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EPE TIG Week: How Do We Know We’re Helping? The Future of Evaluating US Climate Action by Sarah Sutton

Hi, I’m Sarah Sutton, Principal of Sustainable Museums and Cultural Sector Lead for America is All In

Measuring climate impacts, then monitoring and evaluating the data for decision-making, is the currency of the future. Few are ready to trade in it even through mathematical transactions of counting and offsetting carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO2e). Measuring and monitoring that data matters; doing something with it matters more.

My small business has a rather small carbon footprint that I calculate and offset through Climate Neutral Now (Hot Tip: you can do it there, too). Seeing my carbon footprint drove me to make some changes, including relocating from O’ahu to Tacoma, WA, to avoid 1.07 metric tons of CO2e to fly from Honolulu just to San Francisco and back.  Reducing the man-made CO2e that drives global climate change is only part of our challenge, but it’s an important one we must work on. Assessment and evaluation will be indispensable. What the informal learning sector, specifically museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums and heritage sites, has practiced for the last few decades of program assessment has primed us for measuring other things as well – even CO2e –but we’ll need help.

This month, at President Biden’s Leaders’ Climate Summit, the United States will share its Nationally-Determined Contribution (NDC) with the rest of the World. Where will that number come from? And how will the nation meet that goal?

The NDC is the percent of annual C02e or greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions the US commits to eliminating by 2030 and 2050, as compared to a baseline year. It will be a blend of the predictions from the Biden-Harris Administration’s climate policies, and commitments from ‘sub-national actors.’ Most sub-national commitments currently come from major corporations, and the policies and commitments of states, to reduce GHGs. But to reach a 50% reduction by 2030, the minimum the US should set for an NDC, will require counting the commitments and policies of all groups – including the informal learning sector. Then, to meet it, we’ll have to assess the performance of policy and practice as we measure emissions, evaluate and report the results, and change practices to continuously improve. Those practices will build communities’ abilities to adapt to climate change and become more resilient, equitable, and healthy. That is how the NDC numbers will become ‘real’ for everyone.

At the Summit, President Biden and Special Presidential Climate Envoy Kerry will ask other nations to be ambitious with their climate targets and actions alongside the US. I’m asking the cultural sector to be ambitious, too. 

We have a responsibility to take action on climate change. In the process we will become more relevant to our audiences and communities, and more effective at advancing our missions. Afterall, if we want to educate the public for the future, and protect cultural and scientific resources for the future, let’s ensure there is a habitable future for everyone. We’ll need a lot of help conducting and embracing assessment and evaluation; we hope you’re with us.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 thoughts on “EPE TIG Week: How Do We Know We’re Helping? The Future of Evaluating US Climate Action by Sarah Sutton”

  1. Hello Sarah,
    I think you made a great and big decision in moving from O’ahu to Tacoma to reduce waste. If we all decided to make choices like those in pursuit of improving our carbon footprint the effects would hopefully be better for the environment.

  2. Hi Sarah! Your post made me think too, about how do we know when we are truly doing good by the environment, how do we know we are helping like you said. My sister is an environmental scientist and she always gets me thinking of ways to do better especially for the environment. One study I found was about these new airsal cans for hairspray that were supposed to be better for the ozone, well to find out the actual process of making these cans were using up more power and resources then the normal but was doing less compared to others while in use, makes you think “how do we know”.

    1. Sarah this post was very informative and thought provoking. There is much that needs to be done to increase awareness of how our daily human activities contribute to climate change and what measure we can all take to help alleviate it’s effects on the globe. Information on climate change and what activities contribute the most to climate change must be disseminated widely so that the populace and companies are more knowledgeable and informed, in that way we can all do our part on this issue.

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