Green Suits in Action: Students Photographing Sustainability in BVSD

by Beth Osnes, CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado

Green Suits BVSD is a participatory photography project in which BVSD students donned green suits to be photographed enacting sustainable practices associated with food, energy, waste, transportation, or nature. This was inspired by an Inside the Greenhouse project I began in 2016 while touring a show in Europe in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. In London I first had the idea to wear a green suit outside near the Thames to make literal the greening of the city and to document that through photography. Next, I tucked my green suit in my backpack and donned it for a photograph in Paris near the Eiffel Tower and in Barcelona at the Gaudi museum. Not only was it fun, but it prompted unlikely conversations about environmental issues. I continued to gather photos by myself and others and have curated them into a Green Cities collection hosted on the Inside the Greenhouse website.

During the fall semester of 2018, six BVSD secondary schools participated in this Green Suits BVSD project created through a partnership between BVSD Office of Sustainability, EcoArts Connections, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Center for Science Education, and Inside the Greenhouse-CU. Participating students photographed scenes of sustainability in action including one or more students dressed in a green suit. Each school selected up to 20 of its students’ best photographs. A jury of local arts, science, and sustainability professionals chose the top photos to be exhibited. The winning photo was chosen by local celebrated photographer, James Balog. Please join us at the opening reception and awards ceremony honoring youth and teacher participants in an exhibit of photographs from Boulder, Centaurus, Fairview, and Monarch High Schools and Casey and Manhattan Middle Schools.

Saturday, April 6, 2:00 – 3:30 pm at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR): 1850 Table Mesa Dr, Boulder, CO 80305.

2:00 Arrival and Refreshments
2:15-2:30 Awards Presentation
2:30-3:30 Open Gallery

The photos will be exhibited for about six months in this venue before touring.

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Public Protests “For Future” as Part of Citizenship – Children and Scientists Included

by Michael Brüggemann
original post from Climate Matters, University of Hamburg

Today, I went to the streets with my ten-year-old son. It was his first protest march, and my second. We went with his elementary school class, loudly shouting: “don’t steal our future!” And while German politicians claim that they understand the children’s concerns, they also claim, more or less implicitly, that the children do not really get the complexities of politics and should “leave it to the professionals”.

However, politicians have failed to keep their promises with regards to climate protection. Today, 23.000 “scientists for future” affirmed: the children’s concerns and anger adequately reflect both the size of the climate change problem and the associated policy failure.

The demonstrations and the scientist’s petition will not immediately change German government policy, but they have generated two groups with the chance to (re)claim political agency. The two groups could not be more different: a new generation of youths that has awoken with a political voice and will hopefully sustain its lobbying for stronger environmental policies, and a group of scientists who increasingly felt entrapped in an ideology of value-free science. The idea of the application of the scientific method regardless of one’s personal interests is sometimes misunderstood as the duty of scientists to pretend to have no personal interests and values. Yet, it is the application of scientific methods and not the scientists themselves who should be neutral. As scientists with the privilege of a more detailed insight into the issues we study, we do not only have a right, but a duty, to raise our voices if things go wrong. Going to the streets is justified, especially if warnings about the risks of a climate crisis remain unanswered by the “professionals” in government.

Sober and cautious warnings have been included in scientific reports for decades now. Yet, it turns out that politics yields to political pressure and not to scientific reports. Therefore, it is the right and duty of every citizen to increase political pressure on neglected matters of common concern.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

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Boulder Marches to Stop Climate Change

Yellowscene Magazine

A couple of hundred excited activists and concerned community members assembled at the Boulder Bandshell to take part in the global, youth led, climate change protest: Fridays for Future. The event was organized locally by Earth Guardians, including Marlow Baines, who was interviewed by Yellow Scene prior.

One might expect that in a pro-environmental, liberal leaning, highly educated space like Boulder, Colorado, there would have been a massive turnout to protest governmental inaction — failures at the highest levels — in regards to climate change. Indeed, given that the earth was warned in the 1980’s that inaction would lead to irreversible effects by the year 2000, that the UK broadcast Warming Warning in 1981, one of the earliest known publicly televised mentions of climate change, and, finally, given that the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reportfrom the United Nations indicates that the continuation of our species is in jeopardy if fundamental, global changes aren’t made by 2030, one would think the streets would be full of people.

Boulder County turned out under 200 people. While the crowd was noble, eager, happy, and hopeful, with on site musicians and poster making stations, and plans for a march down Pearl Street and a celebration in the park after, the turnout was not nearly enough. I had expected thousands, given the recent regional activism around climate change and oil and gas concerns. Arguably, while a beautiful day for a protest, after two snow days courtesy of the bomb cyclone, many parents couldn’t justify a third day off (nor take a day off themselves). Thanks, Colorado weather. Or, should I say, thanks climate change?

Deep Adaptation, a recent report by Professor Jem Bendell published directly to the web after it was rejected by an academic publishing house, “because I can’t wait any longer in exploring how to learn the implications of the social collapse we now face,” Bendell said, suggests in stark terms that we will experience the severe effects of climate catastrophe in our current lifetimes, including war, famine, and climate refugees. The report paints a horrific picture of the future of the planet, including the dubious prospect of the continuation of our species.

And still, global inaction continues at the political level and local activism is minimal. 

The Action Network’s Colorado Youth Climate Strike: Boulder information page suggested that numerous schools will be participating, including CU Boulder but, in reality, it look like mostly parents with kids and a few autonomous individuals. Thankfully the rest of the world is on the case, including sixteen-year-old Greta Thunbern, who was recently nominated for the Peace Prizefor her effort around climate change. Read more …

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Broadly Inflicted Stressors Can Cause Ecosystem Thinning

by Matthew G. Burgess, Alexa Fredston-Hermann, David Tilman, Michel Loreau, and Steven D. Gaines

Theoretical Ecology, 2019

Abstract: Many anthropogenic stressors broadly inflict mortality or reduce fecundity, including habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, invasive species, and multispecies harvesting. Here, we show—in four analytical models of interspecies competition—that broadly inflicted stressors disproportionately cause competitive exclusions within groups of ecologically similar species. As a result, we predict that ecosystems become progressively thinner—that is, they have progressively less functional redundancy—as broadly inflicted stressors become progressively more intense. This may negatively affect the temporal stability of ecosystem functions, but it also buffers ecosystem productivity against stress by favoring species less sensitive to the stressors. Our main result follows from the weak limiting similarity principle: species with more similar ecological niches compete more strongly, and their coexistence can be upset by smaller perturbations. We show that stressors can cause indirect competitive exclusions at much lower stressor intensity than needed to directly cause species extinction, consistent with the finding of empirical studies that species interactions are often the proximal drivers of local extinctions. The excluded species are more sensitive to the stressor relative to their ecologically similar competitors. Moreover, broadly inflicted stressors may cause hydra effects—where higher stressor intensity results in higher abundance for a species with lower sensitivity to the stressor than its competitors. Correlations between stressor impacts and ecological niches reduce the potential for indirect competitive exclusions, but they consequently also reduce the buffering effect of ecosystem thinning on ecosystem productivity. Our findings suggest that ecosystems experiencing stress may continue to provision ecosystem services but lose functional redundancy and stability. Read more …

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Youth are Changing the Game on Climate Change

CBS News
by Jeff Berardelli

In the span of just months, children around the world have pushed climate change discussion into the heart of policy debates, the mainstream media and public conversation. Youth-led efforts like the Sunrise Movement, the Youth Climate Strike and the lawsuit Juliana v. United States have grabbed attention.

At the forefront of one of the efforts is 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, an inspirational yet unlikely leader of weekly school strikes that have become perhaps the largest global protest movement.

She has “compelled the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker to dedicate every fourth Euro to be spent between 2021-27 to climate action,” said Leah Qusba, deputy director of Alliance for Climate Education, a non-profit climate education organization “That is translating youth movement building into real political action.”

On Friday, the youth climate strike movement will arrive on U.S. soil. Young people across the country are planning to skip school to call for action on climate change.  

Alexandria Villasenor, the 13-year-old co-leader of the U.S. protest event, said 400 strikesare planned nationwide on Friday.

“We are striking because if the social order is disrupted by our refusal to attend school, then the system is forced to face the climate crisis and enact change,” says the movement’s mission statement. “With our futures at stake, we call for radical legislative action to combat climate change and its countless detrimental effects on the American people.”

Villasenor’s mother, Kristin Hogue, said that over just a few weeksher daughter has processed media requests at a pace more typical of rock stars and A-list celebrities — over 200 and counting.

Steve Vanderheiden, a professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said today’s youth were born into a climate-changed world, and that it’s part of their consciousness. Their clarity and authenticity are media magnets.

“That some of these kids would get media attention for expressing this concern should not be surprising, especially given how eloquently and poignantly some of them have been able to express it,” he said. Read more …

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When did Hurricane Maria become a disaster? Fernando Briones on vulnerability in Puerto Rico and Dominica

In remote villages like Jayuya, Puerto Rico, many house still needs to be repaired. The blue plastics roof where provided by FEMA in most cases, but also by NGOs. 2018. Photo: Fernando Briones.

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

When is the eruption of a volcano a natural disaster? You may be thinking what I was when Fernando Briones asked me a similar question: always. But Briones has a different answer: sometimes.

Briones, a recent research affiliate with the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR), argues that a natural hazard only becomes a natural disaster when affected people are around.

“A volcanic eruption in the middle of a tiny isolated island is not a disaster,” said Briones. “It’s just a volcanic eruption. But that same eruption in Quito, or Ecuador, or Mexico City, or wherever there are people around—that becomes a disaster.”

Briones has a PhD in Social Anthropology from The School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, in Paris, France. He is primarily interested in how people are managed or manage themselves before and after natural disasters affect their communities. He argues that being vulnerable to a natural disaster is the result of social vulnerability as much as geographic vulnerability.

“Disasters are the result of human management, the way that we interact with nature, that way that we become vulnerable to those hazards,” said Briones. “Disasters are the combination of a natural hazard and social conditions of vulnerability and risk.”

This boy grows up in shelter with his mother, one year and half of the Hurricane Maria. Scotts Head, Dominica. 2019. Photo: Fernando Briones.

Currently, Briones is studying the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria, the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 2017, devastating the region and leaving people without adequate power and shelter for months. It was an ongoing, aggravating news story in the United States—but most of us were unaware of the true extent of the hurricane’s devastation.

“Hurricane Maria, as everyone knows, devasted Puerto Rico,” said Briones. “But it also devastated Dominica. And nobody thinks about that.”

The Commonwealth of Dominica is an island country in the West Indies. It was also hit by Hurricane Maria, and has not recovered as well since. Smaller and poorer than Puerto Rico, it also does not have the economic advantage of being a territory of the United States. Federal resources were fewer and farther between, and the long-term effects of that lack of resources are still being felt. Many people displaced from housing in Dominica are still living in shelters—arrangements that were really meant to be temporary.

“I found in Dominica that people stay in the shelters for one and a half years,” said Briones. “It sounds horrible, but those people are going to die sooner than the life expectancy.” Living in a shelter is demoralizing, depressing, and economically punishing. “Being in shelters is a waste of a generation,” Briones concluded.

Briones is researching these circumstances, particularly in comparison to Puerto Rico, which had a larger influx of foreign aid. He’s especially interested in how people first respond to a disaster, before there is a response from government institutions.

“I found that the disaster triggered a lot of community organizations,” said Briones, about people responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. “Creativity is so important; people became so organized.”

 A large number of homes remain in ruins along the island. Petite Soufriere, Dominica. 2019. Photo: Fernando Briones.

With a “boots on the ground” approach—talking to citizens directly affected by the crises—Briones is compiling an incredible wealth of knowledge about these early responses. He’s currently collecting this qualitative data in Puerto Rico and Dominica such that he can compare the two disaster responses, “in order to prepare better preparedness systems and resilience, and to understand vulnerability,” said Briones.

Previously at CCB/INSTAAR (sponsored by Alumni TIES program in Puerto Rico) and now at CSTPR, Briones is working with Max Boykoff to develop a proposal for this work. He’s also collaborating with CIRES, making the project extensively interdisciplinary. Moreover, his collaborations in Dominica, for example with the Minister of the Environment, ensure that his research will directly help people in vulnerable areas of society. In particular, he wants to draw attention to the fact that a vulnerable population made Hurricane Maria much more devastating.

Father and son installing a water collection system, using their own knowledge and materials. Jayuya, Puerto Rico. 2018. Photo: Fernando Briones.

“The hurricanes were important, but the real risk was to be settled in vulnerable places. If people settled in a landslide area, it’s not because they wanted to be in danger, it’s because they had no choice,” said Briones. “Perhaps the housing there was cheap. Or they were installed without the proper advisement. So human management or management of the territory is a very important key in reducing the vulnerability of communities.”

Briones is also a photographer, so apart from this research, Briones spent some of his time in Dominica taking pictures. The results, stark photographs of people and places in Dominica ruined by the hurricane, are particularly devastating. Briones hopes that it is a combination of research, storytelling, and pictures like these that will get the story of Dominica as much attention as the story of Puerto Rico—that might not be much, but it will help. 

A hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean isn’t a disaster—it’s just some clouds and wind in a funnel. But when that funnel touches down on land, displacing thousands of vulnerable people, and disrupting communities on a long-term scale—that’s a disaster. The distinction is important because it changes the equation: humans can’t stop the hurricane, but with the right information and the right actions pre- and post- landfall, they can mitigate the disastrous consequences.

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Should We Hope for Power to Declare a National Climate Emergency?

by Steve Vanderheiden
CSTPR Faculty and Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies at University of Colorado at Boulder

In the wake of the president’s declaration of an emergency along the nation’s southern border, bypassing Congressional appropriations authority to fund his promised border wall, observers are of two minds about the powers this declaration invokes and the precedent it sets.

If the declaration stands—and several challenges pending at the time of this post will decide its legal fate—it would significantly expand executive power and further limit the legislative and oversight powers of Congress. While 182 of the 195 GOP members opposed to a February 26 House Resolution may have signaled their support of the declaration by opposing the resolution, several members of the president’s party expressed concern. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), for example, remarked that “it is imperative that no administration, Republican or Democratic, circumvent the will of Congress.” Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has characterized opposition to Trump’s border wall as “irrational,” also expressed reservations, suggesting that “we have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power” that could later be used by future presidents, since “tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.”

Those opposed to both a border wall and a further shift of legislative power to the president may nonetheless find this prospect of granting future presidents emergency powers to address climate change appealing. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), for example, called upon the next president to invoke emergency powers “to address the existential threat to all life on the planet posed by Climate Change” on “day 1” of their term. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have also both expressed support for declaring a climate emergency.

One can certainly understand this sentiment, given the urgency of climate change combined with the federal government’s apparent inability to respond to it through normal policy processes.  The U.S. Congress has not only failed to pass any meaningful legislation to reduce national carbon emissions in the 27 years since it pledged to do so with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but it appears unlikely to be able to do so at any point in the foreseeable future. Recent normalization of the filibuster in the Senate for ordinary legislation has created a formidable obstacle. Continued GOP opposition to any kind of policy action on climate change that has prevailed over recent decades means that 60 votes would need to be found among Democratic senators, which is exceedingly unlikely. Neither party has held a filibuster-proof majority since the 95th Congress ended 40 years ago, and increasing partisan polarization suggest bipartisan cooperation will continue to be elusive. With likely defections by Senators from fossil fuel states like Louisiana and West Virginia on any bill involving carbon pricing or other controls, prospects for a legislative path toward federal climate are slim.

Until recently, the most promising path was through EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, which the Supreme Court upheld as within the agency’s statutory authority under the Clean Air Act in Massachusetts vs. EPA (2006). Acting through this authority the Obama administration EPA promulgated rules controlling carbon emissions from motor vehicles through increases to federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and from power plants in its Clean Power Plan, along with its rule controlling methane releases from oil and gas operations. Using these unilateral executive powers to circumvent certain Congressional obstruction, these proposed actions offered what was regarded as a sufficiently credible U.S. commitment to climate change mitigation for participation in the 2016 Paris Agreement, which was carefully negotiated under the already-ratified 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change so as to avoid certain refusal by the Senate to ratify the climate treaty.

That path no longer looks promising. The Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. from participation in the Paris Agreement and moved to roll back all three Obama rules controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Over the longer term, GOP control of the presidency and Senate has enabled longstanding conservative plans to pack the federal judiciary with opponents of environmental protection capable of hamstringing future legislative or executive efforts at meaningful mitigation. Ordinary unilateral powers of the presidency like executive orders can be easily undone, and administrative decision making within executive agencies is vulnerable to party turnover in the presidency as well as obstruction by the legislative and judicial branches.

Protesters carry signs during the Peoples Climate March at the White House in Washington.

Enter extraordinary executive powers, such as those available through declarations of national emergency. These promise to bypass legislative opposition as well as otherwise-applicable statutes, as with the waiver of 28 federal environmental laws to allow for construction of Trump’s border wall. While the full degree of executive discretion that the judiciary will allow in this border emergency declaration remains to be seen, emergency powers are also a powerful tool for circumventing judicial opposition. For many concerned about the closing policy window for U.S. action on climate change, a precedent that might allow some future president to invoke and mobilize broad unilateral powers on behalf of the climate change mitigation actions that have thus far remained elusive at the federal level is enticing. Tolerating a stunt like Trump’s use of this power to build his wall may be a small price to pay for what could be the country’s last and best chance to respond to a much more compelling emergency.

What powers could be invoked through a future presidential declaration of a climate emergency?  According to UC-Berkeley Law Professor Dan Farber, these powers could include the immediate and indefinite suspension of federal oil leases, significant restrictions on automobile and truck use to decrease greenhouse emissions, mobilization of federal financial support for renewable industry, and the sanctioning of “companies or countries trafficking in fossil fuels.”[ As Farber suggests, the judicial response to challenges against Trump’s declaration matters, as federal courts upholding his use of this power with the border emergency declaration would “be a sign that they’re not willing to apply any meaningful oversight to presidential actions.” Significant new powers to combat climate change could be granted to a future president if the declaration is allowed to stand, and none of these powers stand any chance of being granted by Congress.

But should those concerned about an unfolding climate emergency thereby hope that emergency powers be allowed to stand in the current context, for the purpose of using them in a future one?  This is not altogether clear, and indeed the use of emergency power and of the proper balance of power between the legislative branch and president have long been the subject of debate.

At the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton grappled over this question, with Madison urging that the legislative branch be granted more powers and Hamilton urging a stronger executive. In his Federalist #70, Hamilton claimed that “decision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number,” allowing a unitary executive like the president to more effectively respond to national emergencies, like those presented by military threats. Madison, whose designs are reflected in the larger share of power vested in Congress through the Constitution’s Article I, argued that limits upon power were of greater importance, pointing to the role of electoral accountability of House members in his Federalist #57, who will by the requirement of biannual elections “be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it.” It has only been through several intervening national emergencies—the Civil War, the Great Depression and two world wars, and the Vietnam war in particular—that power has shifted from the legislative branch to the president, giving rise to what some lament as an “imperial presidency” in which Congress is often unable to provide the constitutional check that Madison insisted upon.

With the increasing popularity of a national security discourse following the 2001 attacks upon the Pentagon and World Trade Centers, some advocates for taking state action on climate change urged an “environmental security” or “climate security” discursive frame for such actions. As explained by the influential Copenhagen School of security studies, invoking an existential threat could invoke broad emergency powers to address that threat, temporarily setting aside the normal constraints upon executive actions like Congressional or judicial oversight, statutory limits upon state power, and even individual rights. Through this process of securitization, which “claims a need for and right to treat [the threat] by extraordinary means” powers previously unavailable to effectively combat a climate emergency might become so if the issue could be credibly linked with a threat to national security.

As with current interest in new presidential powers to declare a climate emergency, some advocated for securitizing new threats like climate change in the post-9/11 period of high salience for national security, but the authors cautioned against an uncritical invocation of emergency power, noting that “one has to weigh the always problematic side effects of applying a mind-set of security against the possible advantages of focus, attention, and mobilization.”

As environmental security scholar Dan Deudney points out, the treatment of climate change as “the moral equivalent of war” may motivate strong defensive actions and mobilize important powers to address a problem like climate change, but carries significant downside risks. Given that the traditional security focus is upon armed conflict and often involves an “us versus them” mindset, whereas effective climate action requires sustained international cooperation, it would be more accurate to say that “environmentalism is a threat to ‘national security’ mindsets and institutions” than it would be to claim that environmental change threatens national security.[1]

A similar cautionary note might be sounded in regard to the more recent call for emergency powers to address climate change. As noted by Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, “climate change is going to require a significant reinvestment and reinventing of basic infrastructure that involves lots of players buying into the solution and sustaining that kind of effort over a long period of time,” requiring public buy-in and political coalition-building rather than the sort of powers that declarations of emergency make available.[ Consolidating new powers in the presidency to act on emergencies like climate change risks abuse of such power without the legislative and judicial checks that framers of the Constitution insisted upon and which have prevented past abuses, and provides only a temporary and limited set of powers in return. While climate change offers a much more compelling threat than does the claimed “emergency” at our southern border, it is not the kind of emergency for which these powers are designed, requiring sustained domestic and international cooperation over time along with a transformation of public attitudes and beliefs along with a transformation of our energy and transportation infrastructure.

Such is not to dismiss the potential value of such emergency powers altogether, nor is it to identify any near-future basis for securing political support for the kind of social investment that Goffman identifies as needed. Rather, it is to temper some of the recent enthusiasm through which such powers have been suggested as unproblematically attractive or potentially sufficient as a top-down solution on their own. While it might be taken as evidence of the inadequacy of any set of governance institutions that they cannot generate meaningful policy responses to a problem like climate change, working within those flawed institutions while working to reduce their flaws offers more likely prospects for future climate actions than do hopes that they might be preempted or circumvented through emergency powers.


[1] Daniel H. Deudney, “Environmental Security: A Critique,” from Contested Grounds: Security and Conflict in the New Environmental Politics  ed. by Deudney and Richard A. Matthews (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), 187-219.

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The Ecology of People: Matt Burgess Brings a New Perspective to Economics

CU Science Buffs
by Rachel Gaspar

Matt Burgess

At a critical point in the state of our environment, CU Boulder welcomes a new assistant professor to the department of environmental studies: Matt Burgess. Burgess is an economist and ecologist, and brings fresh perspective to CU Boulder’s already diverse network of environmental sciences by merging ecology and economics.

“Economics is the ecology of people,” said Burgess, and it is through this unique lens that he investigates our planet’s most pressing issues.

Burgess’ multidisciplinary approach began during his undergraduate education. Like many students, Burgess started in one field– economics–before switching to ecology. He first conducted research with a mathematical ecologist who wanted to use economics in their research, naturally shepherding him towards a multidisciplinary career. After this first experience, Burgess continued to conduct research that straddles the boundary between ecology and economics in his graduate and post-doctoral work.

In his search for a faculty appointment, Burgess was attracted by the wealth of multidisciplinary work at CU and by the breadth of experts located in Boulder. “CU Boulder is particularly good for these kinds of things,” explained Burgess. “’Interdisciplinary’ is something that is celebrated and focused on.”

Burgess himself is on the council of fellows at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), which brings more than 800 environmental scientists together and acts as a bridge between CU Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This has allowed him to easily find researchers who work in a field particularly interesting to him—fisheries.

Burgess has worked with Boulder scientists to learn more about bycatch, or the accidental killing of other sea life, as a consequence of commercial fishing operations. His work on this topic has helped shed light on ways to develop more sustainable fishing operations while also reducing the number of non-target species caught in the net of commercial fishing. His 2018 paper in Science suggested that managing fishery stocks to best promote long-term sustainability would also reduce bycatch.

Can we make fisheries more sustainable AND prevent bycatch? Burgess thinks yes.

Although Burgess has focused attention on applying his unique lens to fisheries, his interests beyond the field are anything but limited.  Burgess explains that being in a landlocked state provides an exciting opportunity to branch out. Burgess is interested in the parallels that can be drawn between purely mathematical relationships and various social contexts. It’s these types of cross-disciplinary conclusions that bring about a new perspective on systems that would have ordinarily been overlooked.

Burgess finds inspiration in the work of Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom. Ostrom conducted economic research on communities and their management of resources. She developed a set of design principles for sustainable maintainence of shared resources such as forests and fishing waters. A proponent of management at the local level, Ostrom believed individuals and local communities are best suited to prevent exploitation of precious natural resources.

Burgess is interested in applying Ostrom’s principles to evolutionary biology. He believes that these equations can help us understand the conditions under which you expect cooperation to evolve, exploring how a species learned, over time, that working together at a community-level benefits their livelihood and ultimate survival. Our natural resources are under tremendous demand given today’s exploding population, so this research could provide valuable insights into how we can better manage the resources we still have.

Following the laws of economics, these unique perspectives and multidisciplinary conclusions come with trade-offs. Embarking on a multidisciplinary path has both its benefits and challenges. Burgess explains that — when not constrained to a particular field — there are more opportunities to stretch beyond the usual boundaries of clearly-defined disciplines.

Burgess cites two main classes of challenges to being an interdisciplinary researcher: time and scope. Burgess explains that the startup cost of good interdisciplinary work is often higher since you have to build up a much larger knowledge base. Additionally, the pool of literature is much larger, making it difficult to know what research has already been explored.

“It’s hard to be broad without either collaborating or reading 10 times as much as a normal person would,” said Burgess. “There’s no substitute for working with someone who’s actually been on a boat tagging marine animals.”

The second challenge is in figuring out the scope and direction of one’s career. Professorial positions at universities tend to reside in a single discipline, so academic job searching can be more complex. Despite these challenges, Burgess noted that multidisciplinary work is gaining momentum, and that funding agencies are increasingly recognizing its value.

While it may take longer to find one’s place in a multidisciplinary area of study, Burgess has demonstrated that persistence and a creative outlook can lead to a fulfilling career.

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Liberating Climate Change Communication: An interview with Maxwell Boykoff

Strand Magazine
by Victor Chaix

Dr. Maxwell Boykoff is the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. His work, focusing in cultural politics and environmental governance, provides insightful analysis as to how we can better frame the issue of climate change in the media or the arts.  

At the seminar he holds at the London School of Economics, Boykoff advocates a radical turn in climate change communication. Other narrative forms and mediums, such as the arts, can play an important role in the representation of the issue – an interesting example, for instance, is using the power of humour and audience laughter through stand-up comedy, which can provide a constructive collective relief of climatic anxiety: teaching climate change to the public, all the while de-paralysing it from despair and fatality. Being mindful of what resonates with a particular audience is especially key in producing effective local engagement.

After the conference, he kindly agreed to have a chat with me to give us students some refreshing advice for renewing our communication of the issue.

How do you think we could liberate conversation on climate change between science and policy, experts and regular citizens?

We have to open up new pathways, so that learning and knowing about climate change will meet further engagement for this collective problem. We have done a lot of work in improving our scientific way of knowing about climate change, but we have a lot of work still to do to improve a different, aesthetic, visceral, experiential, emotional ways of knowing about this issue. That’s where the arts and interdisciplinary types of projects in the cultural sphere come into play, in engaging with politics. 

Rather unrelated to your conference, how can journalists change their coverage of climate change to make it more efficient and communicative of the crisis at stake?

There is a lot of stories yet to be told on these issues. There are well-worn paths of story-telling about the science, but there aren’t very well-worn stories about communities and individuals fighting in the face of changing climate. So, there is a lot still to do. I think we are just getting started with that. I think that this type of human-focused story-telling can drive effective communication too.

How can artists, on their side, participate in raising climate awareness, engaging citizens? 

The word that gets used a lot, and for good reasons in my view, is “co-production”. To come to artists at the beginning of their projects, to then work with them, help them think about how they want to portray certain issues, within climate change, science and the environment is leading to great successes. There is possibly a lot more of people in this world that are willing to engage in various types of art, as much as journal articles. 

What do you think about the movement Extinction Rebellion, here in the UK, or even the youth strikes happening all over Europe? Is it a positive sign?

All the world is at stage and there is room for all kinds of engagement, to the extent that those engagements open new spaces of possibility for action in face of this twenty-first century challenge. I welcome those perspectives and engagements – it is one among many that help to give voice to a certain set of concerns that otherwise don’t find resonance in the public discussion.

Do you have any general advice to give to younger generations, as to how to communicate the issue more effectively – either in their usual conversations or through their work? 

Play to your strengths. Think carefully about what you are passionate about, what it is you are good at, what it is about yourself that draws you to these issues, and then work from there. We all have a lot of strengths that we can draw upon, and that we sometime we overlook as we try to fit into previously traveled ways of communicating and representing those issues. 

What would you say is the main lesson of your upcoming book? 

Two things. One, is that there is no silver bullet – we need to work with the climate science in many different ways, for many different audiences, because it is a collective action problem. Secondly, I would say we just need to smarten up the way in which we are talking about this. There are some fossils among us that think they can just dumb this down, that they can just speak in plain language, with no one that is going to get it but then everyone still getting engaged – it doesn’t work like that. We need to be a lot more smarter, methodical, systematic about how people really are and how they react. 

I anxiously ask him if we should stay optimistic. With a large smile and stars in his eyes, he confidently replies two simple, invigorating words – “yes, absolutely”.

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: The Earth is facing a climate change deadline

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
February 2019 Summary

February media attention to climate change and global warming was up 9% throughout the world from the previous month of January, and up 63% from February 2018.

While Asia, Middle East and Central/South America coverage was down 8%, 12% and 15% respectively from the previous month, it was up in all other regions. For examples, coverage in Europe was up 8%, Oceania coverage increased 34% and North America media attention went up 8% in February compared to the previous month.

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

Figure 1. Newspaper media coverage of climate change or global warming in sixty-six sources across thirty-six countries in seven different regions around the world, from January 2004 through February 2019.

Figure 2 shows word frequency data in United States (US) newspaper media coverage in both January 2019 and February 2019. Despite a waning Trump influence in January (see word cloud depiction in Figure 2, left), his influence in media coverage in the US returned in February (see word cloud depiction in Figure 2, right). The slow disappearing feature 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) was counteracted by Trump Administration (in)action in the month of February, such as an absence of mention of climate change in his State of the Union address (that sparked media remarks) and the presence of Trump Administration critiques of the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ (see below for more).

Figure 2. Word cloud showing frequency of words (4 letters or more) invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in United States newspaper sources in January (left) and February (right). Data are from the Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

In February, there were many media stories about climate change that touched on political and economic content. In the US, committee hearings in the House of Representatives generated considerable media attention in early February. In particular, a hearing in the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources on climate change, and a subcommittee hearing in the Energy and Commerce Committee on the economic impacts of climate change generated media attention. For example, MSNBC ran with the headline ‘The House – finally – cares about climate change again’ while journalist Jen Christensen from CNN noted, “President Donald Trump did not mention climate change or any efforts to help the environment during his State of the Union address Tuesday, but members of the US House of Representatives held two hearings Wednesday on Capitol Hill to take a closer look at the threat of climate change”. Stephanie Ebbs from ABC News reported on dueling personalities in the hearings when she noted, “ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, raised concerns the hearing was too broad and not focused enough on the committee’s jurisdiction, which is federal conservation programs. Bishop said he wants to the committee to spend more time talking about how forests can be managed to promote clean air and protect states from smoke pollution as a result of wildfires in states like California…”I have to mention I’m kind of a loss, I don’t know where this hearing is going or the other six you have planned because you haven’t told us what the goal is. At some point we may be asking, where are we going? What is the real legislation to help people that is supposed to come out of these hearings? To understand whether these hearings are for those of us around the horseshoe that are going to make legislation or this group that’s sitting at a table in the corner so they can write cute stories,” Bishop said, point toward reporters in the hearing room”.

There was a lot of political coverage relating to the Green New Deal – co-sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) – in February. This legislation was touted as “a ten-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War II to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all”. Journalists Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush from The New York Times reported, “Liberal Democrats put flesh on their “Green New Deal” slogan on Thursday with a sweeping resolution intended to redefine the national debate on climate change by calling for the United States to eliminate additional emissions of carbon by 2030. The measure, drafted by freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, is intended to answer the demand, by the party’s restive base, for a grand strategy that combats climate change, creates jobs and offers an affirmative response to the challenge to core party values posed by President Trump…as a blueprint for liberal ambition, it was breathtaking. It includes a 10-year commitment to convert “100 percent of the power demand in the United States” to “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,” to upgrade “all existing buildings” to meet energy efficiency requirements, and to expand high-speed rail so broadly that most air travel would be rendered obsolete. The initiative, introduced as nonbinding resolutions in the House and Senate, is tethered to an infrastructure program that its authors say could create millions of new “green jobs,” while guaranteeing health care, “a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” to every American”. Meanwhile, USA Today reporters Elizabeth Weise and Ledyard King noted, “The Earth is facing a climate change deadline, with a looming tipping point into a dramatically changed, less hospitable planet – and Democratic lawmakers are beginning what’s likely to be a long discussion over how best to deal with it. These first attempts have coalesced under a Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass”. As an illustration on US television, Amna Nawaz and William Brangham from PBS Newshour discussed the scale and scope of the plan with co-sponsoring US Senator Ed Markey.

In addition, a new ‘scorecard’ from the League of Conservation Voters was released late in the month, and this generated additional media attention in the US. It found that the differences in positions taken on climate change between Democrats and Republicans is stark, where the former has increasingly engaged with the issue over the past year. For example, journalist Dino Grandoni from The Washington Post reported “Democratic voters will have to decide among a slate of White House hopefuls tripping over themselves to commit to tackling climate change and other environmental issues. But which Democratic senator had the best environmental voting record in Congress last year? The answer: all of them. Each senator who has announced their candidacy for president received perfect scores in an annual voting scorecard kept by the League of Conservation Voters. The six declared 2020 candidates in the Senate — Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — always aligned with positions the environmental organization deemed ‘pro-environment’. So too did a handful of Senate Democrats thought to be considering a run for president, including Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)”.

Also in February, media covered ecological and meteorological dimensions of climate issues. For example (intersecting with scientific coverage), public understanding and awareness of links between extreme weather and climate change was assessed in a Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences study that garnered media attention in February. Through their research, the authors posited that over a period of approximately five years, what was considered once-extreme weather tends to become unremarkable and ‘normal’ weather. As an example of coverage, CNN journalist Jen Christensen reported, “The extreme weather that comes with climate change is becoming the new normal, so normal that people aren’t talking about it as much — and that could make them less motivated to take steps to fight global warming, according to new research. Researchers analyzed more than 2 billion social media posts between 2014 and 2016. What they found was that, when temperatures were unusual for a particular time of year, people would comment on it at first. But if the temperature trend continued and there were unusual temperatures again at that time the following year, people stopped commenting as much”. Read more …

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