It’s been 198 years since Joseph Fourier realized the warming power of our atmosphere and 166 years since Eunice Foote created the first experimental evidence of the greenhouse effect. However, the first congressional hearing focused on climate change was 31 years ago and it’s been only 15 years since the first federal emissions regulations were announced. This time lag shows there’s a disconnect between the science of the climate crisis and what individuals, industry, and governments are doing (or, more often, not doing) about it. Now, there are many social scientists working to understand that disconnect, including several at Auburn and in COSAM, and I am one of them.
Changes in policy and practices can come from the “top”, like governments, or from the “bottom”, though the passion of many millions of people shouldn’t necessarily be called the bottom of anything. In my years at Auburn, my research has addressed both of these aspects, each critical to reducing harm from climate change. For my M.S. thesis, I studied how graphs can be used and improved to teach non-scientist audiences about climate change. Specifically, I re-designed graphs used in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which are often covered and reproduced in mass media. Thus, improving all aspects of these reports, including the scientific figures, could impact the climate literacy of the general public which should lead to bottom-up policymaking (hopefully). The graph re-designs were based on many other studies of climate change communication, and I used eye-tracking, surveys, and interviews to examine how my study participants were using them. Eye-tracking, usually my research method that catches the most attention, works basically as it sounds. Our lab has several trackers that use infrared to record where a person is looking on a computer screen or in the real world, and those recordings show what aspects of a visual stimulus are most noticed, which are used for certain tasks, which are overlooked, etc.