About me

I'm an environmental communicator who applies interdisciplinary theory and methods to pressing world problems from a policy analysis perspective.

Formally trained in geography, demography, and policy analysis, I've developed a rich portfolio of teaching, research, and service over a decade and a half of dedicated practice.

Tim Scharks

Personal info

Tim Scharks

Home: Seattle, Washington
Office Phone: (253) 833-9111 x4380
Website: www.timscharks.com
E-mail: Me@ this domain


  • 2014-present

    University of Washington, Tacoma Lecturer

    Teach a variety of economics courses in the Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs division, College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences: Environmental Policy, International Political Economy, and Behavioral Economics

  • 2008-present

    Green River College Geography Instructor (tenured)

    Teach a variety of 100- and 200-level geography courses to a diverse student body. Supervise part-time employees. Service to department and college through Campus-Wide Learning Outcomes assessment and other committee work.

  • 2005-2008

    Green River College Geography Instructor

  • 2001-2013

    Western Washington University Senior Lecturer

    Teach a wide variety of courses in geography and environmental studies through a variety of modalities for class sizes from three to 450. Developed several courses to meet department needs and broaden student experience, including study abroad courses to Tanzania.


  • 2016

    PhD, Public Policy and ManagementUniversity of Washington

    Environmental Policy, Risk Communication, Demography, Quantitative Analysis, Survey Methods

    PhD Advisor Ann Bostrom

    Dissertation: Threatening Messages in Climate Change Communication Recipient of UW Graduate School’s 2016 Distinguished Dissertation Award (Social Sciences category)

  • 2013

    MS, Public Policy and ManagementUniversity of Washington

    Major Area Paper: Fear Appeals in Public Information Campaigns

  • 2001

    MS, GeographyWestern Washington University

  • 1996

    BS, GeographyUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks


My latest projects

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Exciting and challenging work


Not everyone sees "exciting" and "challenging" as related, but I find challenging work is usually some of the most exciting for me as it helps me practice my skills in new domains, gain insights I haven't previously had, and contribute my abilities to a deserving project. 

Lately I have had the honor of contributing to a mixed-methods research project in California's Central Valley assessing the continuing education needs of Promotores de Salud/Community Health Workers. These workers' stories are compelling and their commitment to their communities is remarkable. This week we are conducting focus groups (three!) for thematic analysis, which will then serve to develop a survey instrument to identify the best continuing education. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

New physical geography education videos posted to my YouTube channel

screenshot of YouTube video on Calaveras Fault at Hollister, California

I have just finished up a couple short educational videos, primarily for my teaching in Geography 120, Intro to Physical Geography. They aren't perfect but I find they help students relate to the material as they see me interacting with the landscape, and they know I travel to learn and experience geography. 

This video is a series of clips I took in Summer 2021 on a long road trip through the American West. Here I show evidence of continental drift along the Calaveras Fault in Hollister, California: 

And this video has a longer introduction and explanation to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast of Japan. After the intro I include a couple short clips I took in one of the worst-hit areas, Rikuzentakata. The intro is longer because one of the clips I recorded in Rikuzentakata was way too windy to understand. 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Adaptive Ski Instructor Training with Outdoors for All

I spent today at Snoqualmie Pass building my skills as an adaptive ski instructor. Adaptive skiing is helping people ski in a way that adapts to any disabilities they face.

Snoqualmie Pass has had a dry year so far so it was really great that they opened up the beginner chair at Summit West for us to work on some skills with the sit skis.

We had a great day spending time tethering sit-skis and taking turns skiing them; it's a humbling experience to tie into one of the sit skis and have to learn how to ski again with a different set of skills!

Outdoors for All is a great organization with an amazing community of volunteers. I was part of a cool video King 5 produced last year covering some perspectives on why adaptive recreation is important:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dissertation Extended Abstract

Threatening Messages in Climate Change Communication: Dissertation Summary

Tim Scharks, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington

Climate change will have disastrous consequences if left unchecked. Climate change communication represents a means to encourage conservation behavior and support for climate mitigation policies. One form of communication is to present a threat in an effort to persuade; such threatening messages are often called fear appeals. The use of fear appeals in climate change communication is oft-discussed but little studied.

This dissertation applies a popular model of fear appeals, the Extended Parallel Process Model, to examine threatening messages in climate change communication. The first chapter examines the use of threats and efficacy messages in advertisements published in The New York Times, The Times (London), and The Economist (UK Edition) from 1980 to the end of 2009 in a quantitative content analysis. While journalistic coverage of climate change has been frequently studied, this chapter is the first systematic examination of climate change-relevant advertising. It finds about half of all ads contained a mention of a threat, but, different from many other studies of persuasive public communications, threats were frequently paired with efficacy messages. Significant differences between periodicals and between the US and UK are also found, most especially that ads in the US featured a greater proportion of “negative response efficacy” messages, that is, messages that supported positions questioning or denying human agency in climate change or the risks it posed. This helps to explain the observed polarization of views over climate science and mitigation policy.

The second chapter (under review) presents an experiment of US adults (n=845) where right-leaning US respondents who viewed climate change fear appeals exhibited psychological reactance, a combination of anger and counterarguments in response to a perceived threat to freedom. Reactance suppresses support for climate mitigation policy: The net effect of a threatening communication on policy support at first appeared to be zero. But reactance polarized right-leaning respondents' support for mitigation policies, moving some towards support and others farther from it, a phenomenon known as a “boomerang effect”. This finding helps to explain some of the continued polarization of views on climate science and climate change. In a revealed preference element of the experiment, reactance also suppressed donation behavior to both liberal and conservative causes.

Finally, a third chapter examines the role of psychological distance (how closely climate change is perceived) and collective efficacy (the belief everyone can work together) on mitigation policy support in a climate change fear appeal.  The experiment gives evidence that left-leaning respondents increased their policy support with closer psychological distance (an image of an American city vs. a city in the Philippines). In another example of unintended outcomes, right-leaning respondents experienced a boomerang effect to the inclusion of a “common sense” element of an advertisement. Strong correlations between collective efficacy beliefs and policy support imply collective efficacy messages should increase policy support. Yet ads with a collective efficacy message decreased mitigation policy support among right-leaning respondents.

In sum, this dissertation has several policy implications: threatening ads have been used in English-language print media, they may serve to polarize audiences further by moving right-leaning readers farther away from mitigation policy support, and threatening messages should be considered with caution, especially through pilot testing for reactance and other unintended effects.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

In progress: Confirmation Biases in Communicating for Conservation

I'm collaborating with my colleague Yuta Masuda on an invited book chapter on confirmation biases in conservation. Our chapter focuses on common errors, assumptions, and biases in communicating for conservation. We expect publication in early 2017.