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Spotlight on Metcalf Institute Alumni: Elizabeth Dunbar

ElizabethDunbar180x180The timing was right, in 2014, when Elizabeth Dunbar attended Metcalf Institute’s Climate Change and the News: Impacts in the Great Lakes seminar in Chicago.  The Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reporter and her team were just about to launch a six-month investigation into climate change impacts in Minnesota.

“We were looking for opportunities for training, and Metcalf’s seminar seemed to fit really well with what we were going to be covering,” said Dunbar. “It definitely helped generate a lot of story ideas for us.”

A native Iowan who grew up with a great appreciation for the outdoors, Dunbar began her journalism career as a general assignment reporter for the Associated Press working in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Minnesota. Now she covers the intersection between environment, politics, and policy for MPR.

“I think the biggest challenge in environmental reporting is helping people understand and care about things that are really important but are complex and difficult to relate to,” said Dunbar, who described her Metcalf training as “a great way to learn more about science and gain the confidence needed to interact with the scientists on a higher level.”

Dunbar cites her Climate Change in Minnesota series as an example of some of her best work. The series, co-reported with colleague Dan Kraker, required the review of a large volume of scientific data and interviews with scores of scientists, state and local officials, foresters, health experts, policy makers, residents, and a local farmer whose family has been meticulously recording their weather observations for generations.

MPR took additional steps to engage its audience by encouraging listeners to determine their carbon footprints using a calculator on the station’s website. The station also hosted a live show, giving participants an opportunity to ask questions about climate change in Minnesota.

“We were able to document how the climate is changing right here in our backyard, and people really responded to it,” said Dunbar. “Climate change is really a complex issue and the more you understand the science and the current research, the better prepared you are to go out and find stories that are relevant and important to your audience.”

As for future projects, Dunbar would like to delve into stories about Minnesota’s water quality challenges.

“Water is becoming a huge issue globally and in Minnesota,” said Dunbar.  We’ve always had plenty of water, yet there are still concerns about how we’re managing it, keeping it clean, and how we can expect our water resources to change because of climate,” she said. “Climate change is a topic that keeps evolving all the time and it’s important to keep it out there.”

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