Interpreting Climate Change: A Critical Issue Competency for NPS Interpreters

Competency Description

Last Revision — July, 2013

What success looks like:
Climate change interpretation can occur in many venues and formats of personal services and media and should be strategically integrated into a site’s overall interpretive programming. To be interpretive, these programs and products will move beyond presenting facts and information about climate change to facilitate opportunities for audience members to form their own intellectual and emotional connections with the meanings of this critical issue and its relationship to a site’s resources and stories, along with providing contextual awareness of the broader regional and global relationships and implications.

To be fully effective, climate change interpretation will help audience members find personal aspects of relevance that encourage them to care about this issue. As appropriate, interpretive efforts will also prompt audience members to consider ways they can act and partner with the parks and their communities to make a positive difference. Through the lens of national parks, interpretation can help shape the national dialogue about climate change.

Skills needed by interpreters to achieve success:
Building on a solid grounding in the fundamentals of interpretive theory, interpreters will acquire and maintain foundational knowledge of the resource issue and its impacts, and in-depth knowledge of the audience related to this issue. Interpreters will apply this knowledge to the selection of appropriate and sophisticated interpretive techniques in order to facilitate opportunities for connection, reflection, expression, dialogue, participation and interaction. Interpreters will proactively handle controversy in a professional and respectful manner, and embrace its interpretive potential. They will appropriately represent the National Park Service and avoid the introduction of personal or political bias.

Competency Standard

To be successful in interpreting climate change, NPS interpreters will: 

  • Understand and effectively communicate the National Park Service’s climate change strategy and mitigation efforts
  • Represent the policies and position of the NPS while keeping personal biases and beliefs out of interpretive services
  • Understand the personal and societal barriers and benefits of interpreting climate change and commit to proactive strategies and attitudes
  • Encourage and support collaborative planning to develop their site’s climate change communications strategies
  • Understand the essential principles of climate science, based on a foundational understanding of the scientific process
  • Explore the historical and cultural context of climate change as it relates to their site, based on a foundational understanding of the historical process and cultural awareness
  • Synthesize scientific, historical and cultural information and communicate it to the public in an accurate and interpretive way
  • Understand how climate change affects their site and how it relates to the significance and relevance of their site’s resources and stories
  • Be able to connect their park’s climate change story to other park and regional stories, and to global climate change
  • Stay current on climate change science, historical and cultural context, and site context through personal study and relationships with experts
  • Continuously seek out social science information to learn more about audiences and stakeholders
  • Use on-going interactions with visitors to gain a greater knowledge of audience interests, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and perspectives about climate change
  • Use audience knowledge to identify potential points of interpretive meaning and relevance related to park resources and climate change
  • Explore and develop appropriate opportunities to integrate climate change into existing interpretive efforts, and develop new venues for personal services and media
  • Use a range of engagement strategies and advanced interpretive facilitation techniques to connect visitors to the significance and relevance of climate change, and encourage co-creation of interpretive experiences
  • Facilitate opportunities for visitors to reflect on the impacts of climate change on park resources and their personal lives, safely express their beliefs and opinions, and, when appropriate, engage in constructive conversation with each other about this issue
  • Facilitate opportunities for visitors to contribute/participate in climate change science and mitigation activities at the park, and, as appropriate, encourage them to take action in their personal lives
  • Be able to effectively and tactfully talk about and handle a controversial topic with the public, and appropriately utilize the interpretive potential of controversy
  • Use national park stories and experiences to co-create and share messages of empowerment and hope


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