Jarvis agrees. It's hard for the public to relate personally to climate change, he said. But people "do relate personally to the national parks."
Park officials are using a variety of media to cultivate those personal relationships. Golden Gate National Recreation Area uses podcasts to give park fans a chance to learn the science and follow impacts remotely. Yosemite's visitor center includes displays on climate change science and park impacts. In Glacier National Park, which has been at the forefront of the climate change response effort, rangers give a weekly “walk-and-talk” program on the past, present, and future of the park’s namesake features entitled “Where Have All the Glaciers Gone?”
According to Ardoin, these live, interpretive programs leave the biggest impression. Park interpreters and rangers, she said, have the skills and experience to be extremely effective climate change communicators. They spend their careers helping audiences develop intellectual and emotional connections to resources and the issues that affect them, and they are personally invested in those resources as well.
Rangers also have authority in the public's eye, particularly on controversial or politically charged subjects, Jarvis said. Whether it's ecosystem benefits of wildfire or race relations in a national historic site, "the park ranger doing the evening program doesn't embellish," Jarvis added. "The public expects us to deliver the unvarnished truth."
But to be effective, said Ardoin, Park Service rangers need to deliver a message on climate change that is as consistent as it is accurate. And progress so far has been sporadic.
Holly first gave a version of his presentation in 2007. He developed the original program on his own initiative, conducting his own research and using his own photos of Yosemite's iconic features. Since then, he has received support from the Park Service, including a four-day training course on climate change science and communication earlier this year. There, he met rangers from other National Parks, including the Florida Everglades, Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds, and Alaska’s Kenai Fjords, who shared his enthusiasm for climate change education.
But Holly and his peers in the course – 20 rangers total – were the only applicants from the Park Service’s pool of more than 25,000 employees who found the motivation, time, and money to apply and attend. And despite the effort, Holly isn't sure when or whether he will be able to give his climate change presentation again. At 27, he only recently landed a year-round job with the Park Service. His official title is public information officer, meaning he usually spends his days answering phones and developing maps and brochures.
One of Holly's colleagues has offered a semi-regular program entitled "The Ups and Downs of Yosemite's Climate" in Tuolumne Meadows, on Yosemite's eastern border, throughout August. But in Yosemite Valley, there were no regularly scheduled ranger programs on climate change this summer. The valley is by far the more popular destination, attracting 70 percent of the park's visitors, while Tuolumne draws just over a third. In America's third most popular National Park, with an annual visitation of about four million, that's a big difference – and a lot of missed opportunities.
Still, the Park Service has a history of shaping public knowledge and behavior on natural resource issues.
Yosemite's staff, for instance, has worked hard to change public behaviors that attract bears to cars and campsites. After a record-breaking 1,500 bear incidents in 1998, the number of break-ins and other episodes fell by more than 80 percent in three years and has hovered between 100 and 200 incidents since 2005.