Notes from the Field: A Student Perspective on Science Communication as Climate Action

 By Isaac Conrad

Countries in the Global South, like Morocco, will be among the most severly impacted by a warming planet, despite bearing little responsibility for the emissions contributing to the global climate crisis. Yet Morocco has emerged as a leader in climate policy and action using an often overlooked strategy: science communication. In 2022, I had the opportunity to spend the summer traveling in Morocco as part of the Undergraduate Research Study Abroad program through the University of Minnesota Duluth, where my research focused on attitudes toward climate change and the role of science communication in mobilizing public support for climate policy. 

Around four in the morning, calls to prayer echo throughout Rabat, Morocco, waking me for the day. Lights begin to flicker across the skyline; some pray in their homes, while others trickle down the winding streets to the nearest mosque. As I become accustomed to these calls, I begin to find beauty in the chorus of voices waking the city. Moroccans wake together, pray together, and take on the day — together. This philosophy extends to all parts of Moroccan life. From cooking to childcare, Moroccans look out for each other, and their response to the climate crisis is no different.

Despite contributing little to global greenhouse gas emissions, Morocco has faced, and will continue to face, serious climate impacts. Every week, another headline warn of the latest “historic” heat wave; As many international scholars have projected, Morocco is confronting severe droughts, decimated crop populations, and an influx of climate refugees. In the face of these challenges, Morocco has taken a multi-pronged approach in addressing climate change. 

Initiatives like Clean Beaches, the Noor Solar Facility, and Qualit’air have earned Morocco a top ranking in the Climate Change Performance Index – an international framework used to evaluate nations’ climate protection efforts. Morocco is ranked 8th on the index, and the US is ranked 55th; the first three spots are left open because no nation has done enough to combat the climate crisis. For each initiative, argues Mina Lalaoui Kamal, a Regional Advisor Morocco’s Ministry of Environment,  science communication has played a key role in Morocco’s success.

Mina and I meet two days into my stay in Morocco. I hop into a blue taxi, and not knowing French or Arabic, I ask the driver to take me to Hotel Oscar, where I am meeting Mina. The taxi driver just stares at me blankly. Luckily, a Moroccan fluent in English is watching our interaction; she laughs at me, translates, and sends me on my way. When I arrive, Mina greets me with a smile and traditional Moroccan mint tea. For the next two hours, we discuss her Fulbright experiences, the Ministry of Environment’s policies, and Morocco’s use of science communication.

As an Environmental Advisor, Mina is responsible for various projects; she coordinated Morocco’s 2015 plastic bag ban, aided desalination efforts around the Moroccan coast, and implemented waste recycling plants in major cities. Mina is quick to point out that science communication has played a big role in her success, and emphasizes that her efforts are multifaceted. Often, she relies on interpersonal conversations with stakeholders to develop an understanding of the science and necessary policy solutions, but she also deploys larger scale communication campaigns for  broader reach.

“Youth are our future leaders, and whether they know it or not, they have influence on their communities right now,” Mina shares. As such, young people are the target audience of many of the science communication programs in Morocco. Eco-schools is one program that sets Morocco apart from other nations. Participating schools shape curriculum around the environment, and they aim to teach the next generation about the role they play in the environment stewardship. Nearly one million students have graduated from eco-schools. Another program has similar goals as the Science Communication Lab at the University of Minnesota. Young Reporters for the Environment aims to foster a generation of reporters who can investigate topics related to the environment and communicate science and solutions with the broader public. Both programs result in greater scientific literacy as well as a greater understanding of Moroccans’ place in the broader climate crisis. 

Part of my assignment in Morocco included surveying Moroccan citizens for their climate change opinions, beliefs, and risk perceptions and comparing those results to the US population. Result demonstrate that Moroccans are both more aware and more worried about climate change than US citizens. In Morocco, 80% of survey respondents regularly discuss climate change, but only 35% of Americans answered the same. This level of climate awareness is reflected in Morocco’s climate policy, and it can be seen as a message for other nations as well.

If Morocco taught me anything about science communication, it’s that our language needs to be more accessible and centered on the individual experience of climate change. Climate communication campaigns in Morocco have targeted youth because they shape our collective future, and in order to be successful, these campaigns have used language that is accessible to not only younger audiences, but to all audiences. In Morocco, this meant connecting climate change to the weekly heatwaves, record droughts, and climate refugees. For Minnesota, that means we start better articulating the role of climate change in topics that hit closer to home — like toxic algae blooms on Lake Superior, intense “derecho” storm events across southern Minnesota, or chronic wasting disease in deer populations. 

If a nation among the least responsible for climate change is leading the international climate policy scene, perhaps that nation’s strategies can be adapted to another nation as well. Science communication has played a key role in Morocco’s climate response; from the peaks of the Atlas Mountains to the valleys of the Sahara Desert, Moroccan citizens are mobilizing to confront climate change. The success of science communication in Morocco suggests that programs focused on science communication — not unlike the Science Communication Lab — play a key role in shaping a nation’s response to climate change. 

So, fellow science communicators, let’s get to work telling captivating stories that connect climate impacts to Minnesotans and Minnesotans to climate solutions.

Isaac Conrad is a writing intern in the University of Minnesota Science Communication Lab.

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