Congratulations to our 2018 CSTPR Grads!

Congratulations to the following 2018 CSTPR grads on successfully defending each of their theses!

John Berggren, PhD defense
Transitioning to a New Era in Western United States Water Governance: Examining Sustainable and Equitable Water Policy in the Colorado River Basin

Sofia Corley, Senior Honor’s Thesis in ENVS
Measuring Progress: Methods of Success in Endangered Species Conservation Programs

Marisa McNatt, PhD defense
Lessons Learned for U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Development: Case-Study Comparison of Offshore Wind Policy and Planning in Rhode Island and New Jersey

Lauren Gifford, PhD defense
See the Forest Through the Trees: Market-Based Climate Change Mitigation, Forest Carbon Offsets, and the Uneven Power of Carbon Accounting

Rebecca Page, MS defense
Finding New Ground for Advancing Hydro-Climatic Information Use and Adaptive Capacity Among Water Systems

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Science and Making Public Policy

The U.S. Department of State’s Office on International Visitors held a meeting on May 21 with University of Colorado and Israel delegates under the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program in May 2018 to discuss “Science and Making Public Policy”. CSTPR Director, Max Boykoff, participated in this meeting along with Hanit Lea Ben Ari, Eran Brokovich, Orit Raphaeli (Israel Ministry of Energy), Ruth Kiro (Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection), Uri Lerner (Consultant on Environment, Technology & policy), and Sharon Soroker (Head Energy). Meeting Objectives were: Better understanding of the regulatory mechanisms in the US, at all levels (Federal, State and municipal); development and future prospects of the energy sector; NGOs and civil involvement in policy and decision making; energy market stakeholder’s interactions, partnerships and conflicts; and environment energy nexus.

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The Role of Stories in the Policy Process: A Glimpse into the Narrative Policy Framework

by Juhi Huda, Ph.D. Candidate/Lead Graduate Teacher
Environmental Studies Program

You won’t stir up much controversy if you claimed that stories are important to human existence. Without stories, communication would not be possible or at least be difficult. These stories, often referred to as narratives, are indeed powerful and frequently used by policy actors to communicate information about policy issues. They are also relevant for groups engaged in influencing the policy process to achieve a desired policy outcome. A policy process framework that focuses on the influential role played by narratives in the policy process is the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) – a theoretically grounded framework used to understand policy process influences. It examines strategically-constructed stories that contain measurable elements and strategies that influence public opinion toward support for a particular policy preference. For example, policy scholars using the NPF have studied narratives of coalitions for and against installation of wind turbines off Nantucket in the United States (Shanahan et al. 2013) or the siting of a nuclear power plant in India (Gupta et al. 2014) among others.

A policy area ripe for exploration of its underlying narratives is agricultural biotechnology, which abounds in conflicting narratives from both camps – for and against the issue. Given the large mix of actors and stakeholders (including national, state, and local governments, scientists, farmers, non-profit organizations, and corporate sector actors), understanding the on-going debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops becomes a complex matter. All stakeholders involved in the policy debate – whether in support of GM crops or against them – claim to have scientific evidence that supports their respective policy positions. But policy decisions are not made solely on the basis of scientific evidence.

It is important to delve into other factors that are taken into account in the policy decision-making process and investigate questions such as – What factors influence public opinion on contentious scientific and policy issues? What are the social dimensions of scientific issues and scientific dimensions of social issues? And how do these and other relevant aspects lead to policy change? One way to get at these relevant factors is through exploring the varied narratives employed by different actors in the policy issue and studying the prevalence of these factors in their narratives.

Below, I provide a brief example from my research in which I use the Narrative Policy Framework to examine narratives in agricultural biotechnology policy in India. Through an analysis of the narratives used by stakeholders, I examine how the policy issue of the commercialization of Bt eggplant¹ – which was going to be India’s first GM food crop – is framed by opponents and supporters of the GM crop. One of the findings of the study is that more frequent use of evidence may not be associated with narrative strategies to successfully influence policy outcomes. Examining the narratives of supporters and opponents of the GM food crop, those in support of the GM food crop used more evidence as compared to those who opposed it. Yet the decision did not go in their favor. The matter, of course, is not that simple. Use of scientific evidence may not be singularly influential in the policy process, but it is important to explore what may be other factors that can be leveraged to gather support for a particular policy preference. An analysis of the narratives and the elements contained therein may help throw light on some of these factors.

1. This transgenic eggplant is created through the insertion of a gene cry1Ac from the soil bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis) into eggplant and is said to provide the plant with resistance against lepidopteran insects like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera).

Works Cited

Gupta, K., Ripberger, J. T., & Collins, S. (2014). The Strategic Use of Policy Narratives: Jaitapur and the Politics of Siting a Nuclear Power Plant in India. In M. D. Jones, E. A. Shanahan, & M. K. McBeth (Eds.), The Science of Stories: Applications of the Narrative Policy Framework in Public Policy Analysis (1st ed., pp. 89–106). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shanahan, E. A., Jones, M. D., McBeth, M. K., & Lane, R. R. (2013). An Angel on the Wind: How Heroic Policy Narratives Shape Policy Realities. Policy Studies Journal, 41(3), 453–483.

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Making Research Relevant for Decision Makers

CIRES News, May 2018

CIRES’ Western Water Assessment releases new usable science guide for researchers hoping for impact

Experts in NOAA/CIRES’ Western Water Assessment have released a new usable science guide to break down common barriers: research questions may not be targeted to resolve issues of most relevance to stakeholders, and research products such as publications or datasets are often inaccessible or impractical for use by non-experts. The handbook provides tested, tangible methods for researchers to produce useful science for those who write legislation, implement policy, manage natural resources or public resources, or manage their own business—bridging the gap between critical scientific research and constructive societal impact.

“To create usable research, we must deliberately make connections with decision makers throughout the path of our projects,” said Lisa Dilling, director of Western Water Assessment, associate director of CIRES’ Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, and CU Boulder associate professor in Environmental Studies. “This ensures the questions we are asking and the research we are producing are useful and relevant to the decisions at hand—whether in land management, health care, disaster prevention, or transportation planning.”

The guide features easy-to-follow steps, tools, and resources to improve usability. It also spotlights several CU Boulder researchers who have made their research usable and accessible to various sectors in society:

There’s Lise St. Denis in CIRES/CU’s Earth Lab who works on wildfire issues. She built trust and established early, meaningful connections with hazard-management decision makers to work toward a flexible, web-based fire risk-management interface that can be used by experts and non-experts alike.

And there’s Florence Fetterer, a National Snow and Ice Data Center researcher, who sought to improve sea-ice forecasts in the Arctic. She identified the specific operational needs of several external stakeholders, including the Naval Research Laboratory and U.S. National Ice Center, to drive her research forward.

How will YOU make your science usable to decision makers? Access the usable science guide online here. If the interest emerges, Dilling and her Western Water Assessment colleagues can give seminars on the topic of usable science; let her know you’re interested!

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Inside the Greenhouse Newsletter, Issue 10

Issue 10 | May 2018
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Moving forward in 2018, we at Inside the Greenhouse continue our work to meet people where they are and ‘re-tell climate change stories’ from a range of perspectives. Through this commitment we seek to help make sense of 21st century climate challenges. As a key part of our ongoing efforts, we remain steadfast in our commitment to help students build confidence and competence in order to deepen our understanding of how to effectively address issues associated with climate change.

Below you’ll find some updates regarding our ongoing research, teaching and engagement over these first months of the year. Visit our website for further details as well.

We continue to carry out these projects through wonderful collaborations and partnerships linking campus and community as well as the local with the global. Your support is vital to our ongoing efforts. Please visit the Inside the Greenhouse Gift Fund to provide a tax-deductible gift. We are grateful for contributions in any amount.

Up with hope,
Beth Osnes, Rebecca Safran and Max Boykoff
(Inside the Greenhouse co-directors)

Course Spotlight

This Spring 2018 semester at CU Boulder, Beth Osnes taught the second course in our two course Inside the Greenhouse series. The interdisciplinary course is called ‘Creative Climate Communications’ and is cross-listed between the Environmental Studies program, the Department of Theatre and Dance, and the CU Boulder Atlas Institute. Patrick Chandler helped as our Teaching Assistant while Barbara McFerrin (alum from the 2014-2015 Inside the Greenhouse course series) worked as our More Than Scientists composition coordinator.

This year Beth cast the net wide to imagine creative engagement strategies for interactive climate communication. Students did a class activity creating an artistic installation in a hallway of ATLAS, taking turns outlining each other’s bodies, and then adding on features to connect themselves with the natural world.

This participatory activity was designed to demonstrate how they conceptualize themselves as part of the natural environment for which they advocate. Read more…

Event Spotlight

We are in our second year of a partnership with Boulder-based Recycled Runway. Recycled Runway is a program that works with young designers to build their competence and confidence in design and sustainability. On April 10th, Recycled Runway held their 9th annual fashion showcase at the sold-out Boulder Theater.

In the partnership this year, ITG alumna Barbara MacFerrin worked to produce three videos: two promotional videos (see promo one & promo two) and one showcase piece that aired at the start of the event, to help open the show. Together, these videos have helped tell stories of how young Recycled Runway designers worked with recycled materials to create sustainable fashion sewn in with creative expression.

At the wildly successful April event at, the designers presented their original garments that were comprised of found and recycled materials. The event at the Boulder Theatre brought out the community in full force to celebrate this innovate approach towards sustainable living. Read more…


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Learning from Colorado’s 2013 Floods: Decisions, Processes, and Outcomes Four Years Later

Elizabeth Koebele (Assistant Professor at University of Nevada Reno), former CSTPR graduate student and RA on the flood project, presents at the concluding stakeholder workshop for flood study participant communities in September 2017.

by Deserai Crow, School of Public Affairs, CU Denver and CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Elizabeth Albright, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

Nearly five years ago this coming fall, a stationary storm settled on Colorado’s Front Range foothills, dropping more than 16 inches of rain over 72 hours in some places. Flash flooding along foothills communities (Boulder, Lyons, Longmont, Estes Park, and Loveland, among others) occurred within hours. As the flood waters moved east, Colorado’s plains communities (Evans and Greeley, among others) were impacted.

Communities, households, and individuals are vulnerable to floods due to factors such as human development and changing weather patterns associated with climate change. Local governments focus much of their preparedness attention on emergency response, such as evacuation and restoration of utilities, and may assume that those skills can translate into longer-term disaster recovery.

However, during disaster recovery, local governments are faced with a myriad of policy challenges, from repairing and replacing infrastructure to broader questions of reducing vulnerability to future hazards, which must be dealt with over months and years with no clear path toward ‘success’.

Understanding how local governments respond to a disaster and plan for the future is critical to consider in order to determine whether experiencing a disaster results in safer and more resilient communities. Our work is focused on what leads to increased community resilience to future disasters. We have spent the last four years focused on understanding how communities, the public, and governments can learn from disasters.

Resilience, as we define it in our study, is seen when communities learn to adapt to hazards they face, encourage feedback and learning among and from residents, and make decisions with future risks and goals in mind. The goal of our study is to help communities learn how to improve recovery decisions that decrease their vulnerability to a wide variety of hazards and prepare for future disasters that may strike. Hazards in this case include flood risk, but can also include natural, human-made, accidental, economic, or other risks that communities face. The difference between ongoing vulnerability to hazards and long-term resilience may, in part, depend on learning from and adaptating to disaster risks in local communities. Residents and decision makers who understand the factors that increase the likelihood of successful resilience policy may be more likely to develop long-term local-level adaptability and resilience.

While communities learn most dramatically from their own experience with disasters, we believe our research can help communities that face myriad hazards establish processes that can mitigate their risk for future disasters. Based on our research findings, we presented the following recommendations to local governments working on disaster recovery planning at a fall workshop with our research participants.

Risk Perception, Communication, and Community Participation

  1. Conduct a disaster recovery planning process similar to existing disaster preparedness processes including the processes and personnel that will guide recovery.
  2. Develop a forum to bring together leaders of existing neighborhood and community groups to facilitate conversations about including a diversity of residents in planning and advocacy, identifying important mitigation/recovery resources, and partnering with the local government and other organizations on recovery goals.
  3. Maintain an on-going dialogue between local officials and community members to facilitate an in-depth understanding of local hazard risks and risk reduction strategies, focused on using multiple methods of communication and education targeted at specific segments of the community (e.g., children, older adults, immigrants).
  4. Capitalize on residents’ direct experiences with hazards to learn more about potential high-risk areas; incorporate these residents into the process of developing risk reduction tools such as hazard maps.
  5. Make risk maps available to the public, using simple color-coding or other systems, so that individuals can clearly see their own risk as well as their neighborhood and community risks.

Needs of Diverse Communities

  1. Seek assistance from faith-based organizations and community non-profits that are already working with residents who face barriers to accessing government aid programs and decision-making processes.
  2. Work across governmental departments (such as human services, health, animal control, and code enforcement) to find points of positive engagement with residents regarding risk and resilience, including developing both an emergency plan and a recovery plan to work with their constituents and identify segments that may be most affected by a disaster.
  3. Identify existing relationships in the community – both organizations and individuals – who will be important points-of-contact after a disaster to assist and communicate with various segments of the population, rather than relying only on government-run or established leadership.

Financial and Budgetary Planning

  1. Incorporate disaster finance planning in all government departments rather than sequestering the skills only within a single department. Consider requiring an existing training module (or developing a more robust module for communities within a single state) for emergency managers and financial and procurement staff, to train them in the requirements for response and recovery documentation.
  2. Determine an appropriate level of budget reserves and clearly document the justification for this level so future government staff and elected officials have insight into past budgetary decisions.
  3. Develop pre-disaster relationships and formal partnerships (e.g., MOUs) between larger and smaller capacity governments to aid smaller communities, including with fiscal management, during disasters.

The full report of our project findings is available at our project website. Our hope is that local governments can use the recommendations to move towards a more resilient state in the face of ongoing and increasing hazards.

Drs. Crow and Albright thank the study participants who gave generously of their time over three years, collaborator Dr. Todd Ely, and research assistants Dr. Lydia Lawhon, Dr. Elizabeth Koebele, Dr. Jack Zhou, Corrie Hannah, and Daniel Kojetin. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and pilot data were collected through a quick response grant from CU’s Natural Hazards Center.

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Ogmius, Issue 49 is Now Out

Issue #49, Spring 2018

Tax Reforms, Tuition Waivers, and the Role of Policy-Relevant Knowledge Production in a Contemporary Society by Steve Vanderheiden

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, December 2, the Senate passed its long-anticipated tax reform bill, having circumvented the filibuster-proof supermajority requirements routinely used to obstruct ordinary legislation when Democrats controlled the chamber with a 51-49 majority. In announcing the vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked that he was “totally confident” that the bill would be at least revenue-neutral, and that he personally believed “that it’s going to be a revenue producer” (Tankersley, Kaplan and Rappeport 2017).

The basis for such a belief is unclear. The Joint Committee on Taxation, which was established in 1926 to assist legislators in “making objective and informed decisions with respect to proposed revenue legislation,” projected that the bill would add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit over a decade, after accounting for any economic stimulus effects.

Only one Senator crossed party lines, with Bob Corker (R-TN) opposing the bill on stated fears that this congressional advisory body might possibly be correct in its estimates.  According to analysts, his 51 Senate colleagues voting for the bill rejected the findings of the institution’s in-house and non-partisan experts “because they felt burned by unflattering analyses of their health care proposals issued this year by the Congressional Budget Office” (Tankersley, Kaplan and Rappeport 2017).

The message sent by McConnell and his fellow congressional Republican colleagues was clear: rather than seeking to make “objective and informed decisions” about public policy, where facts and evidence inform legislative decision-making and relevant forms of expertise are valued for their contributions to the understanding of such facts, questions such as the budget impact of tax cuts are to be settled by reference only to the personal beliefs of individual politicians. Where unbiased expertise becomes an obstacle to partisan or ideological objectives, expertise itself is to be denigrated and cast aside, to be replaced by whatever personal beliefs accommodate the interests of the nation’s donor class. Critics have lamented this “post-truth” turn in U.S. politics and public life as endemic to the Trump era (See, for example, The Economist 2016; Bomey 2018). CSTPR founding Director Roger Pielke, Jr. has actually chronicled that the politicization of science has a longer history. Read more …

Fostering Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: Opportunities at the State Level by Matthew Druckenmiller

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

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

On the Ground Learning Over Spring Break: Law Students Travel the Colorado Plateau by Alice Madden

None of us would have guessed that the most impactful part of an eight-day, adventure filled field-trip around the Four Corners area would be a short walk around a mesa in northeastern Arizona. But that was before we met Nicole Horseherder.

Let me backup. I have the pleasure of teaching the Advanced Natural Resources Seminar at the Law School this Spring. Initiated by Prof. Charles Wilkinson 30 years ago, this unique seminar examines issues facing a specific geographic area and culminates with a field-trip. Past seminars have studied important watersheds across the southwest, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the Grand Canyon.

This year, we studied the Colorado Plateau—these canyons and high deserts are home to more national parks and monuments than any place in the world. Native American Tribes hold one-third of the land. From Durango to the shadows of Bears Ears, from Glen Canyon Dam to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, through Monument Valley and the expanses of Hopi and Navajo lands – we racked up over 1,300 miles meeting with federal land managers, Native Americans, environmental organizations, land trusts, and others who shared what they know about this unique landscape.

Throughout the semester, 12 law students learned about the area’s history, culture, and current challenges such as a raging public land debate, habitat loss, grazing, increased aridity, electricity production, drilling, and mining. But walking on Nicole’s ancestral lands with her nine year-old son and 14 year-old daughter is what put everything into perspective. Read more …

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: Most Pronounced Increase in Media Coverage in North America (+19%)

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
April 2018 Summary

April media attention to climate change and global warming was up 6% throughout the world from the previous month of March 2018. Newspaper coverage in Oceania went up 8%, and North America increased 19%. Central/South America dropped 19%, while coverage in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East held relatively steady. At the country level in April 2018, newspaper coverage went down compared to March in Spain (-4%), India (-7%) and Germany (-6%). It was up in the other countries monitored: Canada (+17%), the United Kingdom (UK) (+7%), Australia (+4%), New Zealand (+14%) and the United States (+20%). Meanwhile, US television coverage increased 26% from the previous month, while the six world radio sources monitored more than doubled from coverage in the previous month.

Global newspaper counts were about a quarter though of those (73% less) from counts a year ago (April 2017), when a great deal of global media attention was focused on the Trump Administration’s dispositions towards the Paris Climate Agreement. For example, journalist Coral Davenport of The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump intends to make a decision before the Group of Seven (G7) meeting in May 2017 on whether or not the US will follow through with its commitments under the Agreement. Davenport suggested that President Trump’s policy advisors are urging him to keep the US committed, while journalists Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis at The Washington Post reported that US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt was lobbying for withdrawal. Meanwhile, both the ‘March for Science’ and the ‘People’s Climate March’ garnered significant coverage in April 2017. The ‘March for Science’ included a large demonstration in Washington D.C., but similar protests took place in hundreds of cities across the U.S. and around the world. The Bangkok Post reported that Australia, New Zealand, and Germany also saw large turnouts as part of the ‘March for Science’.

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

Moving to considerations of content of climate change or global warming coverage in April 2018, Figure 2 shows word frequency data at the country levels in global newspapers and radio, juxtaposed with US newspapers and US television in April 2018. It is notable that the US-based media sources still continue to show signs of ‘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)). And as in previous months, content in media reporting outside the US context shows that this pattern of news reporting continues to be limited to the US. To illustrate, April 2018 news articles related to climate change or global warming in the US invoked ‘Trump’ 2498 times through the 426 stories this month (a ratio of nearly 6 times per article on average) in The Washington PostThe Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesUSA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In US television sources of ABCCBSCNNFox News NetworkMSNBC, and NBC, Trump was mentioned 3198 times in 91 news segments (a whopping 35 mentions per segment on average). In contrast, in the UK press, Trump was mentioned in the Daily Mail & Mail on SundayThe Guardian & The ObserverThe SunThe Daily Telegraph & The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mirror & Sunday MirrorTheScotsman & Scotland on Sunday, and The Times & The Sunday Times 735 times in 557 April articles (approximately 1.3 mentions per article on average). As has been noted in previous MeCCO summaries, however, these current trends can quickly change, contingent on Trump Administration actions (or lack thereof) that could influence media attention on climate change or global warming.

Many media accounts in April focused on primarily political content associated with climate change and global warming. For example, US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt earned a great deal of media attention (and scrutiny) for a range of accusations of inappropriate conduct and reckless spending of tax dollars. Among a number of outlets covering these stories in April, journalist Jacqueline Alemany from CBS News reported that “EPA chief Scott Pruitt met with lobbyist Steven Hart, who rented Pruitt a condo in Washington, D.C., for $50 a night … Hart’s lobbying firm, Williams & Jensen, revealed in a filing that Hart was a registered lobbyist for Smithfield Foods in the first quarter of 2018. According to emails obtained by CBS News, Hart and Smithfield Foods executive Dennis Treacy met with Pruitt in July 2017.” This and other allegations earned him a series of hearings in the US Congress later in the month, as reported by Louise Radnovsky and Heidi Vogt of The Wall Street Journal.

As another example of political content, though outside the US, BBC journalist David Shukman reported on the landmark agreement made at the International Maritime Organization talks, to cut emissions of greenhouse gases in the global shipping industry. Shukman noted that “shipping generates roughly the same quantity of greenhouse gas as Germany and, if it were accounted for as a nation, would rank as the world’s sixth biggest emitter. Like aviation, it had been excluded from climate negotiations because it is an international activity while both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement involved national pledges to reduce greenhouse gases”.

Meanwhile in April, coverage relating primarily to the cultural dimensions continued to draw attention. To illustrate, journalist Ryan Miller from USA Today reported on marches for science around the world, commencing April 14th. The article characterized the second annual gatherings as “500 marches worldwide to send one clear message to public officials: that evidence-based policy decisions are critical and science should not be ignored”. Journalist Susan Svrluga from The Washington Post profiled a number of marchers and their motivations, while also noting that the “March for Science’s evolution over the past year has included transforming into a nonprofit with a broader mission: to support science and research policy through campaigns, outreach and marches”.

Media stories also intersected with scientific as well as ecological and meteorological issues across the globe in April 2018. For example, journalist Ben Smee from The Guardian reported on a new study in Nature that found that nearly a third of coral in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia died during a marine heatwave in 2016 associated with climate change. The study’s lead author Dr. Terry Hughes nonetheless offered a hopeful comment in saying that “the Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not doomed if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions. Our study shows that coral reefs are already shifting radically in response to unprecedented heatwaves.”

As May arrives and the tripod drops and the Nenana Ice Classic in Alaska ends, winter in the Northern Hemisphere draws to a close. Throughout the indications of the changing seasons, MeCCO will continue to track the ebbs and flows of climate change or global warming coverage in 74 media sources (newspapers, radio and TV) in 38 countries in seven different regions around the world. So stay tuned for further updates.

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

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Winners Announced for 2018 Comedy & Climate Change Video Competition

Humor is a tool underutilized, and comedy has the power to effectively connect with people about climate change issues.

Inside the Greenhouse held a competition to harness the powers of climate comedy through compelling, resonant and meaningful videos.

Here are the 2018 winners:

First Place

Peer Review (United Kingdom)
by Madeleine Finlay and Sarah Barfield Marks

Runner Up

Recipe for Disaster (Ireland)
by Emmet Sheerin

Third Place

S**t Environmentalists Say (United States)
by Matthew Cohen

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Is Transparency the Best Disinfectant?

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

Transparency, it is often said, acts as a disinfectant. “Sunshine” laws that require proceedings of government agencies to be made available to the public allow for oversight of and accountability for state actions. Information disclosure laws, like those requiring polluters to report their emissions or political advocacy groups the sources of their funding, can do the same for private actors. By making certain actions or relationships visible, we hope that publicity will encourage good behavior.

But what if it doesn’t, at least on its own? And what needs to accompany that information, in order to make it usable by its target audience? Scholars of “informational governance” have been asking these questions in recent years, given trends toward reliance upon disclosure and transparency rather than more regulatory approaches to environmental protection.

The shift from centrally-prescribed and binding greenhouse gas emission reductions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the non-binding and decentralized Nationally Determined Contributions to global mitigation efforts under the 2015 Paris Agreement offers one example of this trend. Carbon reporting on items sold in British supermarkets offer another. Both expect the publicity of information about emissions to provide an incentive for better environmental performance, whether because states wish to avoid being shamed for their overly modest NDCs or consumers wish to reduce their personal carbon footprints. Both have invited some deserved criticism of informational governance, and both point to important answers to those questions posed above.

While the Paris Agreement has been widely celebrated as a political success, having developed a treaty framework for multilateral cooperation on climate change, critics have noted an “ambition gap” in the submitted NDCs. Even if all major emitters complied with their Paris pledges – which now looks unlikely in the case of the United States, since the submitted decarbonization targets depended upon the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and automobile fuel economy standards, both of which are currently in legal and administrative limbo – the sum total of these mitigation efforts would be insufficient to maintain the treaty’s official goal of preventing warming in excess of 2 degrees C. While disclosure and transparency may promote some level of ambition and provide some enforcement through reputational accountability, as the threat of shaming provides some pressure, that same threat can also deter higher levels of ambition, as governments don’t want to announce targets that they cannot reach.

Carbon labels on products sold in supermarkets like Tesco in Britain illustrate another challenge in the reliance upon information to incentivize environmental performance. Certainly, the sort of product life cycle analysis needed to determine the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk or container of tofu offers benefits to producers and consumers. As advocates of “ecological modernization” often note, this kind of audit can often allow producers to identify and eliminate sources of waste in their supply chains, and reducing the carbon used in transport of food from grower to supermarket shelf can save money while also reducing climate impacts. Likewise, consumers concerned about their own carbon footprints can make more informed choices about their dietary habits and food purchases, when armed with this kind of information. However, as critics have now aptly demonstrated, food miles (the main source of carbon in grocery products) are only one component of sustainable food systems, whereas the carbon label implies a more comprehensive indicator of a product’s sustainability than it can in fact offer. By presenting consumers with only one indicator, other pertinent facts that might be used to make more informed food choices are obscured, with greater transparency of one kind ironically making other relevant information more opaque. As scholars and critics have also noted, prompting consumers to choose locally-produced food over otherwise sustainable but distantly sourced food that had provided economic opportunity to economically marginalized farmers through agricultural export markets.

The answers to those questions posed above, and lessons learned by scholars of informational governance, are several. We ought to recognize the potential value of information gathering and dissemination without overestimating its power to alter behavior on its own, pairing it with other policy tools where necessary and appropriate.  Disclosure and transparency can sometimes work as a substitute for regulation, but elsewhere is more effect as a complement to it. Additionally, we must take more care in balancing the need for credible and usable information on the one hand and a more comprehensive or holistic picture from that information on the other. Too much information can become unmanageable, but too little can be misleading. Getting the right amount, and presenting it in a usable format and maintaining its actionability and credibility can be challenging, but we can learn from our successes and failures.

Transparency, that is, is not the kind of disinfectant that you can always just spray onto a problem area and watch the magic bubbles scrub away the germs and grime on its own, but can make the cleaning job easier for us when used appropriately.

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