It was a cold, gray Saturday last winter at McNary National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington state as teams of visitors, volunteers and staff raced over frozen ground pretending to save animals on a melting polar icecap.
Participants in the simulated exercise about reducing carbon emissions were given a card with an activity printed on it. They had to decide if the activity would increase or decrease greenhouse gases. Each team member would then run down and pin it to the corresponding board. As the boards filled up with things like pack my own lunch bag with reusable containers (decrease) and using disposable water bottles (increase), small toy animalsincluding a gorilla, a frog and a tigerlooked on from a nearby chunk of ice.
Part of a Second Saturday program, this was the first climate changeoriented event ever at the 15,000acre refuge about 220 miles southeast of Seattle.
People in this part of the state dont seem to be as aware of climate change as the rest of the Northwest, said Jaynee Levy, a visitor services specialist at MidColumbia National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes McNary Refuge, and it is a problem we all must learn about, so we can be proactive in combating it.
Refuge staff members anticipate that climate change soon will challenge their conservation mission. Heidi Newsome, wildlife biologist at the complex, says that increased carbon dioxide levels likely will contribute to more and fastergrowing cheat grass, the main invasive annual grass on the refuge and primary fuel for wild fires in the shrubsteppe landscape.
Debbie Jennings, a volunteer who has spearheaded the Second Saturday program at McNary Refuge for a decade, started off the day by asking participants what they wanted to know about climate change. Specific answers varied, but almost everyone wanted to know if people can do anything about it.
Steve Ghan, a climate scientist from the Department of Energys Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, replied in a way that all children and adults could understand. When he wasnt showing entertaining videos such as The Power of Poop, in which cartoon animals on Mount Kilimanjaro demonstrate how methane is converted into energy, he was giving tips about reducing emissions.
Global warming is something that affects everyone, said Ghan. Its a multigenerational problem, so we need to get the kids started on it and they can adapt their lifestyle to reduce CO2 emissions.
Jessica Burden, a mother of two, agreed: This is a message that is already part of our daily lives. As a parent, I try to make it fun to conserve.
Changing old ways of thinking is only one challenge refuge staff members face. Unfortunately, we dont have the resources to continue to expand the Second Saturday program, Levy said. We will only have six Second Saturdays in 2012.
Despite cutbacks to the Second Saturday program, Levy and Jennings hope to add future climate change events to the refuges education center calendar. I am glad we got to do this event today, Jennings said. We got some important messages across.
Tristan Carter, 7, and his friend Eva Fischer, 4, certainly seemed to get the message.
When Levy asked what they will remember most about the day, Tristan shouted, C means carbon, and everything is carbon! When carbon gets trapped, it heats everything up and makes it harder for life.