ROCKLAND — Despite the daunting topic, the mood seemed hopeful when a group of scientists, fishermen, teachers and informal science educators gathered to learn how to better discuss climate change.

The Communicating Local Impacts of Climate Change training, held Saturday, Aug. 17 at the Island Institute, was part of a three-day kickoff event for the Institute’s WeatherBlur project. Funded by the National Science Foundation, WeatherBlur is creating an online interactive-learning platform for coastal communities to share weather-related data and observations and to investigate the impacts of climate change in their communities.

The project aims to bring scientists, students, teachers and fishermen, like those present at the training, together to discuss climate change.  

Workshop leaders used a curriculum developed by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) which is working to build a framework for communicating climate change in zoos, aquariums and other educational facilities.

One tool employed by the NNOCCI framework is a metaphor which simplifies the complicated concepts behind how climate change works and how it affects the planet. Trainers explain that when we burn fossil fuels it creates a blanket effect, trapping heat around the world and creating hotter, more violent weather that threatens humans, animals and ecosystems. The Communicating Local Impacts of Climate Change training was the first in a series of regional trainings by graduates of the NNOCCI program.

Among the group of about 40 trainees, conversation jumped from ocean acidification to super storms to warmer waters and shifts in species ranges as participants discussed what they were seeing.

The waters fishermen grew up on are changing, some said, and they are seeing it impact their livelihood.

“My livelihood, my home and my community are all dependent on a stable climate,” said Steve Train, a lobsterman from Long Island.

“We used to spend the month of June fixing the boat,” Richard Nelson, a Friendship lobsterman observed. “Now we’re on the water three or four weeks earlier.”

Scientists, often reluctant to attribute extreme weather events and other environmental shifts directly to climate change, have also started speaking up in growing numbers. Many are alarmed at how fast the changes to our climate are happening.

“When I was in school, we didn’t study ocean pH levels because it was assumed that you couldn’t alter the chemistry of the ocean,” said Sarah Kirn of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. With the effects of ocean acidification caused by increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere already apparent, it is clear that old assumptions no longer apply.

With this sense of urgency as an underlying theme, the training equipped participants with practical tools to educate others about the impacts of climate change and inspire them to act.  “We’re creating a national narrative about climate change,” said Steve Gerkin from the North Carolina Zoo, one of the leaders on the training. “We’re empowering people to find their own solutions.”