“How do I dress sexy but sustainably,” is one of the burning questions to the Climate Help Desk, where more than 300 scientists work on a free basis. “There is above all a great need for practical information, with which we fill a certain niche.”
Before the arrival of the Climate Helpdesk, anyone who asked a question about climate online in Dutch always ended up on blogs notorious for climate deniers. But since the creation of the default source of information, Google has done a short job on this, says Jocelyn Homann of Utrecht University (UU), one of its founders. “Our posted answers always have a short synopsis, and the search engine loves these so-called “excerpts”. That’s why you no longer see those blogs but our short answers.”
That’s not the only reason behind the success of the Climate Help Desk — which was set up two years ago. There are now more than 150 answers on the site, and about 60 more are in the pipeline. The Sustainable 100 Competition jury understands this and assigns #33 to the Climate Help Office’s ranking of the best citizen initiatives.
“I wasn’t expecting we’d actually be that number,” Houmann says. This is thanks to the enthusiastic club of about thirty volunteers, and our network of about three hundred scientists, who answer questions for free. Therefore, they sometimes have to delve into the literature.” Peer review – common in science – is also time-consuming. A colleague critically checks a colleague’s answer, modified if necessary before proceeding with publication.
The fact that Houmann, the lead of the Experimental Science Project at UU, is so clearly excited about everyday life, also has to do with the “amazing variety” of questions. She says it’s often practical in nature. “For example, which is more sustainable: a paper book or an e-reader, in which rare earth minerals are used? In this regard, we are filling a niche. Technical information often prevails, for example in the nitrogen crisis, while people want to know: what are The consequences for us, and what can we contribute to ourselves?
Vincent van Rommen, a young climate scientist, has been active as a volunteer since last spring. He is looking for the right academic to handle the questions and will soon publish his first answer. Someone asked, “Does the heat from all our electrical appliances and machines in and around the house also warm the planet?” “In itself a very logical question,” says Van Rommen, “that was never discussed during my studies. However, I also wanted to know exactly what it was. Scientific research showed that devices are only responsible for 1% of global warming. So emissions of Carbon dioxide has an effect nearly a hundred times greater.”
To prove that questions have actually been asked by people, we ask permission to publish first name, age, and place of residence, Houmann says. As a result, we know that men in their forties and fifties are the ones who use the help desk. Young people hardly get close to us, when we’ve already started it for them.” Alongside him, Houmann means physicist Sanli Weisz, and climate researcher Leo Meyer, who co-authored the IPCC report. They started the Climate Help Desk in response to student climate protests. In 2019. “In the media they sometimes said things that are not true, when it is very important that the information is true.”
Van Rommen realizes that young people often ignore the helpdesk. They want a response ASAP, which is often not possible. Not only because some of the answers require a lot of research, but also because they are extensively scanned for unintelligible language. He says the widening gap between science and society is partly due to poor communication. “If citizens already have access to scientific publications, they are often unread to them because of the jargon.”
Given its low threshold, the Climate Helpdesk should also be considered an outgrowth of open science. This is a movement that wants to make science accessible to the general public, which after all contributes to the academic world through taxpayer money.
Van Rommen: “It’s very important for people to know exactly how things work. This can make them feel less powerful. Also because we already have so many solutions to problems – they just need to come true. I have a job at a startup that grows oyster mushrooms for coffee. , among other things. But there are ten thousand different types of mushrooms, many of which are also likely to be tasty and sustainable alternatives to meat. I think it’s useful to contribute to the idea that we can all do something about climate change and boost our self-reliance.”
Meanwhile, Houmann and her team are working on the next step. Our answers cover many areas that we plan to turn into educational materials for high school students. Climate is now often discussed only in geography. And it’s often only about things like sea level rise, when people want to know more. This fun teaching package can also serve biology and social studies teachers. But first we have to find the money for it.”
The Climate Help Desk has since been imitated. Recently, the Biodiversity Help Desk was launched – an initiative among others, the Center for Natural Biodiversity. What type of garden is best for biodiversity? It is a question like: “What is the effect of cities on development?” For anyone looking for reliable and easy to understand information about biodiversity.
Green arrangement in steps
Trouw Advances: The 14th Sustainable Issue 100. Today the numbers 50 to 26, among which the number 33 is highlighted. More explanation about these 25 projects is over here to read.
The top 25 will be announced on Thursday 6 October from 8:30pm at the Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. It can also be followed online. The full list will be presented the next day, October 7th; Trouw’s top 100 online magazines and top 25 in a special magazine with the newspaper.
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