Every Place Has a Climate Story


Guest blogger: Cooper Tamayo (MESM 2018)

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Cooper at Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, MD.

Monocacy National Battlefield is an historic civil war site, about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C. Inside the park’s visitor center is a beautiful diorama of the battlefield, with miniature farms and fields, winding river, and the pivotal covered bridge. Press a button and tiny LED lights flash to life, red and blue, to mark the movement of troops—advancing, retreating, clashing—as a voiceover recounts the entire drama of the Battle That Saved the Nation’s Capital.

For my internship, I’ve been tasked with showcasing climate change impacts to park visitors. It’s hard not to feel out of place.

The National Parks Service and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication have partnered to put together this Climate Change Communications internship. Every summer, teams of interns work with two National Parks to create climate change communication tools, aimed at connecting parks, visitors, and climate change impacts. Past projects have included videos, web pages, and ranger briefs.

When we started working with Monocacy Battlefield my two major concerns were 1) discussing climate change in a way that made sense – that didn’t automatically make people say wait, this isn’t what I came here for – and 2) tact. The thought of lecturing folks about climate change on a field where soldiers gave their lives felt like the exact wrong way to do things. So how could we create something that would engage visitors, without detracting from their experience of the park’s history? How could we call attention to climate change without shoehorning it in where it didn’t fit?

Enter Marcy Rockman, Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for Cultural Resources at NPS. We only met with her once, but she introduced us to the idea that every place has a climate story, whether it was happening there today, or connected to the past. Every place has a link to climate change that can be dug out and shared, even a Civil War battlefield.

We started brainstorming, and soon, a link emerged: visitors came to Monocacy for its historical significance, and these historic elements would be threatened by the changing climate. But simply discussing the ways that climate change would damage Monocacy’s historic buildings and monuments felt too blunt. We doubted visitors would engage with a doom-and-gloom presentation about climate change erasing our history. So we reframed the discussion: not the destruction of our history, but its preservation.

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Cooper and fellow intern Claire Habel observing a battlefield diorama at the Monocacy Battlefield Visitor Center.

We designed a brochure that leads visitors on a tour of the battlefield. It tells the story of preserving Monocacy’s history, and focuses on some of the ways that NPS is working to protect and restore park resources. Woven throughout is the idea that climate change will threaten the park’s history, and park staff are working hard to keep that from happening.

When we presented our draft to the park superintendent, he told us that this was exactly the story he wanted to tell, exactly the story Monocacy needed to share with visitors. He asked about printing and requested one million copies. One million turned out to be a joke, which I, of course, knew all along.

We’d felt out of place when we first came to Monocacy—climate change interns at a Civil War battlefield. But after that meeting it was clear that all of us were really part of the same mission: protecting the park for everyone to enjoy today and for generations to come.

Cooper Tamayo is a 2018 MESM student specializing in Energy and Climate, with a focus in Strategic Environmental Communications and Media. He spent his summer in Washington, D.C, exploring the surprising number of National Parks in and around the nation’s capital.

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