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USU watershed scientist brings core values into the climate conversation

Markus Spiske

Dr. Patrick Belmont is the Director of USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences. In the talk, he discussed the need to include psychology in the conversation about solving the climate crisis.

This talk didn’t start out the way most science seminars do. Instead of jumping into introductory information, Belmont passed out paper and pens, asking the audience to take a moment and write some lists.

“What are the guiding principles by which you live your life, things like integrity, honesty, things like that. I want you to write a couple of those down. And the second list I want you to make are things that you value, places, things," Belmont said.

After this exercise, Belmont highlighted the effects of the climate crisis the world is already experiencing like massive wildfires, declines in air quality, even coral reef bleaching events, and fallout from climate disasters that can be overlooked.

“I think one of the less appreciated things about climate change is how much it creates instabilities, economic, societal political instabilities around the world, and how much that drives wars, and other climate refugees, people who have been displaced, they no longer have a home because of some climate drive disasters," Belmont said.

The key point Belmont returned to throughout the talk was the fact that the science needed to understand the climate crisis, already exists. And the technology necessary to solve the problems is available. The key component really blocking change is our own psychology.

“Our brains are not hard wired to deal with really large scale long term existential problems," Belmont said.

Belmont also discussed how much emotions can affect how someone hears and processes information. Pulling from the work of Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist who works specifically on science communication, Belmont explained that the best way to address our psychological barrier, and the climate crisis as a whole, is to acknowledge it.

"When we start talking about it, we talk about how it affects us, we talk about positive solutions, it really empowers other people," Belmont said. "And it starts to normalize this within the lexicon within the discourse that we're having, as a society. And that's when we start to see action."

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!