Climate Journalist Sara Peach Visits Blacksburg

A table with some drinks on it is in the foreground, with a female speaker holding a microphone in the back left of the photo.
Yale Climate Connections senior editor Sara Peach spoke to a crowd of 100 people at Science on Tap September 26. Photo credit: Lauren Holt

“The most trusted source on climate change news and science, just below climate scientists, is friends and family – you have a big influence over what people close to you think,” said Sara Peach, Senior Editor at Yale Climate Connections.

Peach was describing the findings of recent studies to a crowd of about 100 at Rising Silo Brewery for Peach’s September 26 Science on Tap talk, “What to expect when you’re expecting climate change.”

From parents concerned about how to prepare their children for climate change and guilty air travelers wondering how to reduce their carbon footprint, Peach said she constantly fields questions about how climate change affects people’s personal lives and what they should do about it. 

This led Peach to start an advice column, “Ask Sara,” where she replies to questions concerning the impacts of climate change and gives advice on how to deal with them. 

Throughout her Blacksburg talk, Peach shared common questions she has received through her advice column. She also opened the discussion to a live version of “Ask Sara” with the audience.

One audience member asked Peach, “What advice would you give to climate scientists to help them become more media savvy?”

Peach responded with a quote from a colleague: “Give clear and simple messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted messengers.” She explained that as a scientist, the clearer you can make a message, the more trust and attention you will gain from your audience. 

Peach continued her visit on September 27, leading a lunchtime workshop, “The Humorous Side of the Climate Story: A workshop on the bizarre, unexpected, and delightfully weird side of climate change,” where she guided the audience through methods to engage family and friends in a dialogue about climate change. 

“We need to find more interesting ways to engage people on this issue so that it doesn’t lose their attention,” Peach said. 

For example, to engage her Science on Tap audience Peach played a unique clarinet piece composed to reflect annual global temperature rise due to climate change.

Peach started off her Friday workshop by sharing some bizarre, yet interesting, stories related to climate change. For example, Peach told the story of Brian Harper, the man who invented a streetlamp fueled by dog poop. Harper knew there must be a better place for all the dog poop left in his neighborhood parks and sidewalks, so he decided to attach an anaerobic digester to a methane fueled streetlamp where people could drop off their dog’s waste just like a trash can. When dog poop breaks down, it releases methane that can be burned. 

“This invention is accomplishing 3 things at once,” Peach said. “It’s reducing litter, it’s reducing (on a very small scale) methane production that contributes to global warming, and lastly, it’s creating light without burning fossil fuels.” 

Peach mentioned that they posted this story on Facebook, and instead of receiving negative comments about climate change and accusations of “fake news,” people really engaged with the story and began to tag and share the post with their friends and family. 

Peach continued her workshop by leading the audience through an exercise to find their own engaging topics surrounding climate change. From “an exciting hike” to “a good glass of wine at the end of the day,” audience members thought through some of the joys in their lives and how climate change might pose a risk to things people are really interested in.

Peach’s visit to Virginia Tech was sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Center for Communicating Science, the School of Public and International Affairs/Urban Affairs and Planning, and Center for Humanities, with support from the Department of Communication, the Global Change Center, and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

By Lauren Holt, Center for Communicating Science student intern

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