Our Changing Planet FY 1995

5. Global Change Education And Public Awareness

Recent scientific findings have brought a new awareness of both natural and human-induced factors that contribute to global change as well as the realization that specific responses may be required to preserve physical, economic, and societal well-being. Selecting appropriate responses will require input from a non-homogeneous community that includes global change investigators, developers of environmental technologies, educators, international, national and regional/local policy makers, decision makers in the public and private sectors, and the general public. An effective education and communication program that addresses the information needs of and improves the dialog among a broad spectrum of constituencies must therefore be a critical element of the USGCRP (see figure).

The education and communications challenge is to develop methods and tools to achieve the following objectives:


The effective conduct of the USGCRP is dependent on dialog among the various constituencies of the program. The USGCRP has undertaken specific initiatives to meet this objective.

In addition to providing research information for the public and user community, the USGCRP will involve these groups in formulation of the research agenda. During 1994, as part of the triennial process to prepare the ten-year research plan, there will be outreach efforts to solicit input on what the critical research questions and needs are. Comments will be sought to help develop and refine the program plan on what information is most needed by the community in considering and preparing its response to the changing global environment. On a continuing basis, the public, the user community, and scientific researchers are invited to contact the new Office of the USGCRP to offer suggestions about the research program and, through the newly established Global Change Research Information Office, to inquire about program activities and findings.

The USGCRP is also investigating other mechanisms to improve dialog with the user community. The approaches include a combination of the traditional as well as new technologies in order to reach the broadest audience. Program announcements and results are reported in a number of publications, both general news and global change specific. The SGCR will establish bulletin boards to reach users of the information highway. In 1994 a pilot project will be developed to both apprise users of the status of the GCDIS and solicit comments on its implementation. The user input will be incorporated into plans for both needed data and information as well as functions for accessing these resources. This pilot project will then be expanded to provide similar services for the other SGCR components.

The private sector is a key stakeholder in global change research. In 1990, the interagency Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences established a working group, the Private Enterprise - Government Interactions (PEGI) Working Group, to coordinate interactions between government agencies and the private sector in such research. This working group provides a focal point to encourage interactions between industry, academia, and non-profit organizations and the Federal research organizations. PEGI's membership consists of representatives from all 25 agencies involved with environmental and natural resources research.

The private sector currently conducts significant research in the areas of environmental and natural resources, some of it already in conjunction with Federal agency programs. The USGCRP encourages private sector and government agency interactions to minimize duplication, to focus on key problems and issues, and to bring working-level researchers together.


The general public is the ultimate decision maker for response strategies and policies. Thus, it is critical that the USGCRP provide sufficient information to improve the public's understanding of the global change science, including consequences and implications of policy options. To respond, the USGCRP has programs for general education and dissemination of data and information.

General Education Programs

The USGCRP general education program is defined as all educational programs except the graduate and post-graduate training of future scientists. The individual agencies have long standing programs for the development of educational materials for the secondary school level. Based on this framework, the agencies have developed monographs, resource guides, curricula, and other supporting teaching materials on global change, which are distributed to science teachers nationally.

To complement the agency programs, the USGCRP has launched an interagency initiative, Project Earthlink. The mission of this initiative is to launch a long-term education effort on global environmental change by increasing the understanding of global change issues, based on IPCC and similar scientific assessments, describing the effects of human actions on the global environment, and fostering access and use of scientific data sets and information technologies for informed decision making and policy formation.

Project Earthlink is being carried out in coordination with other White House initiatives, including the President's Council on Sustainable Development, Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), the Committee on Education and Training, Americans Communicating Electronically, and Digital Resources for Education and Training.

Six audiences will be targeted: community leaders, informal educators, teachers, students (see figure), journalists, and the general public. Planned activities include a National Town Hall Video conference on global change issues, workshops for educators and for journalists, community demonstration projects on sustainable practices, student science fair projects on global change data collection, and use of information superhighways to access scientific data sets. A highlight of these activities will occur in conjunction with the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day in April 1995.

Materials appropriate for different audiences will be developed, including an educator resource guide, a journalist resource guide, a data set directory, a manual on the use of information technologies, and classroom activities for students. Topics include natural variability, the greenhouse effect, sea level rise, ozone depletion, ecosystem response, health effects, and decision making under scientific uncertainties.

Data and Information Dissemination

The USGCRP data and information dissemination activities are designed to serve the full range of national and international users of data and information. USGCRP agencies recognize that users may request not only research data but also derived products such as analyses and edited data collections in association with descriptive text and graphical material. Many of these value-added products are the product of choice for the non-research community.

Individual agency programs, whose focus is supporting the data and information needs of USGCRP researchers, are also supporting outreach activities to the broad global change user community. These include published and online directories, announcements in newsletters and other publications, and training workshops for teachers and educators.

To enhance the availability of data and information to the public, the USGCRP is implementing the interagency GCDIS. Representatives of the user community have been involved in the formulation of the GCDIS Implementation Plan to ensure that the needs of the various audiences are met. The GCDIS pilot projects also stress outreach. A carbon dioxide pilot project includes a component designed for K-12 use and provides an instructional tool for identifying and accessing data, images, and text. A library pilot project will use state and local electronic networks to target educational and state/local users.

The USGCRP began operating the Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) in 1993 in accordance with the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (PL 101-606). The purpose of the office is to disseminate to foreign governments, businesses, and institutions, as well as to private citizens, scientific research information available in the United States that would be useful in preventing, mitigating, or adapting to the effects of global change. The GCRIO also makes available the same information to users within the United States.

The GCRIO is currently tasked to: (1) determine GCRIO-specific and related global change information holdings and dissemination methods used by various agencies and develop means for conveying that information to end-users; (2) facilitate information access by developing a capability to point to, or store, retrieve, and directly disseminate global change research information; (3) provide customer service to both technically sophisticated as well as low- technology end-users as stipulated in the legislation; and (4) evaluate the functioning and effectiveness of disseminating global change information to the end-user community.

The GCRIO has identified worldwide sources of data and information to satisfy requests about global change topics. The GCRIO provides easy to use online data and information services.

Training New Scientists and Educators

The USGCRP is a long-term, diverse, complex, and evolving undertaking. Clearly, the success in the USGCRP depends upon the cooperative and energetic leadership among the participating agencies to provide a better understanding of the issues involved. The education and communications activities are central to meeting these goals, and to building an informed public capable of participating in the necessary public dialogue toward building a sustainable future.

The individual agency research programs have historically recognized the need to strengthen the human resource base in science and technology and to provide the United States with highly trained and educated individuals. Thus, at the inception of the USGCRP, the agencies augmented this resource base to respond to the cross-disciplinary aspects of global change.

The major emphasis of USGCRP educational programs has been to award competitive graduate-level and postdoctoral fellowships for developing the interdisciplinary problem-solving skills that are necessary for addressing global change science, technology, and policy issues. In many global-change fellowship programs, postdoctoral and graduate-level fellows are encouraged to interact with the scientific staff of the various Federal research organizations. The postdoctoral fellows conduct research either at agency laboratories or as a part of university research projects. Graduate fellows are also being trained and educated at many different universities and are participating in USGCRP sponsored research.

Training and educating young scientists to help meet the challenges of a changing world is necessary to ensure a secure future for present and future generations. The USGCRP has set as a major goal the enhancement of knowledge about the state of and changes in the Earth-system. As an extension of that goal, the USGCRP is working to develop an informed and literate public able to utilize the results of scientific research to make wise choices for sustaining human societies and the environment.

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