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Using Icons to Spur Conversations

Chris Halecki, Department of State, and Janet Felsten, Baltimore Green Map

Green Map Icons provide a great prompt to stimulate conversation about climate change issues on a national and even global scale! I just experienced that firsthand when, on January 31, I had the pleasure and responsibility of representing the entire Green Map System at the citizen diplomacy-focused Global Ties U.S. Conference in Washington, D.C. Our panel, Integrating Global Climate Challenges into Local Environment Initiatives, was moderated by Chris Halecki, of U.S Department of State’s Office of International Visitors.

Griffin Thompson, Branch Chief and Senior Climate Change Program Manager, Bureau of Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs, DoS, led off with a summary of current State Department activities. He cited the importance of sub-national action, a realization that some of the most successful mitigation and adaptation strategies happen at the city level.

Then it was time for the more grassroots Think Global, Act Local portion of the session - introducing the Green Map System. Unable to present via projected images, instead I set the tables for discussion – icon charts, examples of Green Maps from around the world, information on the Green Map System - and provided some key questions to consider:

1) What are the top three climate change issues in your locale?
2) What forms of government and/or citizen action take place around them?
3) What topics and actions would you share with your international visitors?
4) How can you imagine utilizing Green Map® symbols to further communication around these issues?

Folks from Texas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, the District of Columbia, and Brazil shared stories. Each table presented highlights of their discussion to the group. Topics covered: flooding; water treatment; soil erosion; drought and water resource management; invasive and threatened species; recycling and composting; mining; fracking; bio-waste; food systems; impact of sea-level rise; fisheries and marine health; bio-mass; wind energy; building codes and methods. Whew!

Participants spoke of taking personal responsibility, leading by example, showing our visitors that "Americans do care about these issues" and increasing volunteerism through meaningful community service. And about creating effective coalitions such as the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative and the need for better communication, stimulating more people to become better informed and to Take Action. We were the last session on Friday afternoon, so we take it as a high compliment that people stayed beyond the official end to keep talking.

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