Ostriches on the Boston T

Sometimes climate engagement happens where you least expect it.

You can’t expect everybody to seek out the science behind the climate change headlines. Meeting folks exactly where they are—both physically and psychologically—is savvy communication practice 101. It can be the best way to raise awareness and get a message across.

Taking climate science to the streets is a critical step in bringing helpful information out of museums, aquariums and classrooms and into everyday life.

That’s the premise behind a campaign funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to a group of educators and researchers, along with their communications team, including me.

The goal is to engage people as they travel through the city. Some 500,000 Boston T subway riders will see cards inside their subway cars and posters on their station platforms over the course of the twelve-month campaign.

From a psychological perspective, the first crucial step is always to find ways to be engaging. Complex science lessons or scary headlines are simply non-starters. But art is often a mirror that reflects our foibles, as well as our most noble attributes, our fears as well as our aspirations.

On “the T,” a flock of ostriches, including an unusually inquisitive leader who we call “Ozzie,” reflect Bostonians gradual awakening to the reality, relevance and hope that underlie the challenge of climate change in their city.

The cards and posters pose provocative questions, and the birds’ dialogue about the questions is meant to deliver key insights and inspire commuters to learn about climate change by visiting the sciencetogo.org website, follow the birds on Twitter’s @BostonOstrich and on Facebook at facebook.com/sciencetogo.

“Climate-science-where-you-are” reaches beyond the subway as well.

T-riders will find Ozzie at strategic above ground locations from time to time too. In the second campaign phase, for example, Bostonians will find eight-foot tall Ozzies—each displaying information—at eight locations in Boston that will be highly vulnerable to climate-related sea level rise and storm surges in the coming years.

But, as climate communicators have learned through bitter experience, presenting the frightening prospects of a warming world is not enough. A third phase will follow, in which Ozzie and his cohorts discover examples of innovative climate leadership in their city.

The team behind the project comprises diverse experts from UMass Lowell, UMASS Boston, the Museum of Science, Hofstra University, Goodman Research Group, Brodeur Partners, Bowman Global Change and Ed Hackley Design. The MBTA is supporting the project by donating the ad space.

Together, we are committed both to environmental awareness and to bringing science education out of the classroom and into everyday life.

Given the existential stakes of climate change and the well-financed disinformation campaigns that have misled people about where the science stands, there’s no more important science topic to take directly to the people.

The carefully measured results of this experiment in public science engagement will provide valuable insights to the education and outreach community. We hope ScienceToGo.org pioneers a new path to science engagement.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo courtesy of ScienceToGo.org.

About the Author

Tom is founder and CEO of Bowman Change, Inc., a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations reap the benefits of working with purpose—making social issues and environmental change central to their missions.