Max Boykoff Receives 2020 Thomas Jefferson Award

Max Boykoff was selected as the recipient of the 2020 Thomas Jefferson Award in the faculty category. This award honors students, staff, and faculty members who advance the ideals of Thomas Jefferson. These include broad interests in literature, arts and sciences, and public affairs, a strong concern for the advancement of higher education, a deeply seated sense of individual civic responsibility, and a profound commitment to the welfare and rights of the individual.

Max also recently received another Faculty award from the Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences (CARTSS) Steering Committee in support of his project entitled “Balance as Bias 2.0”. Congratulations!

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The Climate Papers Most Featured in the Media in 2019

CSTPR’s MeCCO work for Lancet Report (#12 most featured in the media) highlighted in Carbon Brief

Last year saw the rise of climate change protests, with Greta Thunberg, school strikes and Extinction Rebellion generating global news coverage.

The impacts of climate change and extreme weather also hit many newspaper frontpages over the past 12 months, from devastating fires in both the Amazon and Australia to Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

Amidst an extraordinary year for media coverage of climate change, scientists and researchers were busily publishing thousands of peer-reviewed journal papers on their latest findings.

These were reported around the world in news articles and blogs and shared on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit. Tracking all these “mentions” was Altmetric, an organisation that scores and ranks papers according to the attention they receive. (Full details of how the Altmetric scoring system works can be found in an earlier article.)

Using Altmetric data for 2019, Carbon Brief has compiled its annual list of the 25 most talked-about climate change-related papers that were published the previous year. The infographic above shows which ones made it into the Top 10.

Number one

According to Altmetric, the two highest-scoring climate papers in 2019 are commentaries. These are “World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency” in the journal BioScience, with a score of 10,950, and “Climate tipping points – too risky to bet against” in Nature, which scored 8,552.

The two papers were the third and fifth highest-scoring, respectively, of any “research outputs” published in 2019.

The BioScience “viewpoint” piece declares “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency”. The paper has five authors, but it was the 11,258 scientist signatories from 153 countries that particularly attracted media attention.

The Nature “comment” paper has a similarly stark message, warning that “evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute”.

Despite their high scores, as they are commentaries rather than research papers, they are not included in Carbon Brief’s leaderboard. (Commentaries are typically commissioned by journal editors, rather than being part of an open submission process. They are also not routinely peer-reviewed. Carbon Brief does include review and perspective articles in the leaderboard, however, as these tend to follow a more traditional editorial process, though this varies by journal. For more on the different types of journal articles, see the guidelines given by Nature and Science as examples.)

Landing the coveted number one spot in 2019 is “New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal flooding”, published in Nature Communications in October, with an Altmetric score of 7,136. This paper was placed seventh in Altmetric’s own Top 100 research papers of 2019.

The Top 5

Just missing out on top spot, in second place is “The global tree restoration potential” in the journal Science, with an Altmetrics score of 6,354.

This study, led by Dr Jean-Francois Bastin – a postdoctoral researcher at the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich – mapped “the global potential tree coverage to show that 4.4bn hectares of canopy cover could exist under the current climate”. The study estimates that there is “room for an extra 0.9bn hectares” of trees, which has the potential to store 205bn tonnes of carbon.

Elsewhere in the Top 25

Just outside the Top 10, in 11th place with a score of 2,767, is the Science Advances paper “Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years”. Using satellite imagery, the study finds a “doubling of the average loss rate” of Himalayan ice during 2000-16 compared to 1975-2000. The study featured in 349 news stories – more than any other in the list outside the Top 4.

In 12th is another Lancet paper, with the longest title of any in the Top 25: “The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate”. 

The Lancet Countdown is an “international, multidisciplinary collaboration, dedicated to monitoring the evolving health profile of climate change, and providing an independent assessment of the delivery of commitments made by governments worldwide under the Paris Agreement”. Carbon Brief reported on the 2018 edition of the report, which warned that extreme heat threatens “systemic failure” of the world’s hospitals. Read more …

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21st Century Climate Communication with Max Boykoff

Climate Changers Podcast

Max Boykoff is the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. Max’s research and creative work focuses on the transformation of carbon-based society and the cultural politics of science, climate change and environmental issues. In this interview, we explore how creative communication about climate change transcends talking past one another and “gotcha moments” and rather moves to meet people where they are. To be effective storytellers and open peoples minds to new ideas, we need to find areas where we have common ground and shared values and concerns and then use that common ground as a foundation for deeper engagement around climate change.

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MeCCO 2019 Year End Retrospective

Special Issue 2019
A Review of Media Coverage of Climate Change and Global Warming in 2019


2019 has been an important year in which climate change and global warming fought for media attention amid competing interests in other stories, events and issues around the globe. In a finite ‘news hole’, climate change and global warming garnered coverage through stories manifesting through primary, yet often intersecting, political, economicscientificcultural as well as ecological and meteorological themes.

Sub-Saharan African drought, Central American migration pressures, South American deforestation, Asian public health concerns, European decarbonization, United Nations (UN) climate talks, Australian bushfires, Canadian Federal Elections, United States (US) withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and global youth-led climate social movements punctuated the 2019 media and climate change landscape. Climate impacts – from the Amazon to the Zambezi River – grabbed media attention in 2019. Personalities like Donald, Jacinda, Jair, Greta, and Narendra contributed ‘discernible human influences’ on media coverage of climate change across the year. And in 2019, other names made climate-related news: Barry, Dorian, Hagabis, Idai, Kammuri and Lorenzo.

As the year ended, retrospectives like Miles O’Brien’s take at PBS NewsHourhelped to put the “Earth’s fragility and humans’ indifference to it” into context, describing how we ‘Earthlings’ found ourselves at an ‘inflection point’ after this pivotal year. As journalists and editors took stock of the year gone by, numerous influential news organizations called out US Trump Administration actions as incommensurate with the scale of the intersectional climate challenges. For example, in ‘President Trump’s very bad year on climate change hurts us all’ at the end of December, Los Angeles Times Editors wrote, “If Trump thinks the Paris agreement posed an ‘unfair economic burden’ on the U.S., as the administration described it, he ought to contemplate the costs of dealing with a warmer and more unstable climate”. Meanwhile, New York Times journalists Nadja Popovich, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Kendra Pierre-Louis placed seven explicit climate policy actions in the context of a larger basket of ’95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump’. Outside the US context, Guardian journalist Fiona Harvey pointed out that, “Climate breakdown played a key role in at least 15 events in 2019 that cost more than $1bn (£760m) in damage, with more than half of those costing more than $10bn each. Extreme weather including floods, storms, droughts and wildfires struck every inhabited continent in the past year, causing devastation and loss of life”.

As this end of the year also marked the end of a decade, numerous outlets also examined climate change over the past ten years. For instance, journalist John D. Sutter at CNN commented, “On the cusp of 2020, the state of the planet is far more dire than in 2010. Preserving a safe and healthy ecological system is no longer a realistic possibility. Now, we’re looking at less bad options, ceding the fact that the virtual end of coral reefs, the drowning of some island nations, the worsening of already-devastating storms and the displacement of millions — they seem close to inevitable. The climate crisis is already costly, deadly and deeply unjust, putting the most vulnerable people in the world, often who’ve done the least to cause this, at terrible risk. The worst part? We’ve known about this for a very long time”.

At the global level, September was the high water mark for coverage of climate change or global warming among the sources tracked by our Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) team. New Zealand print media coverage reached an all-time high, while the amount of coverage in Germany and Spain were second highest, and the United Kingdom reached the fourth highest on record in the month of September. Also in September 2019, Indian print media coverage reached an all-time high.

Coverage was most abundant in history apart from attention in November and December 2009 associated with the Copenhagen round of climate talks (COP15) and the University of East Anglia email hacking scandal ‘climate-gate’. MeCCO documented particularly strong signals in the quantity of coverage in the US in September in both television and print media. US television media reached its second highest levels (after the aforementioned period of November and December 2009. US print media of climate change or global warming reached an all-time high since MeCCO monitoring began in January 2000. US print media coverage of climate change surpassed the previous high water mark achieved in January 2017 (largely dominated by speculation of how newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump would impact global efforts to combat climate change). Contributing to these increases, a ‘Covering Climate Now’ campaign – led by US-based media organizations the Nation and Columbia Journalism Review – was deployed in September to increase media coverage of climate change across more than 300 participating outlets. With a combined potential audience of over 1 billion readers, viewers and listeners, this initiative contributed to the increases in coverage that we in MeCCO detected.

In 2019, we at MeCCO introduced expanded media monitoring of climate change or global warming around the world.

  • in January, we began tracking Public Broadcasting Services on United States television and additional monitoring across four wire services: Associated PressAgence France Press (AFP)The Canadian Press, and United Press International (UPI)
  • in April, we then added eight new European sources to our counts: Correio da Manhã (Portugal), La Republica (Italy), Corriere della Sera (Italy), Le Monde (France), Le Figaro (France), El Mundo (Spain), La Vanguardia (Spain) and Expansion (Spain)
  • also in April, we added a ‘European Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming’ figure like we had done with our work to track ‘Latin American Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change or Global Warming’ in the past
  • in May, we began monitoring six sources total from Sweden (Dagens NyheterAftonbladet, and Expressen) and Norway (AftenpostenVG, and Dagbladet) to our European monitoring
  • in October, we integrated 17 new sources across 14 countries: five new sources in Asia, 11 new sources in Africa and 1 new source in the Middle East: The Malaysian Reserve (Malaysia), Today (Singapore), The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), The Daily News (Sri Lanka) and The New Nation (Bangladesh) in Asia; Daily Trust (Nigeria), Vanguard (Nigeria), The New Times (Rwanda), Daily Nation (Kenya), The Times of Zambia (Zambia), New Era Namibia (Namibia), The Citizen (Tanzania), Pa Potentiel (Congo), L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso), La Nouvelle Tribune (Morocco) and Sud Quotidien (Senegal) in Africa; and Dawn (Pakistan) in the Middle East

This work increased our explanatory power regarding print media coverage of climate change in these regions now with 23 sources in Asia, 15 sources in Africa and 6 sources in the Middle East along with 20 sources in North America, 13 sources in Latin America, 8 sources in Oceania and 28 sources in Europe. In addition, we at MeCCO now monitor print media representations of climate change at the country-level in eleven nations. Including television and radio with newspaper sources, we now monitor 113 sources total across 55 countries in nine languages (see fact sheet):

  • English: ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’
  • French: ‘changement climatique’ or ‘réchauffement climatique’
  • German: ‘klimawandel’ or ‘globale erwärmung’
  • Italian: ‘cambiamenti climatici’ or ‘riscaldamento globale’
  • Japanese: ‘温暖化’ or ‘気候変動’
  • Norwegian: ‘global oppvarming’ or ‘klimaendring’
  • Portuguese: ‘mudanças climáticas’ or ‘aquecimento global’
  • Spanish: ‘cambio climático’ or ‘calentamiento global’
  • Swedish: ‘global uppvärmning’ or ‘klimatförändring’

Across the one-hundred newspaper sources, coverage was up 73% in 2019 compared to 2018. Across global radio, coverage was up 74% in 2019 compared to 2018. At the country level, coverage increased everywhere. This was most pronounced in Germany and the UK where coverage more than doubled. Yet coverage increased substantially in New Zealand (up 95%), Canada (up 90%) Spain (up 88%) and Australia (up 83%) in 2019. Elsewhere, coverage in 2019 compared to the previous year in India was up 61% while coverage was up 59% in Norway, 48% in Sweden and 45% in Japan. US television coverage increased dramatically in 2019, up 138%, but the increase in print coverage in 2019 was more modest by comparison, up 46% from 2018.

At the US country level, Figure 2 illustrates these trends month to month in US press accounts across five newspaper publications in 2019 – The Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesUSA Today, and The Los Angeles Times.

Figure 3 shows trends month to month in 2019 across US television news – ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC.

In the US, there was a continued prominence (detected in 2017 and 2018 as well) of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump. We at MeCCO have referred to this as 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. It bears repeating that Lisa Hymas described this aptly in this way: “The media should be chasing down stories on climate science, the people being affected by climate change, responses and solutions to the problem. Instead, even when they report on climate change, they’re still chasing Trump”.  This pattern was discussed particularly in February, March and May 2019 below. This resurfaced as well in November 2019 when the Trump administration formally notified the UN that the US was withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement (see below for more). In 2019, these ongoing trends led to a ‘distracting Donald’ label as many appeared to grow weary of interference and subversion of ongoing efforts by the Trump Administration to confront a changing climate as the 2020s approached.

This report is a reprise of monthly summaries that our MeCCO team has compiled and posted each month on our website. It is our third annual review of coverage. The project is currently based in the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. However, contributions are made through collaborations and partnerships with MeCCO members at the University of New England (US), Babson College (US), Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain), Universidad de Sevilla (Spain) and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (Japan) and Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway). MeCCO members are Midori Aoyagi, Andrew Benham, Max Boykoff, Patrick Chandler, Meaghan Daly, Kaori Doi, Rogelio Fernández-Reyes, Lauren Gifford, Isidro Jiménez Gómez, Jennifer Katzung, Lucy McAllister, Marisa McNatt, Ami Nacu-Schmidt, David Oonk, Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey, Olivia Pearman, Anne Hege Simonsen, and Andreas Ytterstad.

As the next decade unfolds, let us take some time to reflect on how the past year of media coverage of climate change may shape what is to come. 2020 is also a critical time to ponder how our histories up to the present shape those that will follow in ‘the fierce urgency of now’. What follows are ‘highlights’ of key events, stories and developments through politicalscientificculturalecological and meteorological themes that have transpired during our collectively experienced year 2019.

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UiTM’s Role Honoured in Top Climate Change Report

New Straits Times
by Rayyan Rafidi

Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) recently marked a significant milestone after being named as one of the 35 partner institutions listed in the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change 2019”, a report published annually in The Lancet.

It joined the ranks of leading academic institutions and United Nations agencies, namely University College London and the World Health Organisation.

Each year, the report provides an assessment on the health effects of climate change, developments in the implementation of the 2016 Paris Agreement, and the health implications of these actions.

It draws on the expertise of climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, economists, social and political scientists and doctors.

The Lancet is one of the world’s most prestigious general medical journal with an impact factor of 53.102. This year’s report featured UiTM’s Faculty of Plantation and Agrotechnology senior lecturer Dr Meisam Tabatabaei Pozveh as a lead collaborator in biofuel research.

UiTM was given the honour to launch this year’s report. Held at UiTM Puncak Alam on Dec 12, the event comprised a series of climate change talks and a health exhibition.

In his speech via Skype, Lancet Countdown executive director Dr Nick Watts said the report served as a global monitoring system on the links between climate change and health.

“For far too long, climate change is seen as a phenomenon that affects only the environment. Understanding it and re-imagining it as a public health issue is important.

“Climate change actually looks like child malnutrition or the exacerbation of asthma. When we view climate change not as a tangible concept, but as a threat to human health, then we start to understand that no country is immune. Low-income countries are bearing the brunt of the impacts,” said Dr Watts.

University of Colorado Boulder’s Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research director Associate Professor Dr Maxwell Boykoff then took the stage to discuss the report’s key messages and highlights.

“First, the life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change. Without accelerated interventions, it will define their health throughout their lives.

“The second key message urges us to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels, which is the central objective of the Paris Agreement.”

An unprecedented challenge demanded an unprecedented response, he continued.

“The scale of our response does not commensurate with the immense scale of challenges. The report hopes to address that gap by wisely confronting climate change in the 21st century.” Read more …

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Homeward Bound: Learning Leadership in and from Antarctica

by Cassandra Brooks and Justine Shaw

Icy wind from the Antarctic continent stings our faces as we crouch in the zodiacs straining to hear the crackling of the ice. Water rises and falls around us as if it’s breathing. Small pieces of ice crackle while large bergs heave and splash. Our heads turn as we hear the exhale of a minke whale, sighing in a way we can all relate to. Penguins splash and porpoise are all around us. Here we are – more than 100 women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) who have gathered at the bottom of the Earth. Our goal, as part of the Homeward Bound Project is to change the current approach to leadership, all of us committed to leadership for global sustainability. The awe-inspiring environment of Antarctica – the last great wilderness left on the planet – has united, awakened and inspired us.

We celebrate that 60 years ago this week this commons was set aside for the sake of peace and science when the Antarctic Treaty was signed. Originally signed by 12 countries in 1959, the Antarctic Treaty now has 54 countries listed as parties, with 29 of them having a vote on how Antarctic is governed. But in today’s world, the Treaty is strained and not equipped to manage for a changing climate. As we witness the ecosystem strain all around us due to the threat of climate change, this collective group of women will return home inspired and skilled to be able to lead the way for change.

Every woman on the ship has been awed by Antarctica: its beauty, fragility, scale and wildlife. Antarctica has been more than a backdrop to the Homeward Bound initiative; it is a critical component of the program. This icy continent shows them climate change first-hand as they see glaciers that have retreated and learn about shifting penguin populations. Antarctica, which regulates the Earth’s climate and global ocean circulation, has taught them about the connectedness of the entire globe and their potential place in it. Experiencing the extremes of the Antarctic can and will inspire them to go home and lead in their STEMM fields towards a more sustainable future.

As the leaders of this year’s on-board Antarctic science stream, we’ve been granted the opportunity to teach alongside Antarctica. As part of the program we’ve explored what it means in this day and age for a continent to be dedicated to peace and science. We’ve described how science feeds into decision making for Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation. Science is the touchstone of Antarctic diplomacy: it’s a key reason countries maintain a presence in Antarctica. National and tourist operators (those that are International Association for Antarctic Tour Operators members) abide by agreed procedures and protocols of the Antarctic Treaty System and Commission Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources which are all informed by science. We taught them about this amazing environment – including the flora and fauna that live here and about the current and future impacts of climate change. 

Being scientists at the forefront of Antarctic conservation, it’s been inspiring for us to also learn about the work of our Team HB4 members. For example, a trauma surgeon leading and mentoring young doctors, a scientist working around the world to mitigate dengue fever, an engineer responsible for Heathrow airport infrastructure, a conservation scientist working with Masaai farmers to conserve lions, and women working on sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and the ethics of genetic engineering.  These women will disembark the ship, skilled in leadership, strategy, visibility and science, and deeply reflective about their place in the world and how they can collectively lead for the greater good.

Dr. Justine Shaw with the Centre for Biodiversity & Conservation Science at the University of Queensland, Australia and Dr. Cassandra Brooks an Assistant Professor with Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder led the Science stream for the Homeward Bound Project, a global women’s leadership initiative. This fourth Homeward Bound expedition included 111 women, from 33 countries, ages spanning 23-70 from a wide array of science fields.

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Climate change is a medical, not environmental story

BMJ Online
by Paul D. Thacker

When world leaders gathered in Madrid this December for the UN Climate Change Conference, there was a notable difference in media coverage of global warming. When I first started covering this topic, around fifteen years ago, climate change was an environmental story with much of the news appearing in the science section of American newspapers. That seems to have changed, with public health experts and physicians beginning to take centre stage, voicing increased concern that fossil fuel combustion and climate change are a threat to the health of both humans and medical practice. 

More and more studies continue to document how global warming is altering medical practice, and The Lancet and the World Health Organization recently released comprehensive reports detailing the health impacts of human caused climate change on people across the globe. During the UN climate conference, one panel examined the mutual benefits to public health from climate change and air pollution policies. “Reducing methane production from agriculture lets you tackle both air pollution and climate change,” says Margherita Tolotto, a policy officer at the environmental group EEB, who spoke on the panel that day. Tolotto says that around 64% of methane produced in the EU comes from agriculture. While a potent greenhouse gas, methane is a major source of ground-level ozone that harms human health, ecosystems, and food crops. 

In the last year, several journals have published studies pointing to the health effects of climate change, such as a new study in Nature Climate Change finding that hot weather is shortening gestation time, increasing delivery risk in pregnant women, and potentially harming infant health. The BMJ published a widely read analysis arguing that climate change threatens the achievement of effective universal healthcare. The WHO’s report surveyed 101 countries and found that only half have national health and climate change strategies, with the majority struggling to implement them. The most common climate change health risks, reported by these countries, were heat stress, followed by injury or death from extreme weather, and vector-borne diseases such as cholera, dengue or malaria. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, stated, “Climate change is not only racking up a bill for future generations to pay, it’s a price that people are paying for now with their health.”

The Lancet’s report is the third they have published on key climate change and public health indicators. “I believe we have funding to continue this monitoring through 2024,” says Max Boykoff, Director for the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, and one of the review authors. The report states that climate change will shape the lives of every child born today, as people across the globe face weather extremes, changing patterns of infectious disease, and food and water insecurity. Limiting global average temperature rise to well below 2°C is still possible, however, the report authors argue.

“The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, which released its annual state of the global climate report last week. 

Boykoff adds that media coverage on climate change health effects have increased in recent years, and can foster ongoing education and vital conversations for everyday people, in all countries. One change to education is happening in America’s medical schools, which are now adding climate-related content to their curriculum. Medical students at Stanford developed a climate change and health elective that will start next year that involves lunch seminars with speakers addressing allergy and asthma, risk of fires, and other climate health problems. Similar classes and tweaks to curriculum are happening at other medical schools, as well.

However, such discussions appear to be upsetting to industry, which faces a number of lawsuits in the United States for their role in creating in the crisis. In a recent editorial, editors at JAMA noted, “Virtually every time JAMA publishes an article on the effects of pollution or climate change on health, the journal immediately receives demands from critics to retract the article for various reasons.” Read more …

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AAAS Local Science Engagement Network Gets Under Way

AAAS Science Magazine
by Anne Q. Hoy

Scientists seek to inform Missouri and Colorado policy-makers and climate solutions for communities

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has partnered with pilot initiatives in Missouri and Colorado to integrate scientists with local and state policy-makers, community stakeholders, and the public to leverage scientific evidence and inform efforts to address varied local impacts of climate change.

The AAAS Local Science Engagement Network seeks to forge alliances among diverse and multidisciplinary groups of scientists, civic leaders, academic institutions, decision-makers, and representatives of scientific societies to advance regional responses to the flooding of agricultural lands, impacts of urban heat islands and droughts in Missouri, and premature snow melts, droughts, and suburb-encroaching wildfires in Colorado.

“Instead of focusing on global theoretical concepts of climate change or impacts that are happening in far-flung communities in this country or internationally, we want local scientists to talk about how they can inform local decisions that improve the lives of people sitting in the room,” said Dan Barry, director of AAAS’s Local Science Engagement Network.

More than a year in the making, the program was initiated by leaders in the scientific community and AAAS members seeking to establish a nationwide plan for supporting networks of scientists to engage with policy-makers and contribute solutions to the range of challenges facing local and state communities.

The climate work of the Local Science Engagement Network is supported by the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, Benjamin and Ruth Hammett, Reinier and Nancy Beeuwkes, Rush Holt and Margaret Lancefield, the Atkinson Family Foundation, Gary and Denise David, the estate of Abraham Ringel, and other generous donors.

Going forward, the program aims to set up networks in three additional states, Barry said, to assist communities and state policymakers in implementing effective solutions to challenges raised by climate change with the help of fact-based and impartial scientific knowledge. The program’s current theme may grow into exploring other climate-related impacts, including rural poverty economy and public health concerns, he added.

The pilot network reflects a strategy long recognized by AAAS in expanding scientific engagement with the public, through the articulation of common goals, activities, and structures. Participants in Missouri and Colorado have pledged to take part in civic engagement that elevates the capacity of science through a host of public outreach activities and events.

Communities of scientists also are being assembled by program leaders in each state to serve as an advisory council made up of topical scientific experts willing to participate in policy discussions; share fact-based research drawn from local, regional, and national analyses; and author topical reports. The two pilot programs will collect scientific analyses and reports in electronic libraries to make such materials more accessible to stakeholders and the public.

“We’re hoping that positive solutions, real solutions will take root and that we’ll be able to start to engineer a little bit of social change where the value of science is reasserted,” said Barry. “Part of the problem we seek to address is that science has been intentionally and unintentionally marginalized as a tool for decision-making in this country.”

In Missouri and Colorado, participating scientists will be offered communications training through AAAS Communicating Science workshops that coach participants on fundamental communications techniques and on how best to engage with local and state policy-makers. The workshops, developed by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, are tailored to help scientists effectively share information with the public.

Local leaders now being selected in the two states offer a wealth of scientific experience. In Missouri, Rachel Owen, a Ph.D. soil scientist, will become program director of the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network when it launches in January.

The framework for the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network calls on Owen to ensure that the network provides science communications, civic engagement, and effective advocacy from AAAS and other partners and holds regular networking events to facilitate conversations among scientists, policy-makers, and local leaders.

The network plan in Missouri will enable the program to identify the diverse needs of different demographic, economic, and cultural regions in a state that spans from the sparsely populated Ozarks to more populated urban and suburban communities. The plan pledges to engage local stakeholders to ensure that evidence-based perspectives woven into climate solutions apply to diverse communities.

Owen already has received confirmations from seven scientists to serve on the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network’s advisory council. So far, the council has begun meeting to discuss everything from policy opportunities to communications and advocacy training. “We’re going to try to make it as easy as possible for them to bring science to the conversation,” she said.

The initial council members represent a varied group, including university faculty, representatives of the nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, and climate scientists, some of whom are active in Missouri’s Climate Action Coalition, a group of elected officials and community leaders throughout Kansas City who work with state policy-makers.

The council also includes Barbara Schaal, a former AAAS president, an evolutionary biologist, and dean and professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Schaal, like many AAAS leaders, has long advocated the need for the science community to engage with policy-makers and the public about the value of science.

In Colorado, Maxwell Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Matthew Druckenmiller, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, also are at work developing the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network set to launch in January.

The Colorado network will produce an annual report to be made up of focused and concise briefing papers on timely policy topics and explore noteworthy scientific advances. The briefs will be authored by a multidisciplinary group of Colorado scientists. Essays written by decision-makers, practitioners, and stakeholders also will be included to provide a mix of perspectives.

The report is intended to ensure that the latest scientific research is made publicly available to inform climate policy decisions facing Colorado lawmakers and to build a diverse network of scientists throughout the state and give communities opportunities to integrate science into policy discussions and decision-making processes.

Boykoff said that community teams will be developed to help frame strategies to more effectively fold science into local policy debates and response proposals, particularly as they relate to addressing climate impacts across the state.

Already, plans are in place to contribute to policy conversations stemming from a climate action plan Boulder adopted 3 years ago. The city plan calls for 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 80% reductions of emissions generated by city government operations, and a transformation to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. The plan has led Boulder to adopt a Climate Mobilization Action Plan that places “equity and resilience” at the center of its implementation, Boykoff noted.

“AAAS and the Local Science Engagement Network is going to catalyze all kinds of important connections that need to be made because Boulder is very different than the communities in the state’s Western Slope,” Boykoff said. “To make those links, we really want to reach beyond the leading actors and engage with folks that might otherwise not be considering too carefully the various science-related challenges that actually impact their everyday lives.” Read more …

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Inside the Greenhouse Newsletter, Issue 15

Issue 15 | December 2019
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To date, challenges associated with climate change have continued to impact all aspects of life. As 2019 comes to a close, we acknowledge that the collective scale of our creative efforts to confront the causes and consequences of a changing climate has not been commensurate with the scale of these intersectional climate challenges.

However, in partnerships and spirited collaboration with others around the world such as frontline communities, youth and decision-makers at many scales, we at Inside the Greenhouse (ITG) have continued to build momentum and hope as we work to catalyze positive changes that help close this climate action gap.

Clearly we do not and cannot do this alone. We continue to nurture research and practitioner alliances so we can more fully address these essential collective action challenges.

As the decade comes to a close, we share with you some of our ongoing research outputs, activities, aspirations and ambitions. In so doing, we also ask for your support so we can increase our impact in 2020 and beyond. Please enjoy the newsletter and consider donating to ITG. 

Please visit the Inside the Greenhouse Gift Fund to provide a tax-deductible gift. We are grateful for contributions in any amount. Any amount helps us as we continue to work to communicate about the critical importance of climate awareness, engagement and action in the 21st century. Read more …

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Ditching the Doomsaying for Better Climate Discourse

Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine
by Clay Evans

Max Boykoff pitches strategies for more effective climate communication

Despite its apparent provenance as a right-wing meme, when it comes to climate change, Max Boykoff rather likes the snarky expression, “OK, doomer”—a play on “OK, Boomer,” the catchphrase adopted by the young to dismiss attitudes of their Baby Boomer forebears.

“Social sciences and humanities research shows that sticking to doomsday language doesn’t help people engage with the challenges of climate change,” he says. 

“Social sciences and humanities research shows that sticking to doomsday language doesn’t help people engage with the challenges of climate change,” he says. 

Boykoff, an associate professor of environmental studies, says that numerous prominent works, such as Jonathan Franzen’s much-discussed New Yorker essay, “What If We Stopped Pretending,” which argued that it’s delusional to try to stop or mitigate climate change, do little more than cause people to “freak out, tune out, turn off, become paralyzed.” 

Boykoff’s research into how to effectively communicate the serious consequences of anthropogenic climate change—and his review of others’ research in these areas—has convinced him that such heavy-handed, apocalyptic messaging is problematic and led to his new book, Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society. 

“If there isn’t some semblance of hope or ways people can change the current state of affairs, people feel less motivated to try to address the problems,” says Boykoff, who is also director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Boykoff even routinely dons a T-shirt emblazoned with 10 pithy words by Edward Maibach, a widely recognized expert on climate communications at George Mason University: “It’s real; it’s us; experts agree; it’s bad; there’s hope.”

In his new book, Boykoff delves deep into social science research to devise the most effective ways to communicate about a problem so enormous that many people simply become numb when hearing about it. 

“Communicating about climate change now doesn’t have to be the equivalent of throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks,” he says. “We now have a solid decade of research that can point us to what works, as well as how, when and why it works, and under what circumstances.”

Among the key messages of the book: Communicators should use a “silver buckshot” approach, rather than thinking there is a silver bullet that will convince doubters or those who have simply turned away from the problem.

“We’ve learned that we can’t rely merely on science to turn the tide, or what scientists think. We can’t merely rely on a big disaster event either like ‘Superstorm Sandy,’” he says, referring to the devastating 2012 storm system that some portrayed as evidence of extreme events in a changing climate.

“Through research and observations, we’ve found that changing people’s minds doesn’t happen like that.”

Based on extensive research, Boykoff assembled five “rules of the road” and five “guideposts” to help foster a creative and effective approach to climate-change communications. 

Rules of the road (along with brief descriptions from Boykoff):

  • Be authentic—“Don’t fake it.” 
  • Be aware—“Know your audience.”
  • Be accurate—“Know what you’re talking about.”
  • Be imaginative—“Step out of the well-worn paths of science.”
  • Be bold—“Commit yourself to experimenting.”


  • Find common ground—“Rather than telling people how they are supposed to be thinking and acting.”
  • Emphasize here and now—“We need to overcome the perception that this is a distant threat that impacts other people and animals in distant places we never visit.”
  • Focus on the benefits of engagement—“Give people agency, focus on ways they can get involved and feel like, ‘OK, this is what I can do today.’”
  • Creatively empower people—Rather than lecture or speak in traditional academic modes, Boykoff points to alternative avenues of communication, such as comedy, art, video and dance.
  • Smarten up—“Listening, discussing and adapting, as opposed to just trying to win an argument.”

Boykoff isn’t naïve about the scale of the challenges. He understands why so many people simply can’t fathom what to do in the face of something so enormous and consequential. 

“We haven’t scaled this accordingly to the kind of responses that are needed, and it feels overwhelming,” he says. “But I would flip that on its head and say, ‘Everything counts.’ There are many opportunities to change our ways of living, working, playing and having fun.”

He argues that only framing the issue as a matter of individual responsibility and encouraging generations to snipe at one another—“OK, Boomer,” for example, or criticizing younger people for failing to live up to their proclaimed ideals—are often distractions that do little to address the problem.

“Flight-shaming is one of the more unproductive ways to have a conversation,” Boykoff says, citing as an example the recent uptick in criticism of people who travel by air. “That just leaves people feeling bad. It’s blaming other people while not actually talking about the structures that give rise to the need or desire to take those trips.”

And at a time when extreme political polarization has transformed personal positions on climate change into often intractable tribalism, Boykoff says it’s important to take a careful, nuanced approach when communicating to skeptics.

“Rather than castigating people—when does that really work?—through findings from social science and humanities research, my book calls for us to be more creative and mindful and have open conversations,” he says. “This is a collective-action problem, and we need to be thinking ahead together.” 

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