Climate change communication in the Midwestern United States: perceptions of state park interpreters.
Parks and protected areas can be ideal settings for climate change communication since many visitors have an affinity for natural and cultural settings, and an interest in resource protection. However, climate-based education efforts in the Midwestern United States may need a slightly different approach since this region lacks obvious indicators, such as sea level rise and melting glaciers. Interpretation, an informal communication process designed to transmit scientific information to visitors in leisure-based settings, could be a useful strategy for engaging visitors in climate change discussions. Few studies have assessed perceptions of interpreters on this topic, much less, their willingness to communicate such information. To address this issue, a mixed methods approach (surveys, interviews, photovoice) was used to examine interpreters' perceptions of climate change and its impacts in Missouri State Park and Historic Sites. Although nearly 70% of interpreters were either alarmed or concerned about climate change, many of them were unsure about its causation. Interpreters report observing impacts such as flooding, earlier plant blooming, high temperatures, extreme weather, and invasive species, but were uncertain about attributing these impacts to climate change. Interpreters did not believe that visitors would be responsive to climate-based education per se but thought the topic could be addressed in pre-existing programs and activities. Rather than discussing complex science with visitors, interpreters felt more comfortable with conveying the significance of resources at their sites. Implications from this study include acknowledging multiple viewpoints, framing strategic messages, and developing place-based educational materials.