The typical news story about science starts with an academic paper that's been recently published in a journal. The reporter gets a press alert and decides it's newsworthy, reads the paper, then interviews the scientist. If the reporter has the time and space, she or he may find an anecdote or a person who illustrates the conclusion or phenomenon described in the paper.
The iSeeChange Almanac reverses this process. It starts with the anecdote, the individuals out in the world. When the subject of study is climate change, we're all experiencing something relevant to the conversation. The Almanac is a website where people can share their observations about changes in the environment.
"People know their own backyards," said Julia Kumari Drapkin, the producer behind iSeeChange. She started the project in rural Colorado with support from the local public radio station, KVNF, and Localore.
Much of western Colorado's economy is based on natural resources, from coal mining to ranching to ski resorts. As the name implies, the project is a kind of 21st century farmers' almanac, tapping into the deep local knowledge of the community. "Farmers and ranchers are taking note of what's changing all the time," said Drapkin, and the site allows them to share observations that might never be exchanged or collected otherwise.
The Almanac also aims to help people make choices about their everyday lives. Drapkin says the information can be used to decide what to plant in your garden, when to sell crops or where to buy a home.
The photos and observations can become a launch point for stories and conversations. It's also a place where scientists and citizens can meet. "My greatest moment is when NASA sent a climate scientist to a rancher," Drapkin said. You can listen to the full story here.
Drapkin said some of the earliest contributions turned out to be prescient. One of the first observations came from local fire chief Doug Fritz, who noticed that things were drier than they should be in March and correctly predicted that the wildfire season was starting early. "We proved that we were on to something," Drapkin said.
Many of the contributors are people one might not expect to be interested in climate change, like traditionally conservative coal miners or farmers, who Drapkin says are typically skeptical of the conversations coming out of the political theater. "We're not trying to convert them," she said. "We're just talking to them about their experiences."
Although the funding for Drapkin's series of radio stories ran out in March of 2013, she is looking for ways to bring the site to a national audience and keep the discussion going.