Deep Inside Museum of Science’s Change Climate Change Takeover

BY DIGBOSTON X SCIENCE MUSEUM

PHOTOS BY DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN

A spoonful of sugar (and science) to help the medicine go down and the earth turn


A major difference between a newspaper and a large museum is that the former generally does not take into account the fun factor. Even if everything is not in the pages of DiggingBoston is serious, and we are proud of our long-standing slogan—humor, news and nightlife– when something is sad or perhaps existentially draining, we believe it shouldn’t be our duty to pour in spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine pass smoothly. And we make no apologies for doing our job, even if it makes readers sad or upset.

With few exceptions, museums have a different arrangement with the public. They are largely expected to show visitors a phenomenal time, while providing some sort of mind-blowing adventure and simultaneously teaching you something. Bostonians are fortunate that many of our local institutions fit this description, including the Museum of Science, which straddles the fantastical, the galactic, and the didactic as naturally as the Boston-Cambridge border.

the Dig frequently covers climate change and the environment, not just around Earth Day. But when the opportunity arose for us to collaborate with MOS for the annual event, we showed up on their doorstep to take it all in. of the building was designed for more than the families and elementary school students who typically fill their exhibits. This includes us. And you too, if we ever want to make progress on the climate front.

David Sittenfeld, National Forums and Collaborations Manager for MOS, physically guided us through the multiple exhibits that make up Change Climate Change, a variety ranging from New England climate stories that explore living animals and natural history, to an immersive multimedia experience that drops you deep into the flooded heart of Venice, Italy, into the worst and best possible future scenarios. We promise he makes it all so much more fun and hopeful than we ever could alone.

“People are a big part of this story. It provides a really nice window to talk about a mix of coping and mitigation strategies,” says Sittenfeld. at the same time, but doing it with a big initiative that involves the whole museum, as well as community partners and social media as well as virtual connections, it allows us to talk about all the ways people can be part of the solution.

David Sitenfeld

In the beginning …

“The museum has been doing things about climate change and other environmental issues for a very long time,” says Sittenfeld. “It’s part of what we do. But because the world is really focused on that right now, the museum is really focused on how not just to approach the content ourselves, but to bring the things that our community and our civic partners do in many ways . It’s a big thing under our new president, figuring out how we can showcase innovation, hard work and fairness and all that people do in Boston, where you have so much thought power.

For their current setup, he adds: “The big initiative we have brings together highlighting what we know about climate change with what we still don’t know. We know there is a problem, we know we need to fix it, we know it affects people disproportionately, and we know we are working on solutions.

“We want people to think about the ecosystems that exist and the natural strategies that people have used for thousands of years that can help budget where we need to go. You can tell the whole story when the museum takes something that way.

If you build it…

In the arctic adventure exhibition you can see and touch as a participant – tiptoeing atop a melting ocean, searching for wild animals with a gamified drone simulator, or leaning your paw against the frozen wall of an ice cave. The MOS has long been known for going beyond just hanging pictures on the wall and showing educational videos, but for Change Climate Change they have removed all boundaries between exhibits and visitors.

“These are heavy subjects,” he explains. “How do you make it fun, engaging and hopeful? That was our question, and you find these different pockets we created as our continuing answer.

The Arctic Adventure exhibit “invites you to be an active participant in using technology (including ground penetrating radar and ice core drills) to explore our changing environment”

A multilateral approach…

“The museum is kind of trying to get us thinking about how to approach this in a number of ways,” says Sittenfeld. “There are many channels and ways to distribute the content. Part of it is digital material, in addition there are exhibits, there are programs on the floor.

“We intentionally think about devices and strategies that will work for a variety of audiences. It’s very different from talking about the impacts of climate change to a small child who may be visiting and who is excited to see a tree frog in a Science Museum exhibit and an adult who comes, but at the same time we want inspire this hope in everyone. It looks different depending on the format, and we try to have a variety of experiences because it allows people to have different touchpoints.

The Head of Forums and Collaborations continues, “There’s kind of an intentional mix of things that are in our backyard and things that are global. There is an exhibit where you see all about how climate change affects forest ecosystems and forest environments in coastal areas, because you probably go there. Even if you’re just visiting New England for the weekend and coming to the museum, you know these things and you can think of them in that context. But then you go next and there’s an exhibition about resilient Venice, and you learn how climate change is affecting social systems, including major cities and endangered heritage sites.

Engage in change…

“We give people the impression that they can contribute in many ways,” says Sittenfeld. “They can reflect on where climate change is affecting them in their community, but they also learn what can be done about it. That’s the defining message—that people can do something about it. We can change the conversation.

“Climate change requires a social response – everyone has to be part of it, you can’t fix it yourself – but also, everyone is impacted by it and we know everyone is impacted differently. Fortunately, there is a spectrum of participation that was harder to do before. Our theory of action is that decisions about what to do about this problem are better when everyone is part of the discussion. A lot of the work that we do in our programs – on the stages, as well as the performances and the exhibitions – is kind of about the fact that to solve this problem, we need everyone on board, and we have need everyone’s point of view and values. Science can’t really tell us what to do, it can just tell us that we have these problems and we are trying to solve them.

“Changes are happening in our communities, and the question is, Are we going to think about climate change when we make these changes, or not? And by reflecting on the changes, we have the opportunity to address the needs that can make our communities more equitable and resilient at the same time. These are not decisions over which science has full jurisdiction. Science needs to be part of the discussion, but when we’re talking about how to revamp neighborhoods or how we’re going to change our public transportation system, we want people to think about how every decision we make should respect people’s values.

“We really want to give people a sense of agency and hope that there are things that they can do individually and also that they can have a voice in what society is going to do.”

Like the issue of climate change, Sittenfeld says MOS’ commitment to engaging on this front “is not going away.” Instead, “it’s going to be a permanent stage. This will be an important part of our work in the future. »


More information, resources and tickets at mos.org/climate-change. Rise Up Boston: A Climate Event on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1. Safer mos.org/rise-up-boston


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