Madison Foundation Hopes Interactive Climate Change Website Cultivates Action

May 3, 2018

The Outrider Foundation's website opens with a dramatic satellite view of the earth slowly rotating as the sun blazes in the background. Click on climate change and images of intensely populated, highly industrialized scenes unfold. A giant ice formation crashes into an icy sea.

Tia Nelson at Outrider Foundation's headquarters in Madison.
Credit Susan Bence

Tia Nelson is managing director of climate at the Outrider Foundation. It created this website, Nelson says, to educate people. “Learn how climate change impacts you and all of us no matter where we live from coastal cities to America’s heartland. Learn to understand local impacts and most importantly what we can do about it."

She says scientific discussion about climate change began more than 180 years before former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary film An Inconvenient Truth created a buzz. “Who’s the first people to put forward the greenhouse gas affect? It’s a French mathematician – Joseph Fourier. That was in the year 1824."

Nelson says her team didn’t have to travel far to collect the latest research. “We contracted with the University of Wisconsin Center for Climatic Research – that’s the oldest climate research center in the United States.”

A Philadelphia-based web design agency wove the data together to create a visually compelling experience. With a few clicks, users can see how the changing climate directly impacts the region where they live.

“Let’s look at Midwest and you’ll get a high level a high level of picture of some of the important climate impacts. A decline in cold water fisheries – especially trout.” Nelson adds, "The species needs cold, clean streams in which to spawn. The Midwest can also expect stressed farmers, farms and farm animals. The growing season is expected to lengthen slightly, but that will be offset by more extreme and intense weather events, more extended droughts."

The content is broken down into regions to show visitors how their area stands to change as the climate continues to change.
Credit Outrider Foundatino

Nelson realizes the web content might alarm some people, but she says the information is meant to motivate, not immobilize. “To make these issues feel real and immediate, assessable and as frightful as they can be, give the viewer the knowledge they need to become engaged, informed and inspired to act. Because ultimately it’s up to each and every one of us. We’re here to help empower people to do that.”

Her team will continuously add content and updates, she explains, including state and national policies that are turning back the clock on environmental policy. "Our biggest challenge is keeping up with things that are happening. Just last week the National Park Service scrubbed the word climate change from a number of its reports. This is really disconcerting – so it’s happening at the national level and it’s happening in a number of states, including Wisconsin."

In the coming months, Nelson will be writing articles and giving lectures - sharing stories about people and programs that are already making a difference. "I want to focus on solutions that make economic sense, protect public health. That reach beyond the choir and build political will to put a price on carbon and ensure government is regulating carbon pollution so our rights to health is protected."

Outrider, the foundation's name, resonates with its climate change initiative. "The word outrider comes from an expression describing cowboys in the American west who scouted ahead for danger to alert their flock to threats," Nelson says.

She says she gravitated to activism naturally. Her father Gaylord Nelson served as governor of Wisconsin and is considered the founder of Earth Day.

Nelson adds with a laugh, she didn’t expect to be carrying her father’s legacy forward in a complicated 21st century world, but says she intends to give it her all. “If we act now with a sense of urgency, we have the opportunity to prevent the worst outcomes, but only if individuals and all levels of society act."

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