Utrecht University: Climate Helpdesk wins NWO Communication Initiative Award

As the name suggests, the Climate Helpdesk is a place where anyone can submit pressing climate questions. Topics range from sea level rise, energy transition and climate strikes to less obvious questions, such as: ‘Which cheese is best for the environment?’ A panel of experts provides peer-reviewed answers to the questions.

Team effort
Sanli Faez, co-initiator and core team member of the Climate Helpdesk, is quick to emphasize that he sees this as a shared prize for everyone involved. “The Climate Helpdesk is run fully by volunteers, mostly PhD candidates. Officially there could only be four names on the nomination form, but it’s really a team effort.”

Faez appreciates the value the Climate Helpdesk offers to its volunteers. “It’s an incredibly educational experience for them. They learn skills like editorship, communication, reviewing, resolving conflicts between experts, and so on.” One of his main wishes for the Climate Helpdesk’s future is being able to offer study credits to their volunteers. “Volunteering for the Climate Helpdesk is at least as valuable as more traditional educational efforts.”

Last month, the Climate Helpdesk also won the Pathways to Sustainability Award and landed #36 in the Trouw Duurzame 100 external link, a top-100 of sustainable initiatives in the Netherlands. “And we’ve only been in business for about a year. It really is a whirlwind,” says Joseline Houwman, co-initiator and core team member of the Climate Helpdesk.

But that doesn’t mean the team can rest on their laurels now, she explains. “We are broadening our activities in all kinds of ways, most recently with the Climate Helpdesk Live events. And we’re often approached by schools. We want to focus more on that in the near future as well. The topics we touch upon are related to so many school subjects that they’d be very well suited as small educational packages that teachers can incorporate into lessons.”

New generation of communicators
Prof. Michiel van den Broeke, scientific director of the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU), also praises the initiative for its excellent work in climate outreach. “In a short amount of time, the Climate Helpdesk has become the #1 go-to place in the Netherlands for those with a question about climate change.”

He also specifically mentions the educational value to its volunteers. “Apart from the editorial process, a large part of the social media communication is executed by early-career researchers and Master’s students, making it an important new player in the field of educating a new generation of climate science communicators.”