People who visit zoos and aquariums are more concerned about climate change than other Americans and are willing to take action to help because they feel a connection with animals. The findings are in the final report, “Global Climate Change as Seen by Zoo and Aquarium Visitors,” analyzed by the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CLiZEN). The Network is led by the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo.
Researchers surveyed more than 7,000 zoo and aquarium visitors at 15 accredited zoos and aquariums around the country and found that visitors are more concerned about climate change than the general public. For example, 64 percent of zoo and aquarium visitors say they are concerned or alarmed about global warming, compared to only 39 percent of the general public. Also, 35 percent of the general public report being disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive with regard to global warming versus only 17 percent of zoo and aquarium visitors. Non-visitor attitudes were collected via a survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.
“We have long suspected that people who visit zoos and aquariums care more about environmental issues and that their sense of care is tied to the connection they feel to the animals they see in our institutions. These findings give us the opportunity to help visitors understand climate change and to provide educational information about what they can do to make a difference,” said Alejandro Grajal, Ph.D., senior vice president of conservation and education for CZS.
Nearly two-thirds of surveyed zoo and aquarium visitors believe that human actions are related to global warming, and the majority of visitors think that global warming will harm them personally, as well as future generations. These findings suggest that zoo and aquarium visitors are a prime audience for climate change education messages.
Other results showed that zoos and aquariums provide visitors with socially supportive contexts for discussions about animals and connections to nature. Compared to the general public, zoo and aquarium visitors are more likely to have friends who share their views on global warming. Visitors who are alarmed or concerned about global warming use zoo and aquarium visits as a chance to talk to companions about their relationships to nature, and they view zoos and aquariums as trustworthy places to find out how to help reduce the effects of global warming.
The survey also suggests that visitors’ attitudes, behaviors, and concerns vary with their sense of connection to animals and nature, and 86 percent of visitors report feeling a strong sense of connection with the animals they see at a zoo or aquarium.
“Personal connections with animals are strongly related to our visitors’ climate change conviction and concern and their desire to do more to help save the environment,” said Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of CZS. “Zoos and aquariums have an opportunity to foster strong connections between visitors and the animals in our care. This connection inspires participation in both consumer and environmental behaviors that address climate change.”
The findings will contribute to a new program being designed to reach more than 20 million zoo visitors annually with innovative ways to encourage understanding and action to address climate change. For example, CLiZEN leaders are planning to create an exhibit that includes an interactive video game where visitors of all ages can “be” a polar bear experiencing the difficulty of survival when ice melts.
A free e-book entitled Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and Aquariums is available for download for educators, zoo practitioners, and anyone interested in learning more about climate change at www.lulu.com. The e-book will be also available through Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBooks app beginning May 4, 2012.
Grajal is leading the team of principal investigators that are developing the national initiative. He is joined by principal investigators Susan R. Goldman, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology and education and co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Michael E. Mann, Ph.D., professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. The partnership is joined by experts in conservation psychology, the conservation organization Polar Bears International, and an external advisory board that includes the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The survey was fielded at 15 zoos and aquariums, including Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco; Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Ill.; Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Powell, Ohio; Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Saint Paul, Minn.; Indianapolis Zoo, Ind.; John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago; Monterey Bay Aquarium, Calif.; National Aquarium,Baltimore, Md.; New England Aquarium, Boston; Oregon Zoo, Portland; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pa.; Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, R.I.; Louisville Zoo, Ky.; Toledo Zoo, Ohio; and Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Wash. The majority of participating zoos are partners in the implementation of the CLiZEN project. The survey is part of a $1.2 million planning grant that CZS received from the National Science Foundation Program on Climate Change Education and another grant provided by the Boeing Company.