Climate change has a communication problem, according to Maris St. Cyr, a representative of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "We need to make [climate change] a personal issue. That is when people react; when it is personal."
St. Cyr was one of more than two dozen public officials and environmental advocates at a roundtable on climate change led by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin on Friday at the Maryland Science Center. The group discussed how to reframe environmental issues in a way that, they hoped, would appeal to conservatives and galvanize the public to action.
Cardin — a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chairman of the Water and Wildlife subcommittee — has said Maryland is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with 70 percent of the state's population living in coastal areas.
He said climate issues have an economic impact on the state since agriculture, which is dependent on weather, water and soil conditions, is Maryland's largest industry.
Those at the roundtable said the public needs to be educated about how climate change is affecting agriculture and national security.
"Most people have a stunning lack of knowledge of where their food comes from," said Susan Payne from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Payne added that climate change threatens U.S. food security by affecting production processes.
Cardin said his main concern was how to engage the public on the issue. When one attendee said climate change is killing off trees in North America, Cardin countered, "Americans don't connect to our national parks." Americans need to be shown how climate change affects them directly, he said.
Cindy Parker, a professor at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, said lawmakers should focus on health issues related to climate change, instead of the environment.
"We have data to show that when you focus on health impacts [of environmental problems], even when you're talking about climate change, it resonates across the political spectrum," she said.