The Public Humanist

World Wide Views on Global Warming: A Global Citizen Consultation on International Climate Policy

"You really want to hear what people from this community think?” The middle-aged Latino man was supervising the neighborhood kids in the South End as they played pick-up basketball. “What’s the catch?” “No catch,” we assured him. “In fact some people will even be paid for their participation.” We explained the whole concept of World Wide Views on Global Warming, in which ordinary laypeople will deliberate and make recommendations in the first-ever global citizen consultation on climate policy. The project will provide public input into the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December of 2009. When we added that 30 countries across the world were participating, his response was enthusiastic. “Give me some flyers. I definitely want to do it, and I’ll get some others to do it, too.”

As the local project coordinators, we have been both enriched and challenged by this opportunity. In March, we gathered with fellow project planners from around the world at the orientation conference in Copenhagen, led by the Danish Board of Technology, an organization with a long-standing history of soliciting lay-citizen input for public policy formulation. Inspired by the vision of this trailblazing global event, we tackled the sobering realities of implementing an international deliberation. How would we handle issues such as language differences, gaps in technology, and fundraising in the present economic climate? The Danes had already thought of many of these questions, but in some cases the answers were elusive and are still being addressed.

Fundraising for the project on the local and global scales has been particularly difficult given the current economic conditions. Thanks to the generous support of several Museum donors and foundations, including Mass Humanities, we are able to hold the event with the required 100 participants. In addition, we have been able to provide a stipend to the low-income participants. We discovered that the stipend was a crucial aspect of assuring the diversity of participants.

One Saturday morning, two young men approached our recruitment table at the Festival Betances Youth Event in the South End. One sported a baseball cap askew over his blond dreadlocks, a cutoff t-shirt and colorful tattoos, peeking out from the jagged edges of his sleeves. The other, a neatly dressed African-American, wore a button down shirt and pressed blue jeans. They were attracted to our table by the free lollipops. We gave each one a lollipop and launched into our sales pitch for WWViews. After we finished, one queried, “You’re going to pay us $50 just to say what we think? What if we don’t know anything about climate change?” When we assured them that they didn’t need to have any previous knowledge, they both enthused, “We’re in there!” He and his friend signed up at the table and later made a commitment to be at the event and to read all the material ahead of time.

We set an ambitious goal to recruit participants reflecting the diverse demographics of the statistics of the city of Boston and we used a variety of methods to achieve the goal. We solicited applicants online through Craigslist and through other organizations’ websites. These sites generally attracted more educated, affluent participants. In recruiting other demographic groups, we branched out. We attended street fairs in Chelsea and the South End. We visited churches in Roxbury. We met with social workers in the Department of Family Services, construction workers at a local company, and managers of the Citywide Youth program. We also contacted numerous directors of local non-profit community organizations, who sent out emails and distributed our posters to their constituents.

The recruitment phase is nearly complete. Next steps include finalizing the selection of participants, sending out the project materials, and working on the tangible logistics for the meeting: where will all of the tables and chairs go? Who will speak to welcome the participants? How will we communicate the results to the local and international community?

Plans are underway for major public events to share the results of the program with policymakers, the public, and the media on Sunday, September 27th and Saturday, December 5th. We hope that you can attend to hear what citizens from around the world think should be done about global warming, and to share your own thoughts and ideas!

World Wide Views on Global Warming will take place on Saturday, September 26th in over 30 countries, with six sites in the US. The project is being presented locally by the Museum of Science, by The Brookfield Institute, and by Boston University’s School of Public Health. For more information on the project, go to mos.org/forum.

This essay was co-writtenby Beverly Prestwood-Taylor, Executive Director of the Brookfield Institute (click her byline for her full bio), and David Sittenfeld, manager of the Forum program at the Museum of Science.David's full bio can be found in the contributors column of the blog.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate