The Non-Partisan Environmental Group That Will Make You Feel Hopeful About Climate Change

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

This article is the first in a CSTPR series of profiles of non-partisan environmental groups on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. Photo above: Citizens’ Climate Lobby members lobbying for Joe Neguse.

If there’s anything that can make you feel hopeful about the future of climate change, it might be the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Or, more precisely, the people who make up our local chapters of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a grassroots environmental group with chapters all over the world. The goal of the organization is to write and support legislation that influences climate policy in specific ways. Chapters also train volunteers to interact directly with their political systems to achieve this goal.

Boulder has two chapters: Boulder CCL and a CU-specific chapter. This month, both groups are paying close attention to the international furor created, in part, by climate activist Greta Thunberg. An international climate strike (to be held between September 20th and 27th) is kicking off this Friday, and has already mobilized a much younger crowd than many other political events.

Kelsey Grant is the leader of the CCL chapter at CU Boulder, and will be attending the strike. Her experience from past strikes galvanized her, and she’s excited to be participating again.

“You finally realize you’re not alone,” said Grant. “You realize there are people who are equally committed to getting something done—it makes you feel hopeful.”

Photo: Citizens’ Climate Lobby members lobbying for Jared Polis.

Grant is especially supportive of the climate strikes as a way to get younger people involved in the political discussion. “If we didn’t have youth doing this, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she said. “A strike conveys a certain message to your lawmakers: that you want something done.”

Grant also attends the strike with some CCL-specific goals in mind: reaching across the political aisle between liberals and conservatives. CCL only supports legislation with bipartisan buy-in, despite many climate-focused groups and movements catering to left-leaning citizens.

“While in theory the strikes are non-partisan, in practice they’re actually not. It just naturally attracts more left-leaning individuals,” says Grant. “But conservatives want a place in this discussion as well; they take it seriously. They increasingly feel disenfranchised from the larger Republican party.”

Grant says that the strike can be an opportunity to build bridges. “For the people going to these strikes, this is a really good opportunity to reach their hands out to conservative peers and say: this is a place for you. We’re going to make a place for conservative solutions, and we want your discussion.”

But the strike is not the only way that CCL members in Boulder are making themselves useful in the battle for effective climate change policy. Although supportive of the strike, Lindsay Sonderhouse, Boulder CCL chapter member, is missing it.

“I do think strikes are important; they show that there’s an incredible amount of people who care about this problem,” said Sonderhouse. “But in terms of what I’ve seen be the most effective, I think that if I went, it would be the least effective that I did this year.”

Sonderhouse is a physics graduate student at CU Boulder studying optical atomic clocks. She joined CCL to feel like she was making a palpable difference in the world.

“I felt like I wasn’t doing enough outside of my own lab,” Sonderhouse said. “Climate change is one of the most important topics to me, and I do feel like our generation needs to solve it.”

She recruited Daniel Palken, a fellow physics graduate student studying dark matter. Palken came into the CCL fold with similar motivations, and agrees that although the strikes are important, there are multiple places where people can have an impact on climate policy.

Photo: Citizens’ Climate Lobby members, Dan Palken and Lindsay Sonderhouse, in DC to lobby, in front of the Capitol building.

“Right now, all of these parts of the climate movement don’t have enough people in them,” said Palken. “We could use more people striking, more people in the halls of congress. But one of those is even more effective—the halls of congress approach.”

This, said both Sonderhouse and Palken, is where young people can really make a difference. Sonderhouse spoke to the power of lobbying.

“If you have a younger person there, then the member of congress seems to be really engaged,” she said. “They’re listening more, they’re usually impressed by somebody who’s young, who’s taking the initiative at such a young age to be involved in politics.”

And younger people bring a valuable and powerful perspective to the table: the perspective of those who didn’t cause the problem but are trying to solve it anyway.

“Younger people have a different moral standing in the argument,” said Palken. “Younger people did not create the problem of climate change. But very ironically, we’re the ones who are going to have to deal with it. I think that’s why you see that a) young people feel very empowered to act on it, and b) why people will listen.”

Photo: Citizens’ Climate Lobby members lobbying for Cory Gardner.

Palken thinks that although the younger generation has done an excellent job of driving attention to the issue, it’s currently the older generation who are left carrying the legislative torch. He urges Friday’s strikers to get involved beyond the walk-outs and try to engage with the political system.

“I think if the younger generation would do for climate policy what it’s done for climate awareness, we would probably have this problem solved next week,” said Palken. “If you got all the young people off the streets, into their congressional offices, respectfully lobbying, in the mode that CCL has worked on developing for ten years now, with all the know-how we have in place, you would have a lot of progress very quickly.”

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby could be just the group for those strikers and activists who want to make this change. Open to all, deliberately non-partisan, and committed to training volunteers, it feels like an oasis from the highly confrontational political debates that are happening at the moment.

CCL is specifically trying to implement a carbon fee and dividend, a system that imposes a carbon tax on the sale of fossil fuels, and distributes the revenue equally as a regular payment to individuals. This system would reduce carbon emissions without being a disproportionate burden on lower-income populations.

Interested in the specifics? Want to lend a hand to the cause regardless? The Boulder chapters of Citizens’ Climate Lobby want to meet you. As Kelsey Grant says, the time to get involved is now.

Photo:Citizens’ Climate Lobby members attend a student-led climate strike on March 15 with Joe Neguse.

“Young people want our governments to rise to the occasion, and to respond in a way that matches the urgency and magnitude of climate change,” said Grant. “I personally would love to see more people engaging within the political system because I think we can be extremely powerful there.”

Plus, you know you want an “Ask Me About Carbon Fee & Dividend” t-shirt.

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Inconvenient Or Not, Extinction Rebellion Wants Colorado To Act Now On Climate Change

by Sam Brasch
CPR News

Photo: Climate change activists perform a “die-in” during Denver City Council. Aug. 5, 2019. Credit: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite.

Last April, Dave Robinson walked out to the middle of Denver’s busy Speer Boulevard and sat down.

Six other Extinction Rebellion activists joined the Littleton software engineer. Some flew colorful flags with the movement’s circled hourglass logo which symbolizes time running out for the planet and its species. As traffic backed up, other members of the group walked the line of cars to hand out paper mache flowers and to apologize for the inconvenience.

It didn’t take long for police to lift Robinson and his colleagues off the roadway.

“The climate emergency is affecting everyone,” he said. “So yes, we’re inconveniencing people, but these are people we want to reach out to. They are impacted as well.”

Extinction Rebellion — abbreviated XR — first won major headlines last November when thousands occupied bridges across London. A few months later, it parked a pink boat in the middle of one of the city’s busiest intersections. By occupying a number of other high-traffic sites, it managed to bring the British capital to a standstill for over a week.

The movement’s theatrical demonstrations have since crossed the Atlantic.

Demonstrators with the movement glued themselves to the doors of the U.S. Capitol in July. In Colorado, XR brought a new level of confrontational tactics to the state’s long-simmering fight over oil and gas development and climate change. Besides blocking traffic, it has staged “die-ins” at Denver City Council meetings and coughed over testimony before the state’s top oil and gas regulators.

By seizing public attention, the group hopes to force governments to “tell the truth” about climate change. The call is listed first among the movement’s demands. In practice, it means pushing local governments to declare climate change an emergency.

The strategy has seen some success in Colorado. Members of the group say they helped push the City of Boulder and Boulder County to make those kinds of declarations. Fort Collins and Basalt have made similar proclamations.

Beyond a shift in language around climate change, XR activists want net-zero emission by 2025, a far more ambitious goal than even UN scientists called for in the last IPCC report. They also demand citizens assemblies to oversee the transition away from fossil fuels.

Lynn Granger, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said such calls-to-action aren’t much help as her industry and the state hash out new rules for oil and gas extraction.

“We are all in favor of peaceful protest, but what we really want is to make sure we are achieving is reasonable regulation and having reasonable discussions,” she said.

But Max Boykoff, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, said it’s OK if all of XR demands aren’t “reasonable.” His recent book “Creative (Climate) Communications” discusses the “radical flank theory,” which suggests more radical social movements can help advance more moderate positions.

“When certain groups are more aggressive, it opens up a space within which other groups can move in and shape those conversations,” he said.

Boykoff added that XR appears to push the boundaries of the conversation while stopping short of alarmism. While the group’s rhetoric is scary, he said it still offers concrete responses for individuals and communities.

XR activists also say social science informs their strategies. Many point to the work of Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth, who found non-violent movements haven proven much more likely to achieve their goals than violent ones. Her work also notes every successful campaign attracted more than 3.5 percent of a population.

That number has become a crucial threshold for XR. But at least in Colorado, they are nowhere near it.

Robinson guesses there are about 20 hardcore organizers in the Denver and Boulder XR chapters. In a pinch, he estimates they can get about 60 people onto the streets.

The next few days will be a test of XR’s support in the U.S. This Friday, students plan to kick off a week of climate actions with strikes in major cities. On the following Monday, XR hopes to join other groups in an attempt to shut down Washington D.C.

Robinson said events in Denver are planned for the same day, but was cagey about specifics. Online postings offer some strong hints, though. The group plans a pair of events at a park off of Speer Boulevard. One is labeled Morning Rush Hour; the other Afternoon Rush Hour.

Lisa Widdekind plans to take part. The Boulder emergency management coordinator said she tried more traditional methods of climate activism, like working for nonprofits and supporting anti-hydraulic fracturing ballot initiatives. She decided to join XR after growing frustrated with a lack of movement on climate change. 

“The best thing you can do for climate depression and anxiety is to take action,” she said. 

Her depression spiked following a conversation with her 22-year-old daughter, Julia DeBelle. Recently, while the two talked in their Boulder apartment, DeBelle told her mom she might not have children because of climate change. 

“I just started sobbing about it,” DeBelle said. “Out of anger and frustration and mourning the loss of everything we don’t get to experience.” 

Widdekind called the moment “devastating.” When asked if her activism helped, she fought back tears to offer an answer. 

“It’s the only thing I know how to do,” she said.

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RC/RCCC Notes from the Field: Experiences of Drought in Turkana County

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner is the 2019 Junior Researcher in the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCRCCC) program. She is a Masters student in the Geography Department at University of Colorado Boulder.

View photo gallery in the field by Sarah Posner

I peer out the window of the turbulent plane that dips up and down in the hot air. Below lay a series of dendritic tributaries that spread like fingers across the dry landscape. I am on my way to Lodwar, Turkana to collect primary data on the impacts of drought on the ground. Turkana is the largest county, located in the furthest corner of northwestern Kenya, and is believed to be the birthplace of humanity where archaeologists found the oldest skeletal remains of the famous ‘Turkana boy’. I am meeting with key stakeholders who engage in disaster risk management as well as attending a focus group discussion with members of a local Turkana community experiencing the drought first hand. The aim of the trip is to formulate a case study that will be presented at the upcoming national dialogue, which brings together county and national government officials, NGOs, and donors to discuss implementation of the Forecast based Financing system.

It hasn’t rained for months in many parts of Kenya, with two consecutive failed rainy seasons, which has put 2.6 million Kenyans at risk of food insecurity (Daily Nation, 2019). This is a significant increase from the estimated 1.6 million people that was established in May 2019 (NDMA, 2019). The situation is especially bad in this hot, remote and arid area of the country, where pastoral societies have beared the brunt of the impacts, many facing starvation. These counties include Turkana, as well as Mandera, Baringo Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit and Tana River in the pastoral livelihood zones, plus Kitui, Makueni, Kilifi, Meru North in the marginal agricultural and agro-pastoral areas (NDMA, 2019).

When I arrive in Lodwar, the temperature is 36°C (about 97°F), and the sun beats down on my shoulders. I squint my eyes and make out a Landcruiser approaching in the distance bearing the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) emblem. The car grinds to a halt, kicking up dust. A woman by the name of Rakodia steps out of the passenger side to greet me, who is the director of the cash transfer program at the Turkana Red Cross branch. Rakodia will be supervising my stay here in Turkana. She welcomes me with a warm smile, a firm handshake, and we get in the car and head over to the branch office. There, I meet the county coordinator, Nicholas Thuo, who has scheduled the various interviews I will be conducting throughout the course of the day.

First on the list is a meeting with an officer named Dennis from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). The NDMA is an agency of the Government of Kenya mandated to establish mechanisms which ensure that drought does not result in emergencies and that the impacts of climate change are sufficiently mitigated in the arid, drought-prone counties of Kenya (NDMA, 2019). We meet to discuss data availability and limitations to forecast drought, which is at the forefront of work by the NDMA. During the meeting, we discuss the use of the Vegetation Condition Index (VCI) for drought monitoring. The VCI gives an idea where the observed value of vegetation condition is situated between the extreme values (minimum and maximum) compared to previous years. Expressed as a percentage, lower values indicate bad vegetation while higher represent good vegetation conditions, which are standardized internationally. However, the lack of specificity within the VCI is one drawback of the measure as it covers all vegetation types, even those unpalatable to livestock. This is problematic in the case of Turkana where Prosopis, an invasive species of mesquite, has greened the landscape but is not edible for livestock and is often referred to as a “dryland demon” by locals. As the map in Figure 1 shows, Turkana appears to have relatively good vegetation conditions compared to its neighbors due to the coverage of Prosopis.

This masks the reality of the situation on the ground, as the county continues to suffer a devastating drought that is killing off livestock. Thus, I learned from seeing the landscape first-hand that using the VCI for drought monitoring has drawbacks as it paints greener pastures than the reality of the situation on the ground.

Next, we travel to a remote village along a dusty road to engage in a focus group discussion with the local Turkana people. I am met by a larger group than I was expecting of about 25 to 30 people of all ages, ranging from grandmothers to young children, sitting in a half circle under the shade of an acacia tree. The community is excited to have a new visitor, and I am greeted with a warm welcome. I introduce myself and describe my intentions for the visit, which is to hear from the locals about their first-hand experience of the impacts of the unfolding drought in their area. A translator is there to help relay the message in Turkana, the local dialect spoken by the community. 

An older gentleman stands up, acting as the representative for the community and begins: “We have many stories about drought, more than 10 problems. I will only speak of one problem for now, and let others tell their stories.”

“We are here through God’s will, but the big problem we face is water. There is no water here, and the only source we are getting water from is the river.” He points in the distance, referring to the Turkwell river, located several kilometers away. He continues, “The young people fetch water from there, but the old people will not drink there. The trekking distance is far, and one injured his leg in the rocky river bed when he went to fetch water just the other day. This is one problem we face, that is access to a water source.”

A younger man in a powder blue, button down shirt now stands; it is his turn to tell his story, “Poverty is the big one. Before we were eating wild fruits, but now we can’t use that formula. The community wants now drugs for our animals. Another problem we face is animals, they were our solutions to our problems. But the drought took them all, even one community member does not have any goats. Before, my father was killing animals like goats, cattle, and sheep when visitors come when there was lots of livestock, but we can’t even compare to the situation now.” Read more …

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If You Have No Hope, You Can’t Act: Patrick David Chandler on Bridging Science and Art

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

Photo above: Patrick Chandler during a performance of Inside the Greenhouse’s musical for youth engagement, Shine, on Earth Day 2019.

Halfway through my interview with Patrick David Chandler, a current Environmental Studies graduate student based at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR), I told him that it felt like his career trajectory had been a straight line—that each job he has had was a natural progression from the one before it.

“Oh no, definitely not a straight line,” Chandler said, laughing. “It’s been swirly.”

But despite this protest, it seems that Chandler has naturally made a career out of caring about the natural world, wanting to educate people about these spaces, and incorporating art into his life.

Immediately after college, Chandler worked as a professional raft guide in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But he quickly became more focused on the educational aspect of the trips he was leading. 

“The places where I was finding value, the trips I enjoyed most, were those where I got to engage people about the human and natural history of the area,” said Chandler. “So, I transitioned to environmental education.”

Chandler moved to Homer, Alaska to work for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and teach intertidal ecology and marine biology. Soon after, he was offered the position of Special Programs Coordinator, which included the role of International Coastal Clean-up Coordinator for the State of Alaska. His job was to provide resources and education for communities that wanted to be involved in research and clean-up of marine debris; he also recorded all of their data in the International Coastal Cleanup database.

“That was incredibly emotionally taxing and intense work,” said Chandler, about the position. He explained that Alaska has over 40,000 miles of coastline, which is more than the rest of the United States combined, and very few people. A surface current pattern moves across the Pacific from Asia and another that moves up from the continental United States, so there’s a huge amount of plastic pollution and marine debris moving towards Alaska. The result of that ocean current is striking and horrible: “There were beaches that were a quarter to a half mile long where we’d pick up 10,000 pounds of plastic every year. Clean it completely, come back the next year, clean it again.”

Chandler found that he was disappointed by the impact even his best efforts were having: “We weren’t really doing much as far as shifting the needle on awareness, on policy, and action. It just was an endless cycle of heartbreak.”

Then he discovered Washed Ashore, a project devoted to making community-based art with washed-up debris from beaches. The art made something beautiful out of serious environmental problem, and brought new people into the conversation about marine debris. 

“I watched the way that people engaged with the work. It started conversations in a way that no amount of talking and data could possibly do.”

Chandler became Education Director for the Washed Ashore Project, and toured the country with some of the sculptures, engaging people from all different backgrounds on the issue. At the same time, he was also talking to educators about the effectiveness of using art to talk about marine debris.

“I kept getting the question: ‘can we do this here?’,” said Chandler. “No! And you shouldn’t do this here, you should get scientists, artists, and educators together in a way that enables your community to give voice to an issue that matters to them.”

The Washed Ashore exhibit shown at the Denver Zoo in 2017.

In other words, marine debris was a specific topic that Washed Ashore was tackling. Chandler is deeply aware that a project that connects scientists, artists, and the community must have community buy-in. Marine debris isn’t the issue that will necessarily spur community buy-in from places like Boulder or other cities, especially land-locked cities. Instead, scientists and artists should engage with their communities and ask for feedback on what issues are important to them. The process is iterative: scientists and artists can collaborate to create something that explains a scientific issue, and the community can respond with what worked for them.

These ideas are the foundation of some of Chandler’s current dissertation work. Chandler won a CU Engage Graduate Fellowship in Community Based Research, and is currently designing a curriculum on climate communication with a team from the Inside the Greenhouse Project, CU Natural History Museum, and Jefferson County Schools for teachers, using the principles he learned with Washed Ashore. His goal is to work with teachers, and use their feedback iteratively, improving the curriculum and piloting it at new schools over the next few years.

“We want to get to a place where teachers can pick it up and use it and it works without us,” said Chandler. “If you can’t do that, it’s pretty pointless for mass distribution.”

Chandler also won a fellowship from the Nature, Environment, Science & Technology (NEST) Studio for the Arts, along with David Oonk. Together in partnership with the Inland Ocean Coalition, they are working on a project about microplastics in Rocky Mountain streams that they hope will educate the local community in an engaging way. Chandler is trying to impress upon locals that just because you can’t see the plastic pollution in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

“These pristine places… what is pristine?” he asked. “These beautiful streams and parks in Colorado: they’re still touched by our trash. We can’t be in a place that’s unaffected by our actions.”

I asked Chandler what it feels like to work on issues (marine debris, microplastic pollution) that are so large, and that are very obvious signs of negative human influence.

“It makes you feel hopeless,” admitted Chandler. “And the only way to move beyond that is to acknowledge and settle into the idea that we’re more than just the facts we compile. Through our creativity, through our intuition, through our emotion, we can create. And we will re-create the world in the next one hundred years, inevitably. So, it’s up to us if we’re going to do that intentionally.”

Chandler thinks that this is why the arts are so important.

“I’m not belittling the importance of science: we must have the wit and technology to enable some of the things that we can dream up and create. But if we lose the idea that we can create a new paradigm, that we can shift this polluted sphere we live in to be sustainable—if you don’t believe that, you have no hope. And if you have no hope, you can’t act.”

Chandler has been guided through several jobs by the principles of art, engagement, and education. The result is an impressive series of creative and artistic projects that have brought more people into the conversation surrounding climate and pollution. He may describe his career trajectory as “swirly,” but sometimes the best art is a little bit swirly.

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The Kids Are All Right – Adults Are the Climate Change Problem

by Max Boykoff
Daily Camera

I have been deeply disturbed by the “Greta bashing” going on. My disappointment has been compounded by the fact that the verbal attacks have overwhelmingly emanated from older adults.

For those not following her more closely, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year old Swedish activist who began demonstrating outside Swedish parliament to raise the need for urgent action on climate change. Her commitment has sparked the Youth Climate Strikes over the past year.

On Aug. 28, the young climate activist just completed her cross-Atlantic trip by sailboat to New York City. She has arrived for the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week, punctuated by two widely anticipated Youth Climate Strikes taking place mid- to late-September.

Climate change is set to feature extensively in the news this month.

“Kids today” has been a common utterance laced with exasperation and disappointment that many of us have likely heard throughout our lives. Commonly disparaging comments about millennials, Generation Y and Z are that they are lazy, delicate, sensitive, fragile, narcissistic, selfish and entitled. These disparaging comments point to assumptions that adults lead the way in work ethic, resilience, altruism and morality.

On climate change, the opposite has been shown to be true. Evidence abounds.

In June, polling data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication showed that younger generations are more likely to view climate change as personally important while they are more willing to take action on climate change than older generations. This is consistent with Gallup polling from last year that found 70% of people ages 18-34 say they worry about climate change, contrasted with 56% of those over age 55.

Moreover, Pew Research Center polling shows that younger conservative voters are confronting climate change in much higher numbers than their conservative elders: Twice as many young Republicans (ages 23-38) than older Republicans (over age 52) say that humans contribute to climate change and effects are being felt now in the United States.

Maybe we can attribute this difference in part to the powerful intoxicant called nostalgia. This often involves a yearning for an idyllic past and romanticized times gone by. But nostalgia is troubling for many reasons. Among them, it looks backward rather than forward. Problematically, nostalgia may also emanate from feelings that “things aren’t what they used to be.” Well, things aren’t what they used to be.

On climate change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that anyone born after December 1984 (currently people up to 34 years old) has not experienced a below average month of global temperatures. Decisions made in the good old days have led us to the present predicament.

I worry that we adults, who got us into this mess, are not doing enough as the kids they have introduced to climate challenges. Adult utterances about “legacies” and “intergenerational” generally ring hollow when the scale of engagement and action pales in comparison to the scale of the ongoing challenge.

With all this in mind, young people have valid reasons for feeling angry, anxious or melancholy about the state of human-environment conditions today. However, many young people are not merely accepting the state of affairs as they are. Many are now creatively expressing visions for different futures. Leaders like Thunberg have been met by other young voices, such as indigenous environmental leader and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, as well as filmmaker Slater Jewell-Kemker, to meet the scale of these climate challenges with commensurate promise and resolve.

Through creative communications, younger generations are expressing their ambitions and concerns about climate change more than ever before. Whether by choice or by necessity, many younger people are both talking the talk and walking the walk.

The Youth Climate Strikes and youth presence at the UN and Climate Week next month and beyond may be one sign that young people are pulling on levers of change available to them: voice through creativity and protest.

U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert has joked, “I don’t trust young people. They’re here to replace us.” In reality, though, going forward using informed, decidedly and constructively optimistic approaches are critical.

Communications approaches that empower youth to make change can be effective, as is listening to their perspectives, minimizing their burdensome worries and amplifying their voices as new knowledge brokers in a contemporary communications environment. Trust in this next generation of leaders and trust in progress in creatively communicating about climate change are vital to effectively tackling this 21st century challenge.

The kids are alright, adults must step up.

Max Boykoff is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of a new book, “Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy & Society.”

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RC/RCCC Notes from the Field: Forecasts for Action

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner is the 2019 Junior Researcher in the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCRCCC) program. She is a Masters student in the Geography Department at University of Colorado Boulder.

View photo gallery in the field by Sarah Posner

Greetings from Nairobi! Oh how the time continues to fly. Today is September 1st, which marks the more-than-halfway point of my time here at Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). My partner has come to visit, and I couldn’t be happier to show him around. Yesterday, we climbed the Ngong hills, which are called “knuckle hills” by the Maasai attributed to their shape which protrude from the Rift valley. We managed to climb all seven of the hills, and we were left with a nasty sunburn in the process. We also checked out the other sites the city has to offer, including the giraffe center, elephant orphanage, and even did a safari in Nairobi national park, which I found out is the only park located within a city in the entire world! Overall, it was fun to be a tourist again as well as share my experiences with someone from home.

Last week, I attended a series of trainings on the inner workings of Cash Transfers, Data Preparedness, and of course, Forecast based Financing (FbF) as part of an orientation for the regional managers of the KRCS. It was an opportunity to receive additional input from the regional managers across Kenya who, I might add, are difficult to get in one room. The first day was allocated for FbF which was presented along with the impact prioritization. FbF marks a turning point in humanitarian intervention in which action is taken before a disaster occurs rather than after disaster strikes so as to mitigate and hopefully reduce human pain and suffering in the process. Another benefit of an anticipatory rather than responsive approach is that the costs of intervention are significantly reduced. Examples of early actions include destocking, vaccination, and de-worming of livestock before a drought occurs rather than re-stocking livestock after the disaster occurs, which is much more costly.

But how do we know when to engage in early action? That is where I have come in, through this CU Boulder CSTPR Fellowship with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center. With the engagement of trigger development, I help inform when and where to activate early action based upon when a forecast exceeds a pre-determined probability and magnitude, based upon a historical analysis of prior drought events, because the best way to predict the future is to look into the past. Read more …

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KOA Morning News: Talking Climate Change

Climate change is sure to be a big issue in the upcoming election. KOA News discusses this topic with CSTPR’s Dr. Max Boykoff​.

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How Did Climate Change Become Such An Issue For 2020?

Max Boykoff interviewed on 4 September 2019 Newsy.

In the last decades and especially in the last few years, addressing climate change has become a flagship political issue.

There’s something unique about this election cycle: The focus on addressing climate change is greater than ever. But like climate change itself, this new awareness doesn’t have a single cause. It took time and lots of different influences for the political conversation to get to this point.

Presidential candidates have acknowledged climate change before, but rarely in depth. One Grist analysis of presidential debates shows in 2000, candidates spent less than 15 minutes on climate issues. In both ’04 and ’08, there were roughly five minutes of climate talk. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney didn’t mention it on stage at all in 2012, and it got a little more than five minutes’ time in 2016.

But in two decades, warnings from the world’s climate scientists have become more urgent. The Keeling curve, which measures the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content, has marched steadily higher. And, crucially, news and media outlets have highlighted more climate stories.

Max Boykoff is a director at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, where he studies media’s changing coverage of climate change. 

Boykoff says the media started to put more focus on climate in the late ’80s, just as NASA scientist James Hansen was testifying to Congress on the impacts of global warming. Since then, coverage has only gotten broader and more comprehensive.

“I think that there has been an increasing general sophistication in coverage that we hadn’t seen maybe two decades ago,” Boykoff told Newsy. “Climate change is something that that permeates other critically important issues, from geopolitics to immigration policy to public health and so forth and so on. And so the reporting has now been more distributed across many different parts of any news organization.”

Together, these forces have helped drive a primary race that’s starkly different. Democratic candidates want climate change on center stage. Now they’ll spend hours of airtime on it before they even get to the general election.

And the action they’ve proposed is ambitious and detailed. Prior to dropping out of the presidential race, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee centered his entire campaign around the climate threat. Active candidates still have some of the most thorough climate plans ever floated.

“The [Bernie] Sanders proposal and the [Elizabeth] Warren proposal are the most bold and ambitious, that they come closest just on climate terms alone, to putting together that kind of comprehensive, sustained response that is commensurate with the scale of the challenge,” Boykoff said.

These plans will stand in contrast with president Trump’s environmental views. His administration has loosened environmental regulations, to give fossil energy companies more room to grow. And he’s withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, which the administration has called a “bad deal.” Read more …

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: ‘I am an environmentalist’

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
August 2019 Summary

August media attention to climate change and global warming was up 20% throughout the world from the previous month of July, and up almost 83% from August 2018.

At the country level, of note Australian coverage was up nearly 62%, Canadian coverage was up nearly 38%, United States (US) coverage was up over 32% and New Zealand coverage was up slightly by just over 3%.

August media attention to climate change and global warming was up 20% throughout the world from the previous month of July, and up almost 83% from August 2018. At the regional level, from the previous month of July 2019 coverage in Asia was up nearly 14%, the European Union was up nearly 6%, North American coverage was up just over 32%, Latin American coverage was up almost 53%, African coverage was up over 8% and Oceania coverage was up approximately 33%. At the country level, of note Australian coverage was up nearly 62%, Canadian coverage was up nearly 38%, United States (US) coverage was up over 32% and New Zealand coverage was up slightly by just over 3%.

Figure 1 shows trends in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through July 2019.

For a second straight month, ecological and meteorological content significantly shaped overall media coverage. Of note, in early August TheWashington Post published a set of analyses of how climate change has impacted communities and counties around the United States (US). Washington Post journalists Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin and John Muyskens reported, “Over the past two decades, the 2 degrees Celsius number has emerged as a critical threshold for global warming. In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed that the world should act urgently to keep the Earth’s average temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 to avoid a host of catastrophic changes. The potential consequences are daunting. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if Earth heats up by an average of 2 degrees Celsius, virtually all the world’s coral reefs will die; retreating ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could unleash massive sea level rise; and summertime Arctic sea ice, a shield against further warming, would begin to disappear. But global warming does not heat the world evenly. A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark. Today, more than 1 in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark. Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country, but Rhode Island is the first state in the Lower 48 whose average temperature rise has eclipsed 2 degrees Celsius. Other parts of the Northeast — New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts — trail close behind. While many people associate global warming with summer’s melting glaciers, forest fires and disastrous flooding, it is higher winter temperatures that have made New Jersey and nearby Rhode Island the fastest warming of the Lower 48 states”.

Figure 2. Word cloud showing frequency of words invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in United States newspaper sources in August (top left) – from the Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – Canadian sources (top right) – from The Globe and Mail,The Toronto Star, and National Post, as well as Australian sources (bottom left) – from The Sydney Morning HeraldCourier Mail & Sunday MailThe AustralianThe Daily Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph, and The Age, and New Zealand sources (bottom right) – from The New ZealandHeraldThe Dominion Post, and The Press.

In August, media coverage also focused on the record-breaking heat from the month before. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that July 2019 was the hottest month of any month on record on planet Earth. NOAA also reported that June 2019 was the hottest June on record. Many news stories covered these milestones. For example, journalist Sophie Lewis from CBS News reported, “This summer hasn’t just felt like the hottest ever — it actually has been. July 2019 is now officially the hottest month on record, since record-keeping began 140 years ago. The average global temperature last month was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday. It follows the hottest June ever recorded, marking one of the hottest summers in recent history. Previously, July 2016 held the record for the hottest month ever. As of now, 2019 is tied with 2017 as the second-warmest year on record”. Meanwhile, journalist Robert Lee Hotz from The Wall Street Journal wrote “This past July was the hottest month world-wide in more than a century of global record-keeping, with severe heat waves in Europe, Africa and parts of the U.S. boosting the overall global average temperature”.

Also in August, wildfires in the Amazon – and their links to a changing climate – generated global media attention. An increase of 83% from the previous year had many asking questions and connecting the dots between Brazilian forest management and climate change. For example, BBC reported, “Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year, new space agency data suggests. The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) said its satellite data showed an 84% increase on the same period in 2018. It comes weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of the agency amid rows over its deforestation data. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people”. Meanwhile, journalist N’dea Yancey-Bragg from the USA Today wrote, “Forest fires in the Amazon are generating smoke that can be seen from space and may have caused a daytime blackout more than 1,700 miles away in the country’s largest city. In the middle of the day Monday, the sky above São Paulo was blanketed by smoke from the wildfires raging in the Amazon region, according to local media reports. The smoke resulting from some of these wildfires was also captured in satellite images released by NASA last week”.

Moreover, as the fires continued through August, media reports covered how Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was mishandling the ongoing situation. Among numerous stories, journalist Marcelo Silva de Sousa, reporting for the Associated Press, wrote, “Amid global concern about raging fires in the Amazon, Brazil’s government complained Thursday that it is being targeted in smear campaign by critics who contend President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough to curb widespread deforestation. The threat to what some call “the lungs of the planet” has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who has described Brazil’s rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development and who traded Twitter jabs on Thursday with France’s president over the fires. French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an international crisis and said the leaders of the Group of 7 nations should hold urgent discussions about them at their summit …” Journalist Erik Ortiz from NBC News reported, “Environmental groups have blamed the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, for rolling back environmental protections that have paved the way for the illegal clearing of forests in favor of cattle farming and agriculture. On Wednesday, Bolsonaro posted a video to Facebook blaming nongovernmental organizations for setting the blazes as a tactic to malign him, although he provided no evidence for the claim”. Read more …

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Beth Osnes Named CU ASSETT Faculty Advisor

University of Colorado Boulder’s Art and Sciences Support of Education Through Technology (ASSETT) has just announced Beth Osnes as a new faculty advisor. An Associate Professor of Theatre, Beth brings to the position a long history of innovative and unique projects involving students, technology, and faculty from other disciplines, particularly faculty involved in environmental studies. See, for example, several projects she has completed with Inside the Greenhouse and Speak World

Beth has worked with ASSETT on projects designed to help her students express themselves through video and through educational technologies. Most recently, she has served as ASSETT Advisory Board. She is actively involved in our Innovation Incubator as a member of a team that is investigating opportunities to establish a peer-to-peer support environment for faculty and students, and she is excited to help Amanda McAndrew with ASSETT’s Faculty Fellows program

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