Are You the Artist?

by Patrick Chandler
PhD Student in Environmental Studies Program at University of Colorado Boulder and 2019 winner of the Radford Byerly Award in Science and Technology Policy

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

“Are you the artist?” This question followed by others of a similar type such as: “Who’s idea was this exhibit/production?” and “Who’s the lead on this project?” are some of my least favorite. For the past ten years, I’ve been working with communities and organizations to bring science and art together to communicate about environmental issues in order to engage observers and promote action. Each project has been a team effort that involved artists, scientists, educators, students, and community members. But somehow, that seems to be an unsatisfying answer to those who ask the questions listed above.

We tend to try and single out individuals, in both good and bad situations, in order to simplify responsibility. When a crime is committed, the question becomes, “Who did this?” rather than “Why did this happen?” The same happens when amazing things occur. Our first inclination is to ask who rather than how and why.

Isolating an individual as a cause simplifies our perception of events and alleviates responsibility. It enables us to say, “That person did something amazing/terrible!” and sets them apart from you and I. Most of us can name 10 individuals that stand out in history with no difficulty but might have trouble naming ten communities that collectively transformed humanity. I think this is because creating these hero/villain stories helps us to believe we don’t need to try and be that good (that person is special!) and that we couldn’t possibly be that bad (that person is disturbed!). So, what would happen if we abandoned this simplified narrative and embraced the idea that each of us can embody the full spectrum of human potential?

Climate change, plastic pollution, and the underlying causes of both threaten our ability to survive on this planet. But, more often than not, we look to others for solutions rather than confront our own infinite potential. If we are to overcome these global environmental issues, we have to admit that each one of us can have significant impact, and we have a responsibility to actualize our potential. But, not alone. In and with community we can combine our incredible potential to transform systems.

It’s time to start asking what we can do “with” instead of what we can do “for.” If scientists, artists, and educators ask what they can do in partnership with communities rather than what they can create for them we can begin to form a new vision that brings the head and heart together and motivates action. However, this is easier said than done. It takes a dedicated group of partners, time, resources, and flexibility along with regular work to maintain a partnership to make it happen.

For the past two years, I’ve been a part of a group of partners from the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and the Jefferson County School District (JeffCo) who have been working together to pilot a curriculum with students in Jefferson County. Our goal is to develop lessons that bring together art and science in 4th and 5th grade classrooms to address climate change and create a performance that invites the community to work with students to build resiliency.

Photo: Students and teachers from Jefferson County Schools during a visit to CU in March 2019. Credit: Lianna Nixon.

Actively involving students in climate change issues while they are still relatively young is important. Research reveals that pessimism about addressing climate change increases with age—particularly from early to late adolescence (Ojala 2012). It is essential to discuss resilience and climate concerns in a positive way. Michale Rohd, author of Theatre for Community Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual writes that, “The act of expression is an act of connection—through it we become positive, active participants in our lives and in our communities” (Rohd 1998).  Witnessing youth arts and performance gives adults hope. Engaging youth in solutions-oriented arts regarding resilience and climate change increases their level of hope and positive action. Giving youth a feeling that solutions to climate change are within their control can motivate behavior that benefits families, local community, and the world (Stevenson and Peterson 2016).

There is a need for an effective framework for this type of community-integrated co-production of lessons to promote action. Though each community has specific needs, the process of bringing communities together and designing an art/science project with and not for them has an associated set of best practices. Our hope is that through this project, we can add to the understanding of what creates effective art/science/education partnerships and help actualize the collective potential needed to overcome the immense challenges we currently face as a society by actualizing our collective potential. In doing so, we hope to change the focus to how change happens in communities and the process that enables systems to become sustainable rather than who to single out as a separate and uniquely powerful individual.

References:

Ojala, M., Fakulteten för utbildningsvetenskaper, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Uppsala universitet; Institutionen för pedagogik, didaktik och utbildningsstudier, 2012. Hope and climate change: The importance of hope for pro-environmental engagement among young people, Environmental Education Research, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 625.

Rohd, M.,1998. Theatre for community, conflict; dialogue: The Hope is Vital training manual, Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH.

Stevenson, K.T., Peterson, M.N. & Bondell, H.D., 2016. The influence of personal beliefs, friends, and family in building climate change concern among adolescents, Environmental Education Research, pp. 1-14.

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Another Grim Climate Report on Oceans

What will it take to address the compounding problems?
The Conversation

by Cassandra Brooks, CSTPR Faculty Affiliate, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at University of Colorado at Boulder

Photo: Changes to the ocean and frozen parts of the Earth affect humans in multiple ways, including changes to fisheries availability of fresh water. Credit: John Weller.

The U.N.‘s climate panel report released Sept. 25 makes crystal clear that the planet’s oceans, snow and ice are in dire trouble and the damage is causing harm to the people who depend on them. Even with aggressive efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, many nations will struggle to adapt.

All people on Earth depend on the ocean and cryosphere – the frozen regions of our planet. Together they provide vital services to humanity including food, fresh water and energy. But they also perform critical services, including the uptake and redistribution of carbon dioxide and heat.

Yet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere says human-induced climate change is harming the health and function of the ocean and cryosphere in a number of ways. Glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking. Global sea level is rising at more than twice the rate of the 20th century. The ocean is warming, becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. Fifty percent of coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years. Species are shifting, biodiversity is declining and ecosystems are losing their integrity and function. The strain on the ocean and cryosphere has direct and indirect effects, threatening human health, food security, fresh water and livelihoods.

Same trends, new urgency

As a marine scientist and environmental policy scholar who’s worked in the Antarctic for the last 15 years, I wonder if any of this is really news. Earlier this week, the World Meteorological Organization reported similar findings: that the last five-year period has been the warmest on record, ice mass is decreasing, sea level is rising and CO2 emissions are at an all-time high.

Earlier this year, the world’s leading natural scientists released the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report which confirmed that biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services are deteriorating across the world. Last year the IPCC released a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with similarly dire predictions.

There are more details in this latest IPCC report on changes that have occurred in the past few decades. Since 1993, the rate of warming has likely more than doubled; the ocean has already soaked up between 20% and 30% of human-induced carbon emissions since the 1980s, altering the ocean water chemistry to make it more acidic; and marine heat waves have resulted in large-scale coral bleaching, which takes more than 15 years for corals to recover from.

The report notes that communities that live in close connection with coastal environments, small island nations, polar areas and high mountains are particularly vulnerable to changes, such as rising sea levels and shrinking glaciers. But communities in other areas are affected by ocean changes as well, such as through extreme weather events exacerbated by ocean warming.

This most recent report on the ocean and cryosphere is among dozens released during the last 30 years by the IPCC, but its message is the most bold and urgent to date: If the world’s nations do not act with urgency, we – and future generations – will suffer from these changes.

What can we do?

A relatively straightforward solution to curbing biodiversity loss, especially in the face of climate change, is expanding the global network of large-scale protected areas on land and ocean.

While highlighted by the report, the importance of this management practice is also old news. Protected areas have been implemented for years to conserve marine ecosystems, and are now being implemented across the world. Studies continue to show that strict protected areas, which limit or prohibit human use, safeguard biodiversity while also enhancing resilience to environmental impacts, including climate change. Indeed, high-profile initiatives like E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth Project argue that people must protect at least half of the planet to ensure human survival.

But protected areas are not enough. The report also highlights an even more challenging, yet crucial, component of the solution: Rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions must be achieved across institutional boundaries. The global nature of the issue demands a globally coordinated effort toward ambitious cuts in emissions.

The United Nations Climate Action Summit, which convened over the weekend of Sept. 22, intended to do just this. The goal of the meeting was to identify realistic plans toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% during the next decade and further to net-zero by 2050. Seventy-seven countries announced efforts toward net-zero emissions by 2050. Multiple businesses voiced intentions to follow Paris Agreement targets to reduce emissions.

Widespread climate strikes, led largely by young people, are also a sign of a broader social response to climate change.

But is this enough to stop the degradation of our ocean, cryosphere and larger Earth system?

History shows that communities do change and that crisis can drive breakthroughs. On an international scale, the world witnessed this with the Montreal Protocol, which banned a class of gases called CFCs and halted the deterioration of the ozone hole, driven in part by fear of cancer and other human health issues. Another international victory was achieved when, in the face of potential discord, including a threat of nuclear war, global governments signed the Antarctic Treaty. Doing so transformed the southern continent from a burgeoning scene of militarization to an international commons dedicated to peace and science.

While ecological tipping points have proved impossible to predict, I believe a social one is arriving. The new IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere makes clear that no action on climate change is not a viable path forward.

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The Way We Talk About Climate Change Matters

Boulder Weekly
by Angela K. Evans

The climate crisis has been making headlines recently, spurred by the worldwide youth climate strikes on Sept. 20 and U.N. Climate Summit on Sept. 23. Whether it’s been Greta Thunberg chastising U.N. leaders over inaction or the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report documenting the strain climate change is having on the Earth’s oceans, every day it’s something. But maybe that’s a good thing, says Max Boykoff, environmental studies professor and director of Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

“[Media] saturation has shown itself to change cultural perceptions in significant ways,” he says. “It’s really important to look back through time, look at the gay rights movement, look at movements for racial justice, look at women’s rights, looking at perceptions of world war, look at support for the Vietnam War — that saturation through the media forced sets of conversations, reflections, reconsiderations.”  

For the last 20 years or so, Boykoff has been researching how the media covers climate change and what effect it might have on public and political opinion and action. 

His work led to the creation of the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO) at CU Boulder, which tracks climate change coverage in roughly 100 news sources across TV, radio and print in 43 countries around the world. 

Climate change intersects with almost every aspect of people’s daily lives, Boykoff says — our lived attitudes, tensions, perspectives and behaviors. Therefore climate change shows up across a variety of themes in the media, not only in scientific reports, but also political, cultural, economic, ecological and meteorological stories as well. 

“Science is this really well worn pathway to knowing and learning and understanding climate change. And you know, we’ve made a lot of great progress scientifically understanding the changing climate and humans’ role in it,” he says. “But science is just a part of the stories that are told increasingly in the media landscape.” 

Boykoff and the team at MeCCO track the stories coming out of news outlets and publish their analysis in monthly reports. As of August 2019, coverage of climate change was up 83% around the world over a year ago. In the U.S., coverage has increased by 32% in that same time frame. Overall, Boykoff says, MeCCO has documented increasing coverage of climate change during the Trump administration, although not all of that coverage is positive. News reports of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and skipping out on climate talks accounts for at least some of the spike. While any coverage that mentions the climate crisis raises awareness, Boykoff’s research shows it’s not all effective in actually creating change.

In his most recent book, Creative (Climate) Communications, Boykoff explores the effectiveness of certain storytelling techniques and ways of discussing climate change in the hopes that productive communication around the topic will lead to more constructive engagement. 

Based on his research, Boykoff says the alarmist approach — “freaking people out” — has proven to raise awareness but falls short of compelling action. Books like The Uninhabitable Earth may sell well, he says, but they haven’t proven useful in moving the needle. 

“If your objective is to find common ground, move productively forward on confronting this issue, that’s shown to consistently not be helpful,” he says. 

Take, for example, coverage of the 2018 U.N. IPCC report warning that we have 12 years to reverse course to avert the worst impacts of climate change. 

“The report itself was very constructive,” he says. “Media accounts of it, though, are a different story.” 

Whereas the report detailed not only the severity of the climate situation but also actionable steps that will move us forward and bend the curve away from complete destruction, media reports were and continue to be more fatalistic. 

Reporting, appropriately, that we are in the middle of a climate crisis may be alarming, Boykoff says, but he makes a distinction between that and the alarmist approach which often leaves people feeling alienated and hopeless.  In fact, it may even lead to a sort of boomerang effect whereby people are overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue in such a way that paralyzes them from doing anything. This is where different communication strategies are key, Boykoff says — being authentic, accurate, trustworthy and aware of your audience is critical.

The conversations around climate change might be different if you’re talking to a group of environmental activists or you’re talking to hunting and fishing or more conservative communities, for example. But that doesn’t make these conversations less effective. 

“It’s about smartening up the way that we discuss these things,” Boykoff says. “It’s not dumbing it down for the public, it’s smartening up.” 

And it’s about addressing the issue through a variety of avenues, including performance art, music, fine art and even comedy. 

“You may not necessarily be into climate change or too preoccupied with the science, but if you’re a fan of comedy, increasingly you might start to hear about these things through comedic acts,” he says, citing examples like Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee. 

Boykoff has been researching this specifically through his work with Inside the Greenhouse, a project at CU Boulder that seeks to create interactive theater, film, fine art, performance art and television programming inspired by climate change. When it comes to comedy, Boykoff says, the results have been largely positive. 

“It’s lowered defenses,” he says. “It’s opened up kind of common ground for people to point out the incongruencies that we can then share and start to work on together.”

As the public becomes more engaged on a variety of levels with the climate crisis, the hope is that we can start to reverse course and avert the worst possibilities of our current trajectory. According to Boykoff, the media plays a role in that, and if media continues to grow its coverage of climate change, hopefully in both quantity and quality, then we might just reach a level of saturation that actually makes a difference. 

“I’m less worried about fatigue than I am about not discussing it enough,” Boykoff says. “Put simply, the scale of our response to date is nowhere near commensurate to the scale of the challenge that we face. We have a ways to go on that.”  

This story was published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story. 

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Moving From Awareness to Action: A Co-produced Creative Climate Change Curriculum

Photo: Patrick Chandler giving a talk at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research on September 25, 2019. Credit: Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey.

Today, Patrick Chandler, PhD student in Environmental Studies at CU Boulder and the 2019 Winner of the Radford Byerly Award in Science and Technology Policy gave a talk at our Center about how increasing science literacy and finding innovative methods to bridge communication barriers that surround environmental issues is a vital step in making progress on climate change. He spoke about how this work cannot stop with awareness but that we must provide pathways to action and support citizens in civic engagement. Combining art and science creates unique opportunities for doing this work. Patrick expanded the talk to discuss his recent art/science integration projects, methodologies, and community impact. His talk is now viewable on our website.

At this talk today, Cal Brackin, master illustrator and founder of On Board Innovations created the illustration below encapsulating Patrick’s talk.

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The Critical Role of Communities of Practice and Peer Learning in Scaling Hydroclimatic Information Adoption

by Rebecca Page and Lisa Dilling
Weather, Climate, and Society (September 2019)

Photo: The Colorado River winds through the Western Slope town of DeBeque, Colorado. Credit: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post.

Abstract: Significant effort has been put into advancing the use and usability of information products to support adaptation to drought and climate variability, particularly for the water supply sector. Evidence and experience show that advancing the usability of information through processes such as coproduction is time consuming for both providers and users of information. One challenge for boundary organizations and researchers interested in enhancing the usability of their information is how such processes might “scale” to all the potential organizations and individual managers that might possibly be able to benefit from improved climate information. This paper examines information use preferences and practices specifically among managers of small water systems in the Upper Colorado River basin, with an eye toward identifying new opportunities to effectively scale information usability and uptake among all water managers—regardless of location or capacity—in a resource-constrained world. We find that boundary organizations and other usable science efforts would benefit from capitalizing on the communities of practice that bind water managers together. Specifically, strategic engagement with larger, well-respected water systems as early adopters, supporting dissemination of successes and experiences with new information products among a broader community of water managers, and increasing well-respected water systems’ capacity to engage directly with rural systems may all serve as useful strategies to promote widespread distribution, access, and adoption of information. Read more …

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Max Boykoff on Having Conversations About Climate Change

Maxwell Boykoff was interviewed this week on having conversations about climate change:

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In Wake of Global Protests, UN Gathers to Debate Climate Change Solutions

ABC 6 On Your Side
by Stephen Loiaconi

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg lectured world leaders Monday on their failure to address the threat of climate change, days after she and others led millions of protesters in a global strike to raise awareness of the issue.

But environmentalists still face an uphill climb to spur the dramatic changes they say are necessary to save the planet from rising temperatures.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here,” Thunberg, 16, told representatives from more than 60 countries at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

The Swedish teen spoke during an event one U.N. official hyped as a pivotal moment for the global battle against climate change.

“We can use this summit as a slingshot toward further agreements that need to be reached in the climate negotiations, at the end of this year and at the end of 2020,” Rachel Kyte, special representative for sustainable energy, told ABC News.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened the session to advocate for more ambitious commitments from signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement ahead of climate negotiations set for next year. Promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made four years ago fall far short of what experts say will be required in the decades ahead to avert the most damaging effects of climate change.

“Don’t come to the summit with beautiful speeches,” Guterres said last month. “Come with concrete plans … and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Thunberg was even more direct, accusing the world’s governments of betraying future generations by ignoring established science and setting insufficient goals for emissions cuts.

“You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency,” she said Monday. “But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.”

Thunberg is also one of 16 petitioners in a legal complaint filed Monday with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child alleging Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey failed to curb emissions despite knowing for decades about the risks of climate change.

“The climate crisis is a children’s rights crisis,” said Scott Gilmore, a human rights lawyer at Hausfeld, the law firm representing the petitioners. “The current path of global warming will leave today’s children with an unlivable world.”

Monday’s events followed a weekend of high-profile climate activism with millions of protesters in cities around the world calling for a more aggressive response to climate change. Scientists say humans must limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, and that could require cuts in emissions three to five times larger than current commitments.

The U.N. also held its first Youth Climate Summit Saturday for activists between 18 and 29 years old. Britt Groosman, vice president of global climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, argued the passion of a new generation of leaders like Thunberg could change the climate debate.

“As global leaders, nonprofits and corporations convene for climate talks, there is an inescapable movement underway, fueled by youthful determination to change the course of our future,” Groosman wrote in a blog post.

Experts who study environmental activism say the worldwide protests Friday made a significant statement and called new attention to the cause, but no one protest event is going to shift the views of the public or policymakers about climate change.

“I think it is one pathway that increases public pressure for policy action,” said Max Boykoff, author of “Creative (Climate) Communications” and director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder. “It certainly isn’t going to be a silver bullet if you will. Rather, it’s one more piece of silver buckshot.” Read more …

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Antarctic Marine Protection Treaty Offers Lessons for Global Conservation

CU Boulder Today
by Trent Knoss

Photo above: Adélie penguins on the hunt off the coast of Antarctica. Credit: John B. Weller, www.johnbweller.com.

A landmark multinational agreement protecting Antarctica’s Ross Sea offers valuable lessons for similar global conservation pacts in the future, according to a new analysis coauthored by a CU Boulder researcher.

The Ross Sea region Marine Protection Area, which was adopted by the international community in October 2016 after more than five years of negotiations, preserves vital biodiversity in the Southern Ocean and has been praised for being the world’s largest marine protected area.

The hard-won agreement among 24 member nations and the European Union comprising the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources which manages the Southern Ocean was not without challenges, says CU Boulder’s Cassandra Brooks, but does show that conservation of the global commons is possible.

“The Ross Sea is one of the healthiest and richest marine ecosystems on Earth,” said Brooks, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies. “Its protection is an environmental win and a gift to humanity, but achieving the protection of the Ross Sea was also a diplomatic win which demonstrated that despite political tensions, governments can come together to conserve the global commons.” 

Emerging Threats

The Ross Sea and its neighboring Antarctic waters have historically been sheltered from human-fueled resource depletion due to their remote location and forbidding climate. Nevertheless, the region has been plagued in recent decades by a growing commercial fishery for Antarctic toothfish (sold as the lucrative Chilean sea bass) and climate change, which collectively threaten to damage the entire marine ecosystem. 

Across the world, marine protected areas have proved an effective tool for conserving biodiversity, including in the face of environmental change. Yet adopting these protected areas in international waters has proved immensely challenging. 

Photo: Sea stars huddle together under Antarctic ice. Credit: John B. Weller, www.johnbweller.com; NASA.

The tensions over protected areas in the Antarctic waters, which will inherently demand trade-offs in resources use, created a collective action problem amidst overlapping geopolitical and economic interests within the managing Commission. More than 12 countries actively fish in the Ross Sea, with others actively eyeing its rich resources. 

Further, seven countries (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom) have suspended sovereignty claims in Antarctica and two additional nations (Russia and the United States) reserve the right to claim the whole continent. In the Antarctic, countries must make decisions, including designating protected areas, based on unanimous consensus. 

And, Brooks says, the challenge of consensus-based decision-making is that any one party can block a measure from moving forward, with any nation able to unilaterally derail a negotiation.

“In these international spaces, we are working with diverse states with competing interests. There needs to be incentives to cooperate, but these incentives are not always aligned,” said Brooks.

Room For Hope

In reviewing the five-year negotiation period from 2012-16, Brooks notes all the ways that the talks could well have failed at various junctions: disputes and suspicions over historical sovereignty boundaries, entrenched positions, and ongoing geopolitical tensions, notably between the U.S., Russia and China.

“Ultimately, the success of the Ross Sea agreement hinged on finding levers of influence with diverse countries. Accommodating fishing interests was key but high-level diplomacy and opportunities for leadership potentially proved the most influential drivers,” said Brooks.

Achieving conservation agreement among other management organizations like the United Nations may prove far more difficult. The UN is currently negotiating a new treaty for managing biodiversity in international waters and some countries are looking to the Antarctic for guidance. But achieving agreement among the 193 countries that comprise the United Nations will be a greater challenge. 

Photo: Satellite view of the Ross Sea, which extends from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. Credit: John B. Weller, www.johnbweller.com; NASA.

“Leadership will continue to be key, as will finding trade-offs between incentives and values, solid science and coordination between governments,” said Brooks. 

Even in the case of the Ross Sea, its conservation value remains to be seen. The final agreement was a protected area that was 70% off limits to fishing, but still allowed fishing, including in some areas critical for wildlife. Further, the protected area is set to expire in 35 years—shorter than the life histories of some of the animals the protected area set out to preserve.

“Despite these compromises, the adoption of the Ross Sea region MPA demonstrates that the Antarctic continues to be an exceptional global commons dedicated to peace, science and conservation,” said Brooks. “It provides hope that we can come together as a global community and safegaurd places like the Ross Sea for the sake of future generations.”

The new research paper was recently published in the journal Conservation Letters and was coauthored by Larry Crowder of Stanford University; Henrik Österblom of Stockholm University and Aaron Strong of Hamilton University. The Price Fellowship, the Switzer Foundation, and Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources provided funding for the research.

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

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sam Brasch
CPR News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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