Studying Public Perceptions of Climate Change Risks

Bryson Mineart
Monday, April 5, 2021

This profile is a part of our consortium profile series, highlighting the people that make up the SW CASC—what inspires them, makes them passionate about their research, and gives them hope for the future. For this profile, Bryson Mineart (SW CASC communications student assistant and undergraduate student in the University of Arizona Computer Science program) interviewed SW CASC co-principal investigator Tamara Wall, Deputy Director of the Western Regional Climate Center and Associate Research Professor for DRI.

For much of her life, Tamara Wall has found herself working and communicating with a large variety of individuals. It makes sense, then, that Tamara found herself drawn into a world of understanding how the public may interpret science and possible risk regarding climate. As a social scientist, Tamara has put much of her interest in asking the large questions about climate change and how this information is interpreted.

Tamara Wall had a very irregular journey into the world of climate science that defines her sense of individuality and hard work. Tamara’s inspirations began in the 1990s as she was transitioning through several different outdoor jobs. Her journey took her down a path as a wilderness ranger, a fire lookout, and a tour guide leading tourist through the wilderness on horseback. Tamara’s love for horses and the wilderness led her to go back to school with a concentration on forestry and wildfire. Again, with an interest on what perceptions the public has on mitigating possible risk. This resulted in her post-doc at DRI where she was hired as a social scientist to concentrate  on public use of science and the communication of climate attribution and uncertainty.

Throughout her career, Tamara has worked with every level of resource manager, from city managers to federal managers, and she has also worked closely with tribal communities. Many of the resource managers that Tamara has worked with focus on wildfire and forestry management in general.

When asked why she loves the career that she has chosen, Tamara talked of the importance of her work. For example, Tamara spoke on the time scale that has been placed on climate change impacts her concern that many of these impacts may occur at a much more rapid rate than predicted. Tamara believes it is crucial that we start getting a handle on our mitigation efforts and ensure that our adaptation efforts are robust and successful.

When discussing emerging needs, Tamara placed a lot of attention on communication between networks, institutions, and stakeholders, all informal and formal. There is a large need for science translation on all levels. As Tamara mentioned, there is an abundance of information, but it takes teams of scientist to translate, utilize, and expedite the information to various management groups and stakeholders. She went on to say that we need to find a way to lower the “cost” of network communication and for stakeholders to be able to openly communicate between these networks. The question is how we work towards a world of fluid information exchange between all these different networks. Tamara believes this can be achieved through integrated, high-functioning interdisciplinary teams. She thinks much of this needs to begin on an undergraduate level where academic institutions focus on true interdisciplinary work. Undoubtedly, communication and relationship growth are crucial for continued work towards climate adaptation.