Climate Change Communication in the Midwestern United States: Perceptions of State Park Interpreters

  • Vidya BalasubramanyamEmail author
  • Sonja Wilhelm StanisEmail author
  • Mark Morgan
  • Ojetunde Ojewola


Parks and protected areas can be ideal settings for climate change communication since many visitors have an affinity for natural and cultural settings, and an interest in resource protection. However, climate-based education efforts in the Midwestern United States may need a slightly different approach since this region lacks obvious indicators, such as sea level rise and melting glaciers. Interpretation, an informal communication process designed to transmit scientific information to visitors in leisure-based settings, could be a useful strategy for engaging visitors in climate change discussions. Few studies have assessed perceptions of interpreters on this topic, much less, their willingness to communicate such information. To address this issue, a mixed methods approach (surveys, interviews, photovoice) was used to examine interpreters’ perceptions of climate change and its impacts in Missouri State Park and Historic Sites. Although nearly 70% of interpreters were either alarmed or concerned about climate change, many of them were unsure about its causation. Interpreters report observing impacts such as flooding, earlier plant blooming, high temperatures, extreme weather, and invasive species, but were uncertain about attributing these impacts to climate change. Interpreters did not believe that visitors would be responsive to climate-based education per se but thought the topic could be addressed in pre-existing programs and activities. Rather than discussing complex science with visitors, interpreters felt more comfortable with conveying the significance of resources at their sites. Implications from this study include acknowledging multiple viewpoints, framing strategic messages, and developing place-based educational materials.


Climate change communication Natural resource interpretation Climate change perceptions 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number IIA-1355406. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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