Facilitation can help difficult discussions about climate change

Facilitated conversations around the issue of climate change reduce conflict. Many gardeners are still inquiring about the updated plant hardiness zone map issued in 2012.

Climate change conversations are often charged with controversy. Recently, I was asked by a local garden club group to speak on the new plant hardiness zone map and climate change. They wanted information and misinformation on these topics sorted and distilled into something easy to understand and turned into something they could use right away.

In March 2015, I lead a thoughtful dialogue around climate change with 23 people at the garden club meeting. The program was organized as an informal facilitated discussion format with lots of questions and answers, and sometimes no answers at all, just a better understanding of the issue. Providing a way to examine our own thoughts helps us to understand complex issues better.

Addressing the delicacy of the topic of climate change the discussion began with a couple of agreeable points. One, regardless of your political position or belief about climate change and global warming or who or what started it, there are some changes going on. These include extended drought in the west, increased variation and intensity of the weather, the changes with the plant hardiness zone map in 2012, increased invasive species moving our way, the acceleration of extinctions of other species and raising ocean water levels. Two, climate change and global warming are based on data from a planetary scale – we are talking about the globe – not seasonal or local weather. Thinking about the issue in terms of planets and space and how the earth as a planet is behaving, it is clear that changes are occurring.

“How can we tell if these things being reported about global warming are true?” one participant asked. My response was to thoughtfully restate the two points above and then to ask the question back; “How do know that dinosaurs existed?” “We know they existed at a time when the planet was very warm, and we found bones and fossils in the rocks. Correct?” Then I asked the group to help name ways we know these things scientifically. The answers are many and varied, from the rocks, tree rings, glacier core samples, sea core samples and yes, fossil records. The response back was that was the best answer she has heard yet! “Excellent, I replied, now what does this mean for us in Michigan?”

In the same fashion, we discuss an example more in-depth: the increase non-native invasive species and the expectation of them to move to new warmer places in the north. We also connected that to the potential loss of those plants and animals that prefer cooler climates unless they can migrate north, and more varied weather and increased severe events, and a changing of the plant hardiness zones. The group all decided could be both bad and good. The discussion finished with information about the need to manage invasive species especially aquatic invasive species and I shared the work that is being done by the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

For more information about invasive aquatic plants contact me, Beth Clawson, Michigan State University Extension educator. To learn more about invasive organisms and invasive aquatic plants contact MSU Extension Natural Resources educators who are working across Michigan to provide aquatic invasive species educational programming and assistance. You can contact an educator through MSU Extension’s Find an Expert search tool under the topic “Water Quality.”

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