New Funding to Support Interdisciplinary Research on Landscape Change and Population Mobility

CSTPR faculty affiliate, Amanda Carrico’s Environment and Behavior Lab at CU Boulder recently received a $1.5M grant from the NSF’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems program. The project System Dynamics Related to Livelihood, Human Migration, and Landscape Evolution will examine how coastal dynamics and land use change influence migration in Bangladesh.

This interdisciplinary research project will examine the relationships among river and coastal processes, landscape dynamics, and human activities and migration in a densely populated river delta. It will enhance understanding of the scales and associations among physical and human system dynamics, including complex feedback loops among those systems. The project will identify how these relationships shift over time, and it will provide new insights regarding the ways in which variable river discharge or land modifications by humans may influence system interactions in the future. The project will yield a diverse set of products that will have future value in both basic and applied research contexts, including data about migration, livelihood activities, land-use, and adaptation from communities living on a shifting coastline; detailed characterization of the role of land-water governance in shaping both contemporary and historical social-biophysical dynamics within river deltas, and open-source computer models of migration and landscape patterns that emerge in an environment where land is constantly created and destroyed. The project will provide valuable interdisciplinary education and training opportunities for graduate students. Other educational activities related to the research will involve students in comparable regions of the U.S. and Bangladesh.

River deltas are complex systems facing the challenge of balancing sustainable development, resource use, and land security in a continually shifting environment. As land and economic opportunities are created (and sometimes destroyed) through evolving landscape dynamics, risks from floods and conflicts over land tenure are intensified, forcing community upheaval and migration. The investigators will use an interdisciplinary approach that integrates household- and community-level surveys, qualitative interviews, collection of sedimentological and geochemical field data, time-series analyses of landscape and institutional change, and scenario modeling. They will combine established empirical methods in the social sciences and the earth sciences with computational modeling to study coupled dynamics of human activity and environmental change in rural communities living along channels in a low-lying delta, where sediment deposition and erosion create a constantly changing landscape. The investigators will focus on population movement as a crucial process on the human side of these coupled dynamics. They will characterize different types of migration as responses to environmental and socioeconomic stress and to opportunities related to changing environmental conditions. The impacts of migration on livelihood activities, which in turn affect the physical environment through land use, also will be assessed. With respect to physical systems, sediment transport, and the rates of deposition and erosion will be a central focus, because the creation or destruction of agricultural and homestead land are expected to strongly affect migration dynamics, particularly as changing climatic regimes produce unpredictable precipitation and flooding patterns. Observational data about the changing biophysical landscape and human activity will be integrated in coupled agent-based and sediment transport models to explore the role of migration as a potential adaptation to climatic stress and as a source of resilience in vulnerable populations. Although the bulk of the project will focus on dynamic interactions among biophysical and human systems in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta of Bangladesh, project findings will have relevance for other densely settled deltas around the world, including the Mississippi River delta of the southern U.S. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

To learn more about this project please check out more at the Environment and Behavior Lab’s website.

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MeCCO Monthly Summary for August 2017

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
August 2017 Summary

August media attention to climate change and global warming marked a second consecutive month of lower coverage throughout the world. Articles were down 20% globally from coverage in the previous month of July. While August 2017 counts from fifty-two sources across twenty-eight countries in seven regions around the world were up 7% from coverage in August 2016, coverage in the month was also down about 20% from the average number of stories appearing each month in 2017 (approximately 2300 stories per month from January – August 2017).

In the United States (US) media, political inputs clearly influenced the content of coverage. Significant attention during the last month continued to be on events and developments associated with the US Trump Administration. Figure 2 shows frequency of words in articles across the US and in the UK in August 2017. In the US press, Trump was invoked 3046 times through the 532 stories this month in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In the UK press, Trump was mentioned in the Daily Mail & Mail on Sunday, Guardian & The Observer, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mirror & Sunday Mirror, the Scotsman & Scotland on Sunday, and the Times & Sunday Times a combined 987 times in 446 August articles. This effectively continued the ‘Trump Dump’ that was mentioned in previous summaries and that has been detected since January 2017.

Looking further into coverage, hurricane Harvey – making landfall on US soil in Texas on August 25th as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph – grabbed significant coverage relating to ecological and meteorological issues. In US media, the city of ‘Houston’ was invoked along with articles on climate change or global warming 3523 times, ‘hurricane’ was mentioned 1202 times and ‘Harvey’ was noted explicitly 1933 times. The ecological/meteorological event garnered a great deal of article content in the UK press as well, as the city of ‘Houston’ was cited 3116 times, ‘Harvey’ was mentioned 1431 times and ‘hurricane’ was explicitly referenced 1202 times as well.

The content of coverage of hurricane Harvey discussed the ‘unprecedented’ nature of the storm that left trillions of tons of water in Texas. A number of articles focused on the extreme precipitation event in a short period of time, while some articles discussed links with the physics of the atmosphere and oceans (where warmer air could hold more water and where warmer water could provide increased energy for the storm). For example, Dr. Kenneth Kunkel from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies told Lisa Friedman and John Schwartz of The New York Times that warmer ocean temperatures associated with a changing climate likely fed the deluge. Other articles focused on impacts from the storm, including human displacement and suffering as well as explosions of industrial chemical plants near Houston due to flooding and electrical power failures.

Further coverage of ecological and meteorological dimensions of climate change in August 2017 were tethered to record-breaking flooding in South Mumbai, India. Amrit Dhillon from The Guardian reported that the devastating flood event was part of a larger and unprecedented monsoon season in south Asia that is said to have adversely impacted more than 40 million people (with over 1,2000 feared dead) across India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Reporting on wildfires in the Pacific Northwest of the US along with fires in the formerly frozen tundra of Greenland also dotted the August landscape of media reporting on climate change or global warming.

Bridging to media coverage of scientific dimensions of climate change in August 2017, a new study of deaths by extreme weather events in Europe (southern Europe in particular) generated a number of media accounts. This study from the journal Lancet Planetary Health found that over 150,000 people annually could die by 2100 – 99% of them due to extreme heat – if no mitigation and/or adaptation strategies are deployed to address vulnerability associated with climate change. Another study reported on by Damian Carrington from The Guardian in Science Advances found that as much as 30% of South Asia could face “dangerous and unsurvivable humid heat waves” in a changing climate without mitigation and/or adaptation measures taken. Through modeling scenarios, researchers Im, Pal and Eltahir also found that 1 in 25 year extreme heat waves could become annual heat waves in an area where the paradox of climate change – that those at the forefront of climate impacts are not those that contributed to the problem – rings as true as anywhere on planet Earth. Read more …

Figure caption: Word clouds showing frequency of words invoked in media coverage of climate change or global warming in the United States (on left) and the United Kingdom (on right) in August 2017. Data are from five US sources (The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times) and seven UK sources (the Daily Mail & Mail on Sunday, Guardian & The Observer, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mirror & Sunday Mirror, the Scotsman & Scotland on Sunday, and the Times & Sunday Times).

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Former Obama Advisor on Climate, Energy to Give Lecture Sept. 28

CU Boulder Today
September 14, 2017

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a lecture by Brian Deese Sept. 28. Deese, currently a senior fellow at Harvard University, is the former senior advisor on climate and energy for the Obama administration.

Deese is an economic and clean energy expert who counseled the president and shaped policy on conservation, energy, financial regulation, job creation and the economic impact of healthcare reform. For eight years, he was the president’s point person on important challenges such as restructuring the American auto industry and securing the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement. He also acted as principal negotiator of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and oversaw the Supreme Court nomination process of Judge Merrick Garland.

Bringing perspectives gained from the White House inner circle and the center of major legislative and budget negotiations, Deese will provide an insider’s outlook on subjects relating to science and technology policy research as they relate to the future of our planet.

“We are really looking forward to Brian’s talk. His work in Washington D.C. on issues like the financial crisis, health care, environmental protection, climate policy and bipartisan budget legislation will make his keynote talk a great way to celebrate 15 years as a center,” said CSTPR Director Max Boykoff.

The event will be free and open to the public. Tickets can be secured on a first-come first-served basis.

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research is a program of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU Boulder.

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Straight Talk: The Superfan

Elevation Outdoors
September 6, 2016

We usually profile a big-name athlete or luminary in this department, but this issue we wanted to find out what makes the typical Elevation Outdoors reader tick. We looked across the state, but it turned out that one of our most faithful readers was right under our noses here in Boulder (full confession, he’s my neighbor). Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey and his family always show up at EO community events, including our Boulder Creek Cleanup with Front Range Anglers and our group campout and trail maintenance day with the U.S. Forest Service this summer. Osborne-Gowey, 41, grew up in southern Oregon, the son of a logger, and an accountant, and moved to Colorado with his family—wife Cat and children, Finn, 11, and little Jeremiah, 7—in 2014 to pursue an interdisciplinary PhD in environmental studies (he holds degrees in fisheries and wildlife and public policy). He describes himself as a Renaissance man: homebrewer, forager, passionate fly and tenkara angler, boatbuilder, default statistician, blogger, Tweeter, community organizer and so much more. Here’s what he had to say about being named our superfan.

What do you love about Elevation Outdoors magazine?

The feature articles cover such varied topics and interests, all relevant to our connection to the outdoors and each other. I love “The Trail” column for the nuts-and-bolts tips on local places to go exploring and the ViewRanger downloadable trail maps (these are the best). And how can I forget all the great gear reviews? Strange as it may sound, I also love the advertisements for all the great local events. I find so many events to attend just from skimming the magazine for these ads.

Our whole family enjoys reading the down-to-earth, practical articles packed full of insights and tips. Often when exploring, we find ourselves adding places along the path as a result of having read about them in EO. Case in point, we’re headed to see the Great American Eclipse of 2017 in the northwest corner of the Nebraska panhandle. We would have never thought to vacation in Nebraska were it not for an excellent EO piece about places to go exploring there. And we love the socially and environmentally conscious prose in the magazine. Really, you just cannot beat the wealth of outdoor info, tips and insights, reviews and the variety of quality articles and photos in EO. And it’s free to boot.

What matters most to you when it comes to the outdoors and the environment?

“There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.” This quote from Aldo Leopold epitomizes my life. I get such a sense of fulfillment, a feeling of being fully alive, from feeling connected to the natural world. It feels so delightfully infectious. I get this deep sense of “rightness” when I’m interacting with nature, as a part of it, rather than set apart from it. My enthusiasm is bolstered when I see others get a sense of awe and wonder and curiosity from being in the great outdoors.

How do you try to make a positive impact on the outdoor world? How do we need to adapt to protect and preserve it?

Perhaps the greatest positive impact I can have is in fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world in others. And what better place to start than with the children, teaching them about these senses, developing within them an attitude of gratitude and commitment to act responsibly and justly, to think about future generations? I often take children and adults alike out in the wild to teach them about foraging, and the natural history of the area, hoping my sense of awe is infectious in them. A changed perspective can lead to changed behaviors. Changed behaviors can lead to changed systems. Read more …

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The Term ‘Climate Change’ Isn’t Working Anymore

by Alex Lee (CSTPR alumni and former STP Certificate Instructor)

High Country News
September 7, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead.

While dropping the word “climate” may seem like a defeat for those of us who remain convinced that human influences are harming the global environment, this federal directive made in the spirit of changing the narrative might be good advice. Could it be that the term itself has failed us?

Suppose for a moment you are in a restaurant and someone yells, “Help, she’s having a heart attack!” Being a good person, you would no doubt spring into action, call 9-1-1, look for aspirin or a defibrillator, and so on.

Suppose that same person had instead yelled, “Help, she’s having a myocardial infarction!” You would probably react the same way, but wouldn’t you perhaps pause for just a second? Unless you’re a medical professional, wouldn’t you first have to engage in some type of internal translation? I would. The ailing woman might get better care at a hospital with such detailed wording, but the immediate danger she faces in the restaurant hides behind the wrong language.

Here’s the problem: Although most Americans today say that climate change is a real and serious issue, most probably don’t understand what the term climate means. The difference between climate and weather, the moving target of climate averages, and the intangibility of climate experience all make climate a problematic word to rally around. I know the Northwest has a rainy climate, and because I experience getting wet frequently, I know in my bones that this is true. But alas, the word “climate” can become jargon.

Yes, the climate is changing, but it is an acute global environmental crisis — global warming — that is touching the realities of daily life for millions of people around the world.

Houston, Texas, just turned into a gigantic and growing lake. Furnace Creek, California, the hottest place on earth, posted its hottest July on record. Unprecedented peat fires burn in Greenland, extreme weather events across the globe abound, and they are tied not just to generalized climate change but directly to heat. The term “global warming” comes with baggage stuffed full of 30 years of politics, but for now it is the best we have. Read more …

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Exploring the Multiple Subjectivities of Forest Carbon Offsets

What is a forest carbon offset, anyway?
by Lauren Gifford

Lauren Gifford is a PhD candidate in Geography. She was the first recipient of the Radford Byerly, Jr. Award in Science and Technology Policy. She used the grant, in part, to support summer dissertation research in Grand Lake Stream, Maine, and will share some of her research findings at the CSTPR seminar series on September 13, 2017.

Within geography, I identify as a critical political ecologist who uses science and technology studies (STS) to broadly ask how, and by whom, climate and conservation policies are enacted. I focus primarily on forest carbon offsets, conserved forestlands that “offset” industrial greenhouse gas emissions. These forest offsets are translated into credits and traded on carbon markets as representations of avoided GHG emissions and are used by countries and companies to balance administrative carbon budgets. My research focuses on carbon offset projects in Maine that sell carbon credits to California’s cap and trade market. My dissertation explores how a mechanism originally designed to address industrial GHG emissions in California has become a major tool for forest conservation and economic development in Maine—essentially how climate policy in one place has driven large scale investment in another. I argue that, in achieving mutually exclusive goals, these mechanisms often overlook the atmospheric carbon concentrations they were designed to address.

Forest carbon offset projects, in which conservation and forest management support carbon sequestration, produce carbon credits for both voluntary and compliance carbon markets like California’s cap and trade program. Part of an umbrella of development that includes the contentious REDD+ mechanism, forest carbon projects are employed to simultaneously support conservation, carbon sequestration, and the balancing of administrative carbon budgets. They were originally designed to serve the dual goals of slowing tropical deforestation in places like Brazil, Indonesia and central Africa, while sequestering carbon to offset pollution from industrial polluters in the global north. But increasingly– part of a trend toward the neoliberalization of conservation and environmental management– land managers are turning to carbon offsets as new funding streams to support existing conservation projects or foster more ambitious protection endeavors.

Forest carbon projects are gaining popularity in the US and, in particular in Maine. Maine has long been a key player in the US timber industry where there is a critical mass of large tacts of privately held land, many with existing conservation easements. In Maine, forest carbon projects are increasingly being used to fill economic voids amid the dismantled vertically-integrated pulp and paper industry. My fieldwork is primarily based in Grand Lake Stream, a remote town in the northeastern part of the state that’s home to four forest carbon projects—some of the most established initiatives in the country.

My research examines the use of forest carbon offsets as a means of conservation finance, and looks at the complexity of linking forest conservation to financialized carbon storage. I question the shift of a mechanism often criticized for its neocolonial implications of north/south capital flows, to one re-imagined by US landholders, reconfigured to administratively meet their needs, often without real change to forest management practices.

My dissertation is based on five years of qualitative data collection on forest carbon projects in the US and Latin America—with a focus on two projects, one in Maine and the other in the Peruvian Amazon. Additional data was gathered via annual attendance at the United Nations climate negotiations, meetings of emissions trading and ecosystem services professional communities, and via participant observation in carbon accounting training courses through the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. The latter was employed to critically study the techniques and discourses used by carbon accounting and verification professionals.

The results of this research are vast, and I will spend the next few months wading through empirical and theoretical questions to help frame these findings in ways that are useful to science and policy communities. I’ll begin by exploring the multiple subjectivities of forest carbon offsets, asking how they work to co-produce one another, and ultimately how they influence seemingly dispirit climate and conservation policies. In short, I’ll distill this data in order to return to (and answer) the simple question that drove me to chase this topic in the first place: “What is a forest carbon offset, anyway?”

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RC/RCCC Notes From the Field: Towards Minimizing Flood Impacts and a Reflection on this Summer

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Katie Chambers
Ethiopia, August 2017

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

View photo gallery from the field by Katie Chambers

I cannot believe my time in Ethiopia is coming to a close! In writing this final piece, I wanted to discuss the Climate Centre’s larger work in hydropower to provide context for my specific work. The Climate Centre recently piloted an innovative flood-modelling software for hydroelectric dams called FUNES. It is a self-learning program for flood forecasting and used to manage flood risks in vulnerable communities located downstream of dams. Without getting into too much detail, it can be used to improve predictions of flood events and optimize controlled releases to minimize flood impacts. If FUNES is implemented in Ethiopia, my research would contribute to the development and optimization of the model. Though my part of the project is complete, there is still work to do. Regardless of what solutions are implemented, the successful and continued coordination of multiple stakeholders is required. I’m cautiously hopeful that some solutions can be implemented to improve the livelihoods of the communities downstream of Koka Dam.

On a more sentimental note, this summer has passed so quickly! Though I’m ready to return to friends and family, it feels like I just arrived to Ethiopia a couple weeks ago. Wasn’t it just last week that I learned the proper technique for eating injera (a sourdough-risen flatbread also used as an eating utensil here)? And didn’t I just discover the optimal coffee-to-Katie ratio that allows me to fall asleep at night? I’m incredibly thankful for this summer’s experience and the help of all the project partners that made it happen. This summer has been full of learning, both about my project and myself, and I’m excited to return to Boulder full of new knowledge and experiences. In addition to the work done on the project, token moments of fun were also had (I promise!). From unexpectedly getting snowed on in Kenya, to camping next to waterfalls and hiking up an old volcano in Awash National Park, to exploring Addis Ababa, and to all of the little fieldwork moments that just make you laugh – this experience has been incredible and unforgettable. To anyone reading this that is interested in interning with the Climate Centre through CU, I highly encourage you to apply and I’m always open to answering questions!

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Inside the Greenhouse Newsletter, Issue #8

Issue 8 | August 2017
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In these uncertain times, Inside the Greenhouse works to deepen our understanding of how issues associated with climate change are/can be communicated, by creating artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance art, television programming, and systematically appraising as well as extracting effective methods for multimodal climate communication. Through both research and practice in these ways, our efforts advance wider interdisciplinary academic communities to build capacity, competence and confidence in CU Boulder undergraduate and graduate student communicators with whom we primarily work. As we continue with these commitments to foster a deliberative space to co-create and analyze creative climate communications, we value and appreciate your ongoing support.

Enjoy our end-of-summer newsletter that highlights some of the many ongoing research, teaching and engagement endeavors we’ve been working on.

And if you’re able to support our ongoing work, please visit our donation page to provide a tax-deductible gift. Any amount helps us as we work to meet people where they are ‘inside the greenhouse’.

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

Course Spotlight
This summer, through the Faculty in Residence Summer Teaching Program (FIRST) in the Office of Continuing Education, the Environmental Studies program and Inside the Greenhouse hosted Professor Bienvenido Leon from the University of Navarra (Spain) to CU Boulder to teach a course he called ‘How to Effectively Represent Climate Change in a 21st Century Multi-Media World’. During his time in Boulder he also presented on ‘New Coordinates for Environmental Documentary’ as part of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) Fall seminar series (follow the link to watch the archived webcast of his talk) and to take part in the Lens on Climate Change summer film festival held in the Atlas Institute on campus.

Prof Bienvenido Leon recounts his experiences for us here: “Communicating climate change is not an easy task. In fact, the media have not done a good job in communicating it: they have simply failed in transmitting the existing scientific consensus and promoting public awareness and engagement. But, in my view, there is still hope. The Internet tsunami has provoked a profound change in social communication and has offered a new range of options, based on new tools and formats that can be very effective to communicate this process. The course “How to effectively communicate climate change in a 21st century multi-media world” was taught at CSTPR from July 11th to August 11th. It focused on the possibilities offered by online video; a tool of immense potential that it is easy to produce and can reach huge audiences. Read more …

Event Highlights
The Inaugural Women’s Energy Party: in Paonia Colorado, summer 2017

Young women in their twenties and early thirties are often at the point in their life where they are making personal choices that are going to lock them into certain levels of energy consumption and climate impact. Inside the Greenhouse’s recipe for a women’s gathering sought to invigorate thoughtful consideration of what kind of energy/climate story young women want to tell with their lives.

For the 2017 ITG Summer Internship, Stephanie Selz and Ellie Milner made a short film featuring young women in Paonia, Colorado area getting together in Colorado’s beautiful North Fork Valley to use creative, participatory activities to explore and tell a new story of energy.

This all took place on the Boland family farm in Hotchkiss, CO. After enjoying pizza’s fresh from an outdoor clay oven, attendees used participatory activities, songs, and sharing of personal stories to advance us in our efforts. Several of the participants camped in the field under a canopy of stars. After breakfast the next morning, participants continued activities and culminated with a shared lunch featuring food grown on the farm. The entire experience was emotionally enriching, aesthetically stirring, and fun. Each participant left with actions they had authored to tell a sustainable story of energy with their lives.

Participatory Photography Project Exhibit at CU Art Museum Fall 2017

Green Suits Your City is a participatory photography project by Inside the Greenhouse that infuses embodied creativity into the greening of our cities. It is a collection of photographs from cities around the world by over fifty different photographers of people in full green suits in nearly every pose imaginable. As part of this exhibit, visitors are invited to check out a green suit with a leafy sash and submit a photograph of themselves or a friend in some iconic place in their city. This interactive project is designed to engage the participation of a wider constituency in the greening of our cities. Placing actual bodies in service of this vision marks the commitment to joyful acts that will inspire action on behalf of environmental resilience. Sometimes it takes a literal representation of an idea to make it real. Both the process of taking the photos and the photographs themselves spark conversation, and are a part of an ongoing effort to infuse embodied fun and broad engagement in resilience planning.

The opening reception for the exhibit is set to take place at CU’s Art Museum on Thursday September 7, 2017 from 5-7PM. The project will be on display from August 17th until October 28th, 2017.

Read more …

Field Notes

In May 2017, ITG co-founder and co-director Becca Safran traveled to China for research. Now back in Boulder for start of the academic year, she offers these observations and reflections:

“I am guessing that when most of us think of China, the images that first come to mind are of huge, populated cities and industrial areas. Indeed, China is a HUGE country and the scale of human density and manufacturing is immense. I had the opportunity to travel through China in May. I got to see some of the largest cities in the world, which happen to be in China, but also to travel far outside of them in a remote province that is situated north of the Tibetan Plateau and south of the Gobi Desert. By Chinese standards, the Gansu Province is not a highly-populated region of this immense country: its 175,460 square miles is home to about 25 and a half million people which amounts to about 150 people per each square mile. Compare that to the density of our home state of Colorado which is about 50 people per square mile and you’ll easily get a sense that even in the farthest regions of China, there are lots of people. OK, so yes: confirmed. There are a lot of people in China and this is not surprising.”

“For one, the public transport systems in place to move all of these people around is quite admirable. As of 1994, car ownership has been encouraged in China which has its ups and downs. That said, the use of electric scooters and cars appears to be more mainstream in China compared to what I see around here. According to one source, China registered more than twice the number of electric vehicles (more than 300,000) than those in the US in the year 2016 alone.” Read more …

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RC/RCCC Notes From the Field: Lives Versus Livelihoods

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Katie Chambers
Ethiopia, August 2017

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

View photo gallery from the field by Katie Chambers

My time in the field has come to a close, and I’m thankful for all of the experiences that have come with it. Many thoughts are going through my mind following fieldwork, and I wanted to use a blog post to talk about just one. Lives versus livelihoods was a topic that consistently came up in community interviews, and I’ll go through my thoughts and findings in this post. For the purpose of this post, lives refers to human life and livelihoods refers to the means of supporting one’s life. The current warning system – as perceived by most communities – exists to protect lives. It ensures that no people are in the floodplain and harmed during controlled releases. While saving lives is unquestionably important, communities repeatedly expressed a desire to protect their livelihoods in addition to their lives.

So, how can the existing warning system be improved to incorporate this feedback? To answer a question like this, the first source to consult is the communities themselves. We went up and down Awash River to consult communities about their recommended improvements to the existing warnings and two emerged relating to the topic: earlier and more specific warnings. Communities wanted to receive earlier warnings to better prepare for flood events. The existing warnings only provide about a day’s notice for a controlled release, and most communities can only move irrigation pumps and livestock from the floodplain. Communities want earlier warnings for time to protect their livelihoods, such as place bags of soil to divert flood water or harvest crops early. In addition to earlier warnings, communities would like specific details on anticipated flood impacts. Some communities will have severe flooding impacts occur one year and minimal impacts the next year, but receive the same warning for both events. Communities want to know what the anticipated damage will be, so they can prepare appropriately.

Unfortunately, the existing warning system can be equipped with these recommendations and flooding can still affect livelihoods. Communities acknowledged this, and uniformly expressed a desire for permanent infrastructure to increase flood resilience and save livelihoods. Each of the seven communities visited wanted dikes (to prevent flooding from the river) and canals (to divert water from surrounding areas) to be constructed. It was interesting to contrast my internship’s approach (improving controlled releases and early warnings) with the community’s perspective on the situation, and it is certainly something to keep in mind going forward. In addition to work on hydroelectric dams and early warning systems, the Climate Centre and its partners are engaged in policy dialogues for rethinking infrastructure investments for climate risk management and resilience. Introducing this work into later phases of the project could benefit downstream communities by further increasing resilience, especially from flooding coming from the surrounding watershed.

From improved warnings, to infrastructure investments, to better timing of controlled releases, there are many potential ways to minimize flood impacts. I’m thankful for the challenge and the opportunity to play a role (however big or small it may end up being) in potentially improving the livelihoods of these communities.

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Bienvenido León Talks About Communicating Science Online: Are You Not Infotained?

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writing Intern

Bienvenido León watches scientific online videos with an objective, critical eye. Many of us click through to a video about climate change because the penguin in the thumbnail image is totally adorable, and return to Facebook five minutes later without thinking about what compelled us to watch the video all the way through. León, in contrast, thinks about why you stayed to watch.

León is a visiting professor from the University of Navarra, in Spain, where he studies audio-visual science and environment communication. In particular, he’s interested in how climate change is being addressed with online videos. He is currently teaching a class at the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) called “How to Effectively Represent Climate Change in a 21st Century Multi-Media World.”

León described pluses and minuses about the rise of online videos on climate change. On one hand, he admires the innovation of organizations that are using the internet to reach (and teach) new viewers.

“Traditional players, the so-called “legacy media”, are doing the same thing that they did on TV,” said León. “They’re trying to adapt, but they are still very into what they used to do. New players such as Buzzfeed or Vice News are doing something very different to attract young people.”

But on the other hand, León recognizes that the trend is towards short and light “infotainment,” not always a good medium for relaying all of the background and facts of a complicated scientific topic.

“These videos are a reflection of the society we have,” he said. “We need to be entertained all the time.”

León pointed out the changes that this need has prompted in the world of journalism.

“Traditionally a journalist was supposed to be an outside point of view,” he said. But lately, journalists have become part of the action. They stand in the middle of protests, waving signs like the rest of the crowd. They narrate with a blatantly subjective point of view, tell stories, tell jokes. This is an important departure from traditional journalism, and leads to the question: is this kind of journalism useful?

“We know infotainment is important,” said León. “But how do we know this is effective in terms of, first of all, information retention—do people retain the information better? Or in terms of making people receive the seriousness of climate change?”

León, for his part, is conducting a study on this topic with other researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand and the Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait. Their website,, leads to a survey you can take after you watch a video about climate change. The survey is designed to help the investigators assess how effective the video was.

León’s ultimate goal is to understand what format and techniques in online videos can help us understand climate change better. Hopefully, researchers and communicators all over the world will be able to use the findings of this work to improve our effectiveness in communicating the seriousness of climate change.

Photo caption: Bienvenido León speaking to polar researchers as part of the US National Committee of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (USAPECS) preceding the International Glaciological Society meeting.

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