March 27, 2019

Educating About Climate Change By Steering Clear of Politics

The C-Change Team is comprised of local women from the Princeton area including, front row from left, Carrie Dyckman, Katy Kinsolving, Kathleen Biggins, and Pam Mount. Back row, Kathy Herring, Catherine Sidamon-Eristoff, Mary Bechler, Lorraine Sciarra, Kim Haren, Harriette Brainard, Margaret Sieck, and Sophie Glovier.

By Anne Levin

A nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about climate change has grown from local beginnings to a presence on the national stage. C-Change Conversations, founded in 2017 by Princeton area residents Kathleen Biggins, Carrie Dyckman, Pam Mount, and Katy Kinsolving, engages members of the public who might be resistant to the idea that the climate is in dangerous transition by keeping the conversation free of political leanings.

“There is no partisan battling,” said Biggins. “And we don’t present ourselves as environmentalists. We’re dealing with facts, not making issues.”

With 13 volunteers, the organization has presented to some 5,300 people in 25 states across the country. They are booked in private homes, Rotary clubs, church basements, and anywhere else they can pass along their message that the future of the planet holds serious challenges.

C-Change Conversations has been honored locally with the 2018 Centennial Award for Social Responsibility from the Princeton Family YMCA, and the Edwin W. Stiles Award for Environmental Leadership from The Watershed Institute. Last December, Biggins served on a panel with John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, other leaders from the National Institute of Health, and a climate change reporter from The Washington Post.

With a background is in communications, Biggins started to become aware, in the first decade of the century, that the media wasn’t covering climate change issues. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, she and her like-minded friends knew it was time to take action. “We heard from scientists that the hurricane had been exacerbated by climate change,” she said. “We realized how bad it really was.”

“We knew that our challenge was to wake people up, but not turn them off,” added Dyckman.

The volunteers started a speaker series in private homes. Speakers have come from such fields as agriculture, economics, energy, geopolitical security, investments and business, public policy, and science journalism. Former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman, Munich RE climate expert Peter Hoeppe, former NRG Energy CEO David Crane, and Environmental Defense Fund Vice President Elizabeth Thompson are among them.

The group next developed the C-Change Primer, a non-partisan, multimedia seminar and discussion that they have taken around the country. Since each of the founders is a member of a garden club, the clubs were a logical place to start. The clubs took notice, and C-Change has been invited to open the national convention of U.S. garden clubs for the past three years, Biggins said.

The biggest challenge has been getting audiences skeptical about climate change to take the issue seriously. In Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, among other states, they have encountered people with conservative views.

“The reactions have been amazing,” said Biggins. “We present in such a way that it’s really hard to deny the facts. We got a standing ovation from a very conservative crowd in Columbia, South Caroina.”

Dyckman added, “It’s changing. They are questioning what they believe and what they’ve been told to believe. At first, people saw it as something for extreme liberals. But we don’t see it that way. As messengers, we’re reaching out to people who are like us, not scientists. The point is that we don’t tell them they have to say that it doesn’t exist. They just have to be clear-eyed about the risk. And it seems to really resonate.”

The group have hope that climate change “can be kept within a range we can live with and still prosper,” said Biggins. “How do we stay as close as we can to the goals?”

Biggins recently got some encouragement from a conservative friend in Florida who attended a presentation. “When I said to her, ‘We want to be the pebble who starts the ripple,’ she said ‘You’re the boulder that starts and avalanche,’” Biggins said. “Coming from her, that was so validating.”