Building Resilience in Colorado Communities: Lessons from the Colorado Communities Symposium

by Deserai Crow
Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, CU Denver and CSTPR Faculty Affiliate

Photo: Plenary panel with Lieutenant Gov. Donna Lynne, Xcel Energy Colorado President David Eves, Denver Water CEO James Lochhead, City of Durango Mayor Dick White, and Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois

As January turned to February in Colorado, and we all lamented the lack of snow and unseasonably warm winter, leaders from across the state gathered in Aurora to focus on climate preparedness. Governor John Hickenlooper talked to a crowded room of hundreds of people from government agencies, research institutes, academia, and non-governmental sectors. He told the crowd that when you love the place you live, you want to take care of that place. For the people who came to the Colorado Communities Symposium, this seemed to be central to their work.

After the first day of speeches by the Governor, Senator Bennet, Mayors Hogan and Hancock designed to praise the importance of the work and the people doing the work, we spent the following two days trying to determine how we could collectively work to move the state and our communities forward on issues such as resilience, clean energy, economic development, water and forest issues, and more.

My own research focuses on state and local environmental decision-making, particularly around issues such as risk mitigation, disaster recovery, and resilience, so I sat in Town Hall style meetings with people working to improve community-level resilience in Colorado. These folks came from the Colorado Office of Resiliency and Recovery, NREL, NOAA, universities, the private sector, and so many of our Colorado communities that see climate change, community development, and resilience as critical issues facing their communities in the coming decades.

As academics, we often struggle to find time or receptive audiences for our work to matter to practitioners who may need it. But this three-day symposium gave me some hope that here in Colorado there is the space, the desire, and the expertise to bridge these academic and non-academic worlds. From my seat, the stakeholders sitting around the tables both needed things and had things to offer others. These combined resources – when thoughtfully planned – might be ingredients to work towards meaningful positive changes across the state.

  • Local governments told stories of on-the-ground experiences trying to communicate risks and resilience with their residents. They talked about data on resilience and change, communication practices, partnerships, politics, and more. They talked about successes and frustrations. And they told us that they need frameworks and metrics that they could bring to their own communities and adapt to their local needs.
  • Federal agencies and labs pointed to the data that they gather and how much they desire for it to be used beyond the federal government.
  • Academics described their research and the data or expertise they can bring to questions about resilience, data needs, and translation of research into practice. They told the others how excited they would be to see that work used to improve local resilience.
  • The State of Colorado listened and asked about the next steps forward. State agency staff looked to the participants for needs, resources, and energy to move forward to turn the discussions into a process through which they might bring these needs and resources together to benefit communities across Colorado. The goal of a combined effort might be to learn from one another, draw on expertise and resources, and gain support needed for local planning and decision-making.

It’s not uncommon for academics working in my area to feel disheartened, frustrated, or unheard as environmental protections, climate progress, and long-term planning towards more resilient communities are all stymied at the federal-level. This conversation over three-days in Colorado gave me a glimmer of hope that local and state-level changes can do a great deal to overcome that stymied progress, can help us academics get out of our spaces and into the world to help where we are useful, and can get stakeholders to talk to one another and learn from one another.

Leaving the symposium, my primary hope is that we don’t stop with this exciting conversation in Aurora, but keep the conversation and the real work moving forward.

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More Than Scientists: For the People We Love, and Even More for the Less Fortunate Around the World

It’s very clear now that the world human society evolved in is changing. It’ll likely look very different for coming generations. I think about it a lot when I think about my family and the people I love. And this scares me.

Amanda Carrico, Asst. Prof of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

[video] 1:58

In this Inside the Greenhouse project, Fall semester ‘Climate and Film’ (ATLS 3519/EBIO 4460) students and Spring semester ‘Creative Climate Communication’ (ENVS3173/THTR4173) students, along with the More than Scientists campaign, create and produce a short video based on an interview of a climate scientist in the local Boulder area, depicting human/personal dimensions of their work.

These scientists work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), Wester Water Assessment(WWA), the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and various other units at CU-Boulder (e.g. Atmospheric Sciences Department, Environmental Studies Program, Geography Department, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department).

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Fostering Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: Opportunities at the State Level

by Matthew Druckenmiller
CSTPR Research Affiliate and National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder

Scientific integrity is the foundation for science and scientists to be useful to, and trusted by, those consulting science to make decisions.  The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) defines scientific integrity as “processes in which independent science fully and transparently informs policy decisions, free from inappropriate political, ideological, financial, or other undue influence”. In today’s climate of divided politics, partisan rancor, and rampant spread and availability of misinformation, efforts are underway to safeguard what UCS defines as the four principles of scientific integrity in federal policymaking: (1) independent science, (2) scientific free speech, (3) transparent decision making, and (4) statutory compliance. The first two are at the core of what it means to be a scientist. By and large, scientists commit to the deeply held belief that their work must be free from conflicts of interest that may bias their science, and that they are free to express their personal views on the science with appropriate disclaimers. The third and fourth principles, however, are perhaps more in-view for those scientists working at the interface of science and policy; those immediately concerned with bringing science in service of the public good. (While the proportion of basic research funded by taxpayer dollars is dramatically down from previous decades, federal funds remain by far the largest supporter of research.) Implementing statutory compliance to scientific integrity refers to legal frameworks that require that the best available science be brought to bear on policy decisions. Knowing where and how such frameworks apply requires experience, and is key to identifying opportunities for bringing transparent, independent science to bear on federal policy deliberations.

However, any momentum toward greater evidence-based governance in the U.S. and action on some of the most pressing issues we face requires progress at the state level as well. Policy issues debated in a federal context often mirror discussions underway across the states, whether, for example, related to health-care, education, environment, or extreme weather events. Also, in terms of opportunity, it is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of states (if not all) are not experiencing the gridlock of the U.S. Congress. (For example, in Colorado, 62% of bills introduced last year passed both chambers, and were passed onto the Governor. By comparison, the 114th U.S. Congress sent only about 3% of introduced bills to the President.) While there are some nonpartisan resources at state legislators’ disposal, most states lack adequate resources to support informed legislative policy. Yet, they are encountering issues that are increasingly technically complex without the scientific or technical expertise to address them.

One partial solution is to bring more scientists into the policy realm. Towards this goal, the Center for Science and Technology Policy is currently exploring the creation of a science and technology policy fellowship program at the state level. What would such a program look like? Ideally, the fellowship would entail 1-2 year placements of PhD-level scientists and professional engineers within the state legislature to provide an in-house source of non-partisan, evidence-based information. In other words, the program will embed a “scientist’s mindset” into the daily activities of the legislature. In turn, these fellowships will expose scientists to the policymaking process and to opportunities (statutory or otherwise) for science and evidence-based information to be considered in the context of critical issues facing the state, including water resources, transportation, wildfire management, agriculture, air quality, and resource development—issues that are intricately linked to the state’s dramatic population growth and economic development.

Of course, this is not a new idea! The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has implemented an S&T policy fellowship program at the federal level since 1973, and now places approximately 300 fellows each year in all branches of the federal government. At the state level, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) has implemented a successful program within the California Legislature since 2009, and places up to 10 fellows per year. Both of these programs provide a wealth of experience for efforts that are now underway to plan similar fellowships in nine states across the country, including Colorado.

A decade ago, the state science and technology policy movement was seen as somewhat uncharted territory. However, those interested in science and technology recognized that many of the institutions needed to inject scientific considerations into state policymaking already existed, but that the potential was largely unrealized. This report by the National Academy of Sciences summarizes the first of its kind convocation that took place in 2007 to discuss with state policymakers the benefits of policy informed by science and technology. The report outlines opportunities and challenges, and called for a mechanism for sharing best practices across institutions that are in a position to offer science and technology advice at the state level. The effort underway to plan S&T policy fellowships across states (thanks to the Moore Foundation, the Simons Foundation, and CCST) is an excellent example of such a mechanism emerging.

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: New Tracking of US TV Coverage

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
January 2018 Summary

January media attention to climate change and global warming was up 8% throughout the world from the previous month of December 2017. Increases were detected in Asia (up 15%), Africa (up 43%) Europe (up 7%), Oceania (up 11%), and North America (up 9%), while holding relatively steady in the Middle East. The Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) detected a decrease in coverage in Central/South America (down 14%). However, the global numbers were down about 5% from counts a year ago (January 2017). The high levels of coverage in January 2017 were largely attributed to the discussions of possible climate change and global warming policy stances after the inauguration of United States (US) President Donald J. Trump. At the country level, coverage went up from the previous month in Australia (+25%), India (+16%), Spain (+7%), the United Kingdom (UK) (+8%), and the United States (+13%), while it went down in Canada (-5%), Germany (-28%), and New Zealand (-13%).

Figure 1 above shows these ebbs and flows in media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through January 2018.

This month MeCCO expanded coverage to sixty-two newspaper sources across thirty-five countries, adding sources in Latin America. We have strengthened our Spanish-language searches for articles with the presence of terms “cambio climático” or “calentamiento global”, while we expanded our searches now to Portuguese through searches for the terms “mudanças climáticas” or “aquecimento global”. Figure 2 shows Latin American newspaper coverage from January 2005 through January 2018.

Also new to MeCCO is monitoring of climate change or global warming in US television coverage from January 2000 through January 2018. We now monitor ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Network, MSNBC, and NBC.

Moving to considerations of content within these searches, Figure 4 shows word frequency data at the country levels in US newspapers, US television, UK newspapers, and Indian newspapers in January 2018.

The five representative US sources showed continuing signs of a ‘Trump Dump’ (where media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions (leaving many other stories untold)). This pattern of news reporting continued to be limited to the US context. For instance, in January US news articles related to climate change or global warming, Trump was invoked 4145 times through the 472 stories this month (a ratio of 8.8 times per article on average) in The Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesUSA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In US television sources of ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC, Trump was mentioned 4108 times through just 95 news segments (43 mentions per segment). However, in contrast in the UK press, Trump was mentioned in the Daily Mail & Mail on SundayGuardian & the Observer, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mirror & Sunday Mirror, the Scotsman & Scotland on Sunday, and the Times & Sunday Times 1265 times in 589 January articles (approximately 2.1 mentions per article on average). In the Indian press (Indian ExpressThe HinduHindustan Times, and Times of India), Trump was mentioned just 75 times in 353 articles in January (approximately 0.2 times per article on average).

The US-based Trump Dump can be illustrated through a remarkable Washington Post opinion from the Editorial Board on January 20, entitled ‘The shutdown brouhaha has covered up far bigger news’. Noting that 2017 was determined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be one of the warmest years on record, they wrote, “One byproduct of the day-to-day chaos of the Trump presidency is that the nation’s biggest, long-term challenges are often forgotten. While Washington spent this week agonizing over the prospect of a totally unnecessary government shutdown, what should have been far bigger news went nearly unremarked.” They went on to boldly write, “Last year also marked a recent low in the federal government’s response to climate change. President Trump installed a climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, at the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling the end of landmark climate rules on power companies. Mr. Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, pushed for a pro-coal policy so absurd that the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected it out of hand. The president also announced he would pull out of the Paris climate agreement, an accord that the United States spent years fine-tuning to ensure it was a fair deal.”

These stories were examples of attention paid primarily to political content of coverage during the month. In this space, China continued in its path to take up a leadership position on decarbonization in the void left by the United States. Journalist Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times reported that China continued to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by banning the ongoing production of over 500 car models – from both foreign and domestic companies – that don’t meet new Chinese fuel economy standards. Also, preceding the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, where climate change was a much discussed topic by all world leaders besides US President Donald Trump, the WEF Global Risks Report – a survey of 1,000 international business, government, education and service leaders – was released. Reporter Kim Hjelmgaard from USA Today wrote “Mother Nature topped the most significant risks facing the world for a second year in a row… that includes natural disasters and extreme weather events that human-caused climate change may be abetting”.

Across the globe in January there were a range of stories that intersected with the cultural arena. For example, at the end of January the Doomsday Clock was advanced closer to midnight due primarily to concerns of climate change and nuclear war. Journalist Doyle Rice from USA Today quoted Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who said “Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, [we] move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to catastrophe. This is the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953 at the height of the Cold War”.

Intersecting political and cultural dimensions, coal was anthropomorphized and championed throughout the month in media accounts, mainly focused on actions in the US Trump Administration. While market forces (e.g. competition with natural gas and renewables) work against coal, numerous media reports mentioned coal mine closings. For example, the Associated Pressreported on 400 jobs lost at a Pennsylvania coal mine closing announcement in early January. Yet as part of the FERC rebuff of a pro-coal policy put forward in mid-January (mentioned in the Washington Post editorial above), journalist Joanna Walters from The Guardian wrote that the decision was “a blow to the president’s high-profile mission to revive the struggling US coal industry”. The end the month, Kenneth Vogel and Rachel Shorey in The New York Times outlined shadowy carbon-based industry donations to the Trump Administration that may help explain these against-the-grain pro-coal stances. Nonetheless, in the US State of the Union address by the President on January 30, Trump championed “beautiful and clean coal” in energy priorities going forward in 2018, despite some factual challenges mentioned by the editorial team in The Australian.

In January, coverage relating primarily to ecological and meteorological issues garnered attention. There were a number of stories about extreme weather events around the world. For example, a ‘bomb cyclone’ in the Northeast began the month. Also, James Queally, Melissa Etehad, and Brittny Mejia reported in the Los Angeles Times on how the southern California mudslides related to preceding wildfires and flood events across the state.

Media accounts also focused on primarily scientific dimensions of climate change and global warming. The most media attention in the month focused on the temperature records set in 2017. For example, journalist Damian Carrington at The Guardian was one of many reporters and outlets that covered news that 2017 was the warmest year on record without an El Niño, and the third warmest year after 2016 and 2015.

Onward we go into 2018.

– report prepared by Max Boykoff, Jennifer Katzung and Ami Nacu-Schmidt

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AAAS “CASE” Workshop Student Competition: 2018 Winners Announced

The CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research hosted a competition to send two CU Boulder students to Washington, DC to attend the AAAS “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering” workshop in Washington, D.C. March 18-21.  At the workshop students will learn about Congress, the federal budget process, and effective science communication, and will have an opportunity to meet with their Members of Congress or congressional staff. The competition is supported by the University of Colorado Graduate School and Center for STEM Learning.

Through a highly competitive selection process Julia Bakker-Arkema (Chemistry & Biochemistry) and Kaitlin McCreery (Mechanical Engineering) were chosen as this year’s winners to attend the workshop. Their biographies are listed below. Congratulations Julia and Kaitlin!

Julia Bakker-Arkema
Julia Bakker-Arkema is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of Colorado. Through her research at CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, she investigates the chemistry that leads to the formation of organic aerosol particles in the atmosphere, a process that has implications for both the environment and human health. Julia also serves as the chair of the public resources committee for CU Boulder Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), where she works to increase the visibility and retention of women in STEM fields. After graduation, she is interested in pursuing a career that bridges the gap between public knowledge and scientific understanding, and she hopes to become a lifelong advocate for science-based policy.

Kaitlin McCreery
Kaitlin McCreery is a first year Ph.D. student in the BioFrontiers Institute and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at CU Boulder. Originally from rural North Carolina, Kaitlin obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University where she studied physics and education. She is now a student in the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology Fellowship Program and is designing tools to study biological systems. She aims to pursue a career in research, technology, and teaching and is passionate about expanding healthcare and education to rural communities.

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Transformative Learning Networks: Guidelines and Insights for Netweavers

Research Team Leader: Bruce Evan Goldstein
Research Team Members: Claire S. Chase, Lee Frankel-Goldwater, Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey, Julie Risien, and Sarah Schweizer

CSTPR White Paper 2018-01, 108 pp.
University of Colorado Boulder

This report is intended to inform the design and operation of NSEC, the Network of STEM Education Centers, an NSF and Sloan funded initiative founded to help catalyze educational transformation by creating a vibrant community of STEM education centers. In addition, its primary audience included designers and members of other STEM learning networks, such as SMTI and ASCN, and the broader community of netweavers and network participants.

NSEC was created as a learning network, an inter-organizational voluntary collaborative that nurtures professional expertise. Learning networks are often attempted when deeply rooted obstacles to institutional change have proven resistant to both top-down or bottom-up change strategies. Effective learning networks have a loose, light structure that can amplify the potential for transformative change by combining site-based innovation with community-spanning interaction and exchange. However, many of the features that provide learning networks with transformative potential also make them difficult to organize and maintain. Learning networks require a high level of engagement and commitment in order to identify deep-rooted problems and coordinate disparate actors to implement solutions that are both site-specific and network-wide.

To address this challenge, NSEC commissioned researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and Oregon State (see bios at: www.brugo.org) to prepare four case studies to identify the opportunities and challenges of a learning network approach, with the purpose of informing NSEC’s design. In addition to myself, the University of Colorado Boulder project team includes Claire Chase, Lee Frankel-Goldwater, Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey, and Sarah Schweizer. In addition, the team includes Julie Risien at Oregon State University, who is Associate Director of the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning and herself a member of NSEC. Our team assembled the case studies using interviews with netweavers, document analysis, and literature review. The four learning networks that our project team examined, along with their transformation challenges, are:

  • NABI (National Alliance for Broader Impacts): Connecting the university-based research enterprise to societal impacts and addressing the cultural divide between academy and public;
  • 100 Resilient Cities Network: Fostering resilience in response to the inability of city governments to address challenges to sustainability;
  • Fire Adapted Community Learning Network: Creating fire adapted communities after 100 years of failed wildfire management policy; and
  • START (Global Change SysTem for Analysis, Research & Training): Addressing the capacity deficit to address global change impacts in the developing world.

We draw on these four cases to explore how networks can foster new collaborative relationships, shared learning about practice, and collective capacity to effect transformative change. The loose and light structure of these networks holds the potential for co-learning without prescriptive actions and free from the constraints of institutions so that members can make collective progress towards addressing fundamental barriers to transformation.

Each case describes the network’s origin, design and approach to collaborative learning. We then more deeply examine issues of practice including organizational learning, facilitation and “netweaving”, integration across scales, collective action, sustainability and network health all in the context of elucidating transformative capacities.

Our main takeaways are:

  • Learning networks rely on deliberate design and ongoing netweaving to function effectively. Netweavers initiate activities that build community by forming relationships, circulating ideas and practices through the network, and promoting a shared identity that provides the foundation for common practice and purpose. Netweaving requires an ability to operate flexibly within and across participating sites when relationships are pre-determined and subordinated to a chain of command, tensions open up between local and network-wide identity and objectives.
  • A commitment to organizational learning is essential to ongoing network adaptation. The network must have mechanisms to recognize evolving needs and perceptions of membership and critically question its policies, objectives, and embedded values to continuously transform its structure and procedures. Three features associated with network learning were 1) multiple opportunities for feedback between netweavers and members, 2) encouragement to experiment with different approaches to network interaction, and 3) whole-network meetings where governance is explicitly addressed.
  • Transformative capacity emerges from a productive tension within and between network sites. Such capacity is neither the sum of similar efforts at different sites and scales nor the least common denominator between them. A well-designed learning network not only supports heterogeneity across sites and scales, it mediates the relationship between sites, supporting expression and adoption of a new professional identity that can promote higher-order coherence as well as community autonomy.

Overall, we conclude that good netweaving employs a soft touch by mediating between different ideas about transformation and ways of knowing, being, and organizing without collapsing them into one perspective. This facilitates an open culture of inquiry and trust that can foster collective identity and ongoing commitment among network participants. This is especially important since transformative change may be either slow moving or punctuated, occurring only during rare windows of opportunity.

Read the full report.

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Climate Sceptics and the News Media

Max Boykoff interviewed in Al Jazeera news report

Al Jazeera, The Listening Post
January 27, 2018

The curious persistence of climate scepticism

Climate scepticism is fringe and unscientific. So why is it that sceptics still manage, in certain countries, to get airtime denying the effects of global warming?

Sceptics theories in the news media, such as carbon dioxide doesn’t cause a greenhouse effect, are largely confined to what is known as the Anglosphere: the likes of the US, the UK, Australia.

Elsewhere, including the most populous, polluting countries like China and India, such scepticism is hard to find.

The Listening Post investigates the curious existence and persistence of climate scepticism in the news media.

Contributors:
Leo Hickman, director, Carbon Brief
Maxwell Boykoff, associate professor, University of Colorado-Boulder
Anu Jogesh, India policy and governance lead, Acclimatise
James Painter, research associate, The Reuters Institute
Hepeng Jia, director, China Science Media Centre

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Analysis: The Climate Papers Most Featured in the Media in 2017

Max Boykoff’s MeCCO work for Lancet Report highlighted in Carbon Brief

Carbon Brief, January 24, 2018

Every day, dozens of scientific journals publish new climate change research that is shared across the world via the internet.

These journal papers make headlines in news articles and on blog pages, they pop up in Twitter timelines and on Facebook. But which ones make the biggest impression? Which have been shared and reported most widely?

Carbon Brief has compiled its annual list of the 25 most talked-about climate change-related papers of the previous year. The infographic above shows which ones made it into the Top 10 in 2017.

Our analysis is based on the data collected by Altmetric, which tracks and scores journal papers by the number of times they’re mentioned in online news articles and on social media platforms. (You can read more about how the Altmetric scoring system works in an earlier article.)

First place
The most widely reported and shared article related to climate change last year was actually a “Policy Forum” commentary in the journal Science. Published in mid-January, “The irreversible momentum of clean energy” was covered by 232 news articles and tweeted more than 9,000 times. Its overall Altmetric score of 7,872 means it is the highest ranked of any article published last year.

This paper was the 30th most talked about of all journal articles published last year. It was picked up by 395 news stories in 245 outlets – including the GuardianWashington PostCNNMailOnline and the New York Times (both as a news article and in an editorial). It was also referenced in 1,806 tweets – more than any other paper in our Top 25 – 47 blog posts and on 27 public Facebook pages.

This is no surprise, perhaps, considering the author was Barack Obama, who, at the time, was still the US president. But as the article is a commentary, it does not make it into Carbon Brief’s leaderboard of research papers.

Instead, first place goes to, “Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals”, a Nature paper published in March, with a score of 3,166.

The study, led by Prof Terry Hughes of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, assessed the impact of coral bleaching events in 1998, 2002 and 2016 on the Great Barrier Reef. As Carbon Brief reported, the study concluded that “immediate global action to curb future warming” is essential if coral reefs are to survive.

The Top 5
Coming second is, “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines”, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (or “PNAS” for short) with an Altmetric score of 2,845.

The study, led by Dr Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, found that the Earth’s “sixth mass extinction” is well underway and has “proceeded further than most assume”.

Analysing nearly half of the Earth’s known vertebrate species, the researchers concluded that “habitat loss, overexploitation, invasive organisms, pollution, toxification, and more recently climate disruption” have led to “catastrophic declines in both the numbers and sizes of populations of both common and rare vertebrate species”.

The paper was tweeted 1,583 times and covered by 269 news stories, including in the AtlanticSunGuardianUSA TodayCNN and the Washington Post. It was also posted on 96 Facebook pages, giving the paper the highest score for Facebook of any in the Top 25.

Taking third place with a score of 2,614 is the Nature Climate Change paper, “Global risk of deadly heat”, by lead author Dr Camilo Mora from the University of Hawai’i.

As Carbon Brief reported back in June, the study suggested that up to three quarters of the world’s population could be at risk from deadly heat extremes by the end of the century if global greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

The research garnered headlines in 244 news stories from 191 outlets, including Le Monde, the IndependentDer Spiegel and the Huffington Post – and an editorial in Nature. It was tweeted 1,220 times and posted 49 times on Facebook.

The study also appears to have been quoted frequently in later news articles on heatwaves, such as these pieces in the MailOnlineBusiness Insider and Vice.

Completing the Top 5 are, “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States”, in Science, by lead author Dr Solomon Hsiang of the University of California at Berkeley and researchers at the Climate Impact Lab and, “Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula”, in Current Biology, led by Dr Matt Amesbury of the University of Exeter.

The latter study generated the same number of news stories at the first placed paper (395), but was tweeted just 147 times – the third lowest total of the Top 25. Interestingly, the Altmetric scores of both papers are more than 2,000, which would have put them second place in Carbon Brief’s 2016 list and first in the 2015 one.

Elsewhere in the Top 10
Just missing out on the Top 5 is, “Assessing recent warming using instrumentally homogeneous sea surface temperature records”, published in Science Advances, in sixth place.

The paper’s lead author is Carbon Brief’s US analyst Zeke Hausfather. The study, published in early January before Hausfather joined Carbon Brief, uses the latest sea surface temperature (SST) data to see which of the major global temperature datasets best captures the rate of warming in recent decades.

As Carbon Brief reported at the time, the study found that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) most recent dataset matched Hausather’s record closely, and that the other datasets underestimated recent warming.

While the study generated a substantial amount of news coverage when it was published, it received a subsequent bounce when NOAA’s SST record became the centre of an alleged “whistleblower” article in the Mail on Sunday, which accused NOAA of manipulating climate data to show more warming in recent years.

As Hausfather explained in a guest post for Carbon Brief, NOAA’s data had been independently verified by his Science Advances study and the Mail on Sunday’s piece “in no way changes our understanding of modern warming or our best estimates of recent rates of warming”.

Multiple responses to the Mail on Sunday article brought another flurry of news articles, including in the Washington PostNew York Times and, ironically, in an Associated Press article that was reposted by the MailOnline.

(The Independent Press Standards Organisation subsequently ruled that the Mail on Sunday article was “significantly misleading” and required the newspaper to publish a correction.)

The Top 10 also includes, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014)”, published in Environmental Research Letters by Dr Geoffrey Supran and Prof Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University.

The study, coming in seventh place, found that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science through its scientific publications, while simultaneously promoting doubt in paid, editorial-style advertisements in the New York Times. The conclusion that ExxonMobil “misled the general public” on climate change was reported in many major news outlets.

Completing the Top 10 is, “Less than 2C warming by 2100 unlikely”, in Nature Climate Change by lead author Prof Adrian E Raftery from the University of Washington.

The study used statistical forecasts to show there is a 5% chance of keeping global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels this century – and just 1% of staying below 1.5C. This stark conclusion was reported in 185 news articles last year.

Honourable mentions
As our list of the most talked about climate papers in 2017 comprises 25 articles, here are a few honourable mentions of those that fall outside the Top 10.

In 11th place is, “The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health”, published – unsurprisingly – in the Lancet.

The paper is from a Lancet project involving 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations from across the world. It will release a report tracking progress on climate change and global health every year, of which this is the first.

As Carbon Brief reported from the study’s press conference, the authors said the effect of climate change on human health is now so severe that it should be considered “the major threat of the 21st century”. Read more …

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Flood Modelling and Assessments for Downstream Communities of Koka Dam, Ethiopia

Prepared by Katherine Chambers
2017 Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Winner

Katie is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering with a focus on Engineering for Developing Communities. In Ethiopia, Katie developed flood inundation maps for communities downstream of hydroelectric dams. These maps will guide the development of Early Warning Early Action frameworks for the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and IFRC. Her environmental engineering research investigates the comparative vulnerabilities and resilience of different types of sanitation systems found in resource-limited communities, as well as the tradeoffs made when prioritizing resilience in system selection.

The following report presents the findings of the author’s research from May to August 2017 with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity – Ethiopia; Ethiopian Red Cross Society; and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (Climate Centre). The study area was Koka Dam and its downstream communities, located in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia. The study’s objectives were to (1) identify forecasts of natural phenomena that can help anticipate flood events; (2) assess what is known and what needs to be known to link forecasts with anticipated impacts; (3) suggest actions worth taking as soon as the forecast exceeds a predefined threshold of risk; and (4) outline proposed next steps for a forecast-based contingency plan. The author used the flood modelling software HEC-GeoRAS and community assessments iteratively to achieve the objectives.

Flood modelling was performed using HEC-GeoRAS, a software developed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The program allows users to view modelling results geospatially to determine the extent of flooding along a river or stream. The results from the HEC-GeoRAS analysis showed that agricultural land is the most vulnerable area to flooding. Therefore, minimizing flood impacts would improve the livelihoods of the agricultural workers living alongside the river by reducing damage to their land.

Following preliminary flood modelling, community assessments were performed in seven communities and two facilities downstream of Koka Dam. Focus groups were organized to elicit information. The results of the assessments showed that each community and facility suffers from flooding. The primary consequence of flooding is the destruction of agricultural lands, which confirmed the modelled results. Farming is the primary income-generating activity in the interviewed communities, and communities expressed a strong desire to improve flood management to improve their earning capacity. In addition to loss of income, communities reported an increase in the number of malaria and acute watery diarrhea cases following floods. Minimizing flood impacts can improve the livelihoods and health of the communities living downstream of Koka Dam.

Perceptions on the existing early warning system (run by the Awash Basin Authorities) were also elicited from community assessments. Communities are notified via media (e.g., television, radio) about scheduled releases from Koka Dam, while Sodere and Wonji are notified via phone calls and in-person meetings. Suggestions from communities for improving the existing warning mechanism included in-person notification, mobile phone calls, SMS messages, or notification of local irrigation officers. Representatives from Sodere and Wonji were satisfied with the existing warning mechanisms. Suggestions from communities, Sodere, and Wonji to improve the existing warning content included earlier warnings and details on the predicted impacts of flooding.

Recommended next steps for the project include exploring the feasibility of FUNES implementation and continuously engaging with the project’s stakeholders. FUNES is a self-learning algorithm software for hydropower dams developed by the Climate Centre. It was successfully piloted in Togo in 2016. The software uses hydrologic and precipitation data to improve flood predictions and the timing of controlled releases to minimize flood impacts to downstream communities of hydroelectric dams. The existing mechanism for controlled releases from Koka Dam is to simply release water from the reservoir when it reaches a certain level, and the downstream communities suffer from regular inundation of agricultural lands. In the future, FUNES could be implemented to better time controlled releases to minimize flood impacts and improve livelihoods in these communities. To ensure the successful implementation of the software, the project’s stakeholders should remain continually engaged. The project stakeholders include both government organizations and Red Cross affiliates. Read more …

 

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Ten Essentials for Action-Oriented and Second Order Energy Transitions, Transformations and Climate Change Research

Energy Research & Social Science
Volume 40 (2018)

by I Fazey, N. Schäpke, G. Caniglia, J. Patterson, J. Hultman, B. van Mierlo, F. Säwe, A. Wiek, J. Wittmayer, P. Aldunce, H. Al Waer, N. Battacharya, H. Bradbury, E. Carmen, J. Colvin, C. Cvitanovic, M. D’Souza, M. Gopel, B. Goldstein, et al.

Abstract
The most critical question for climate research is no longer about the problem, but about how to facilitate the transformative changes necessary to avoid catastrophic climate-induced change. Addressing this question, however, will require massive upscaling of research that can rapidly enhance learning about transformations. Ten essentials for guiding action-oriented transformation and energy research are therefore presented, framed in relation to second-order science. They include: (1) Focus on transformations to low-carbon, resilient living; (2) Focus on solution processes; (3) Focus on ‘how to’ practical knowledge; (4) Approach research as occurring from within the system being intervened; (5) Work with normative aspects; (6) Seek to transcend current thinking; (7) Take a multi-faceted approach to understand and shape change; (8) Acknowledge the value of alternative roles of researchers; (9) Encourage second-order experimentation; and (10) Be reflexive. Joint application of the essentials would create highly adaptive, reflexive, collaborative and impact-oriented research able to enhance capacity to respond to the climate challenge. At present, however, the practice of such approaches is limited and constrained by dominance of other approaches. For wider transformations to low carbon living and energy systems to occur, transformations will therefore also be needed in the way in which knowledge is produced and used.

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