore, to bridge this information gap, it is important that people internalize the negative effects of climate change so that the risks to feel closer in proximity, he said.
Herring, who studied under Prof. Jim Lassoie in the Department of Natural Resources, teamed up with his advisor to come up with the idea of developing shared learning experiences between researchers, practitioners, and students.
He made documentary videos with practitioners in the conservation field where they developed case studies to bring back to the classroom. This model was eventually called Conservation Bridge.
Taking his passion one step further, Herring founded Habitat Seven, a data infrastructure firm that “helps organizations develop web-based data applications for a more secure, sustainable future,” according to its website.
To change people’s complacency towards climate change, Herring believes that using digital tools such as climatedata.us, which was launched in support of the White House’s Climate Action Plan under former President Barack Obama, will help emphasize climate change as a present problem instead of a distant one.
Along with trying to understand people’s risk perception about climate change, Herring partnered up with the University of Texas to conduct a study where the researchers showed people their own city and far away cities across the United States.
“If you’re looking at something closer to you, you’re going to be more motivated to understand climate change and feel that there is a bigger risk […] What we found is that it didn’t really matter,” Herring said.
Herring thinks that the science community needs to make climate data more meaningful.
“Now more than ever, climate data needs to be proximate both in space and time. If we’re not acting on risks 10, 12, 30 years down the road … we’re not going anywhere close to the speed we need to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” Herring said.
Ultimately, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. As a start, Herring has created the James P. Lassoie Global Conservation Travel Fund that will be launched by 2020. This will be an ongoing fund that will provide $5,000 a year in travel funds to students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who are doing global conservation work.