Why Can’t Americans Engage with the Issue of Climate Change?

While there is an overwhelming consensus by scientists that climate change is an increasingly prevalent and threatening issue, the American public lacks motivation to care about its causes and effects. This disinterest can be partially accredited to the media, which often fails to provide a personal connection between the public and the issue at hand.


A study by Yale University and George Mason University reported that 11 percent of Americans are doubtful of climate change, while 10 percent are dismissive of it as a prevailing issue. These attitudes have remained relatively stagnant since 2013. Furthermore, only one in five Americans hear others talk about global warming at least once a month, and 19 percent of survey respondents have only heard others discuss the topic once a year or fewer, according to the study.


To examine the reason for this absence of a connection, a 2012 study from Drexel University, McGill University and Ohio State University reported that the public is more responsive to the issue of climate change when the problem was addressed as a public health threat. In other words, when climate change effects were framed to be localized, tangible and personal, individuals were more apt to consider its causes.


Emily Li, a senior at Emory University, sought to further develop this concept through her senior thesis, which aims to create personal connections that allow Americans to be more engaged with climate change. A focus on accessibility between scientists and the general public inspired Li’s decision to create a website with multimedia outlets, such as audio clips, videos and photograph sliders for the project, Li added.


“[A digital platform] just made a lot of intuitive sense for me because it’s such an accessible form of communication,” Li said. “I wanted [my thesis] to be something that people could really relate to.”


Li said that she has been interested in science writing since she took a course at Emory about green beat environmental journalism during her sophomore year of college. Last November, she attended the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) hosted by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Marrakesh, Morocco. Following the conference, she generated an interest in how climate change can affect individuals even though it is a global problem at large. 


Dozens of countries convened in Marrakech, Morocco for the 22nd Conference of the Parties last November to discuss the causes and effects of climate change. Li attended the event as a delegate from Emory University. / “The United Nations flags at COP22 in late afternoon light” / Takver / Creative Commons Flickr Images 


Li localized her project to relate to individuals within a smaller-scale community by studying the effects of climate change in Atlanta rather than on a global scale. She also narrowed her research to focus on air pollution because air quality is such an omnipresent issue in everyday life.


“Air is such an interesting element because it’s something that everyone has to interact with,” Li said. “You can go without food and water for a few days, but you need 550 liters of air a day and can only go without it for five minutes.”


The project incorporates interviews from individuals in Atlanta. These interviews seek to convey the stories of those with personal relationships to air quality, including a firefighter who dealt with issues of wildfires and smoke as well as a child whose asthma was exacerbated by living near a highway.


“People like stories, and they remember stories,” Li said. “It’s not enough to tell people ‘Climate change is happening, and it’s going to affect you.’ To get people to interact with the issue, you have to have stories that provide a face they can relate to.”


Li noted that she wanted to stay aware of her audience’s values and communicate with a friendly tone. She hopes that others may develop similar websites for other cities to link engaged individuals across the world.


Learn more about how media coverage of climate change can affect the public’s perception of the issue here

The Process of Pollination

Though many people know that pollination is the recurring process that plants go through, very few people are aware of the systems that go into this process. Too often, people are intimidated by the preconceived notion that pollination is a complex, complicated procedure. However, this is not the case. Rather, the process is very familiar to us because it is so similar to human reproductive processes.


For instance, for pollination to occur, pollen must be transported from anthers, the male reproductive structures of a plant species, to stigmas, the female reproductive structures of that plant species. This process is cross-pollination because it involves more than one plant, as opposed to self-pollination which occurs through only a single plant. Much like the movement of sperm from a male to a female, this migration of pollen fertilizes the eggs of the female in a plant species, allowing it to reproduce. 



The various parts of a flower affect how pollinators interact with it. / Flower Anatomy / Pro Flowers / Creative Commons Flickr Images

For the cycle to begin, a pollinator, such as a honeybee, must have an incentive to partake in pollination. So, what is the engine for honeybees to land on a plant? The answer is simple: pollinators benefit from the nutrition of the nectar and pollen provided by flowers. The nectar contains sugars and carbohydrates for the bees, and, meanwhile, pollen provides fats, vitamins and supplementary minerals.


Plants, in return, must attract the pollinators to them. Plants have specific adaptations to meet this purpose, such as their vivid, eye-catching colors and their sweet and strong scents. They may also have adaptations specifically geared towards attracting a certain type of pollinator. Honeybees, for example, have vision that is trichromatic. In other words, their vision is based on three colors: ultraviolet, blue, and green. As a result, honeybees are more likely to visit plants of these colors.


Likewise, honeybees generally visit plants that are not deep because of their short tongue lengths, while bumble bees have the ability to visit longer, tubular shaped flowers because their tongues are longer. Scents of flowers and time of day also make plants more apt to attract certain types of pollinators, and these adaptations are highly individualized according to each plant species’ needs.


When these steps are completed, the technical steps of pollination can finally occur. When a honeybee lands on a plant to collect nectar, the hairs on its body latch onto pollen in the stamens of the flower. When the insect later flies to another, female plant to collect nectar, it unintentionally releases the pollen onto the stigma. When the pollen is in contact with the stigma, fertilization is possible, and the plant can develop fruits and seeds.


Though the process varies slightly depending on the type of pollinator, which can range from insects to birds and even bats, the steps and outcomes of the process remain very similar. If pollination is successfully carried out, plants can produce the fruits and seeds, including apples, avocados and even coffee.


Given the importance of this process to both pollinators and plant species, it is critical that we understand the process and utilize this information to promote effective pollination. For example, with the knowledge that vivid colors and strong scents attract honeybees to flowers, we can plant pollinator gardens, which have a variety of plant species with ranges of colors and smells, to attract pollinators to plants.  




“What Is Pollination?” What Is Pollination? United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.


“What Are Pollinators and Why Do We Need Them? (Center for Pollinator Research).” Center for Pollinator Research (Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences). N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

The Life of Science and Science Writing

“My job is to explain science more simply.”


These are the words Quinn Eastman, a science writer at Emory University, works by when he composes press releases, magazine articles, blog posts and multimedia videos that explain science research to the general public.


With biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and a broad range of other subjects, science is an enormous field with a wide range of information and research. Even with a background in environmental science, each time I read a science-related article in a newspaper or magazine, I realize that I have learned something new. This is Eastman’s key point: science writers should not assume that the general public has any prior background knowledge in the article’s topic, and it should explain everything in a way that is interesting, clear, and simple. 


For example, an article by Eastman entitled “Threading the RSV needle: live attenuated vaccine effective in animals” meets each of these qualifications. Simple vocabulary and short sentences allow readers to understand the difficult concepts regarding the engineering of a respiratory syncytial virus, while the opening sentence draws the reader’s attention by emphasizing the significance of the researcher’s discovery – that there is a “right balance” for a vaccine that has been “a minefield for 50 years.”


Additionally, scientists should have relationships with media outlets that allow them to reach a larger audience. Eastman said that though researchers may go through journal publishers, social media outlets, or universities to reach the public, they can also establish direct ties with news organizations and even individual journalists. Eastman cited an article for Stat News as an example, describing how he did not pitch the article, but, rather, the author found out directly from Martin Moore, the subject of the article and a scientist with whom the author already had pre-existing ties with.


In my opinion, a more direct tie with the media is ideal; it allows researchers and writers to communicate more openly and clearly about their topic so that the subject of the article can be easily communicated to readers even if it is a complex concept to grasp. These relationships are essential to link the fields of science and journalism. As a science beat writer for the Emory Wheel, my school’s student-run newspaper, I have learned that it is important for me to stay in contact with various individuals in science fields. For instance, I stay regularly reach out to Taylor Spicer and Ciannat Howett in Emory’s Office of Sustainability, so that they can update me on any ongoing research or new story ideas.


Besides clear communication and direct relationships, science writing also requires compromises between research and journalism. Journalists, who look at their stories more episodically, face tensions against scientists, who like to see a continuum of research that progresses as new innovations are made. As someone who enjoys both the complexity and constantly growing research of environmental science as well as the established concepts and creativity of writing, I find this idea especially critical. Eastman also seems to think so; he writes his blog, Lab Land, in order to bring these two fields together by updating audiences with new posts each time an innovation is reached. 


“I want to show that [research] fits into a larger trend. There’s a larger arc of research, and there’s always a way to relate it to something that’s happening now,” Eastman said.


Science writing requires a distinct intern section between journalistic style and technical content. Writing / Srividya Balayogi / Creative Commons Flickr Images

Is My Hometown a Place Where Humans Thrive?

When I visited Copenhagen last summer, what stood out most was the city’s ubiquitous bike culture; for every car, there were nearly 10 bikers in the wide and well-designed bike lanes, regardless of the weather conditions. However, soon after, I returned to my hometown in the suburbs of Braselton, Georgia – a community characterized by a less healthy lifestyle.


In his TedX speech “Healthy Human Habitats,” Howard Frumkin emphasizes active lifestyles and clean air and water as two of the most critical components to healthy living and a thriving community.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air quality acts as an environmental hazard on public health. Those in areas of high air pollution are at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, heart diseases and lung cancer. Likewise, a sedentary lifestyle results and an increased risk of colon cancer, according to a University of Queensland study.


I am perhaps most disappointed in how my hometown compares to these standards. With a high school of over 4,000 people, my community experienced high levels of traffic in both the mornings and afternoons. It was uncommon for anyone to ride buses after finishing their sophomore year, and few students carpooled, resulting in thousands of cars commuting each morning.


Not only did this aspect of Braselton negatively affect air quality, but it also encouraged a sedentary lifestyle. My peers and I sat in our cars for 45 minutes of traffic, waiting to arrive at school. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2015 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), Georgia ranks 18 out of 56 states/territories in the United States for total toxic chemicals released per square mile.


In contrast, I am proud of Braselton for the many healthy aspects it has within its community. According to Frumkin, areas for social interactions are essential to towns where humans thrive. Nearly every morning, I bring my dogs running with me through Mulberry Park, a local park with lakes as well as miles of paved and unpaved trails for runners, horseback riders and hikers. I began to find a community of individuals who also visited the park regularly. These individuals shared a similar interest in living an active lifestyle and understood the importance of protecting our environment. Mulberry Park also hosts 5K races regularly, and I have found that these are incredibly effective ways to engage our community in healthy ways.

Mulberry Park allows me to get fresh air and exercise to stay healthy.
Every weekend I go running with my dogs through the trails at Mulberry Park.


Sustainable food and diverse diets, too, are critical. Braselton more than meets this expectation by providing a local garden where community members can volunteer to harvest crops and plant vegetables to eat later. This garden decreases air pollution by limiting the distance over which the food must be transported, and it allows consumers to understand where their food is coming from and which pesticides, if any, are used on them. Awareness of these factors allows the public to understand how sustainable food choices can affect their health.


According to the WHO, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.” I envision Braselton improving the overall health of its people by planning for a more pedestrian-friendly layout for the city in the future, like my former hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and by encouraging modes of public transportation by making them more widely accessible. By meeting these goals, the city will be able to effectively live up to and even exceed the WHO’s definition of health. According to the EPA’s 2015 TRI, Braselton has significantly decreased its release of toxic chemicals from 20 pounds in 2013 to only 5 pounds in 2015, partially due to the reduction of asbestos, or toxic minerals used to construct buildings. Small steps such as these suggest that Braselton is well on its way towards positive change. 


“Constitution of WHO: Principles.” World Health Organization. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). TRI National Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis/where-you-live-2015-tri-national-analysis

Tremblay, M., Colley, Rachel, Saunders, T., Healy, G., & Owen, N. (2010). Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Retrieved from Research Gate.