A Laughing Matter? Confronting Climate Change Through Humor

by Maxwell Boykoff and Bth Osnes

Political Geography
September 2018

Abstract: Why fuse climate change and comedy? Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most prominent and existential challenges of the 21st century. Consequently, public discourses typically consider climate change as ‘threat’ with doom, gloom and psychological duress sprinkled throughout. Humor and comedy have been increasingly mobilized as culturally-resonant vehicles for effective climate change communications, as everyday forms of resistance and tools of social movements, while providing some levity along the way. Yet, critical assessments see comedy as a distraction from the serious nature of climate change problems. Primarily through conceptions of biopower and through approaches to affect, this paper interrogates how comedy and humor potentially exert power to impact new ways of thinking/acting about anthropogenic climate change. More widely, this paper critically examines ways in which experiential, emotional, and aesthetic learning can inform scientific ways of knowing. These dynamics are explored through the ‘Stand Up for Climate Change’ initiative through the ‘Inside the Greenhouse’ project where efficacy of humor in climate change communication is considered while individuals and groups also build tools of communication through humor. This is a multi-modal experiment in sketch comedy, stand-up and improvisation involving undergraduate students, culminating in a set of performances. In addition, the project ran an international video competition. Through this case, we find that progress is made along key themes of awareness, efficacy, feeling/emotion/affect, engagement/problem solving, learning and new knowledge formation, though many challenges still remain. While science is often privileged as the dominant way by which climate change is articulated, comedic approaches can influence how meanings course through the veins of our social body, shaping our coping and survival practices in contemporary life. However, this is not a given. By tapping into these complementary ways of knowing, ongoing challenges remain regarding how communicators can more effectively develop strategies to ‘meet people where they are’ through creative climate communications. Read more …

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Into the Wild – For Rain | Part I. British Columbia

National Geographic, August 2018

by Eve-Lyn S. Hinckley
CSTPR Faculty Affiliate, National Geographic Explorer and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

The American Cordillera is a jigsaw of mountain ranges that curls southward from the Alaskan coast through my home range, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, to its end in the Antarctic Peninsula. I’m making my first stop along its length – coastal British Columbia – to start a new project studying the rain chemistry of remote regions.

I travel with my collaborator, Sheila Murphy, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Together, we seek to determine whether the chemical signature of human development moves in rainwater to the wilds of BC, the US, Ecuador, and Patagonia. With the exception of the US site, all are locations of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, our partners in this effort.

As each flight connection takes us farther from Denver and closer to the BC coast, the aircraft get smaller and smaller. When we reach Port Hardy, we walk down a quiet dock to a three-seater floatplane. It is a tiny bird, like a lone tern, perched at the end of the dock. Travel by such a bird is a first for me.

The pilot instructs us to crank open the metal doors and demonstrates how to bust out the windows in case of emergency. We hop in, my hands shaking as I buckle my lap belt. He fires the motor and we are off, the plane’s narrow limbs lifting us above the water.

The BC coast stretches before us, fingers of the Great Bear Rainforest stroking Queen Charlotte Strait. Still, gray sky surrounds us as we buzz along our watery path northeast toward Nimmo Bay. There, a small wilderness resort floats on narrow docks between water and land. No roads lead to Nimmo—hence the floatplane.

“See many whales this time of year?” I yell at the pilot. But the propeller is loud and the motor drowns my voice. I take a video of the blades clipping the air for my kids, rain streaking the tiny windshield.

We’re not disappointed by the weather – we’ve come for rain. More precious is the nitrogen dissolved within its droplets: a fundamental nutrient that sustains life. Here, that means plankton, salmon, grizzly bears.

Nitrogen is one of the elements most manipulated by humans. In the absence of our engineering, the vast atmospheric pool of nitrogen gas is accessible only to specialized bacteria. They have the capacity to transform this gas into available forms that can be used by plants and animals for growth.

But the Industrial Revolution ushered in a whole new era. Our move toward dependence on fossil fuels, combined with work by a team of chemists who figured out how to synthesize fertilizers, changed the world. The latter development, known as the Haber-Bosch process, created industrial nitrogen fertilizers, which enabled us to grow crops intensively. No longer were we dependent on the slow, small efforts of bacteria. This boon allowed our human population to grow. The combined effects of fossil fuels combustion, conversion of forested land for agriculture, and use of nitrogen fertilizers have more than doubled the amount of nitrogen cycling through air, land, and water systems, polluting them in many places around the world.

Yet you can almost forget all of this in the wilds of BC. This landscape is new to Sheila and me. We typically study places where people and their influences are immediate – agricultural areas, urban centers, wildfire scars. We share a drive to understand how people change the water and nutrient cycles that support life on Earth, and to work with land managers to balance the goals of a developed world and sustaining the health of people and ecosystems.

This project is different. Like the guests who come to Nimmo Bay’s wilderness resort, we’re drawn to its location, far from the noise and haze of our usual research sites. Sheila and I will use the tools in our laboratories back in Boulder, Colorado, to measure the levels of nitrogen in rain, capitalizing on the distinct chemical signature of human-derived nitrogen to determine whether it reaches the BC coastal range. Rain can carry excess nitrogen far distances, even to those places we still think of as wild, pristine.

The plane touches down and I take a breath, tell the pilot he made it look easy. “It was,” he laughs and guides the plane to the dock. My hands are no longer shaking as I unbuckle my lap belt and step off.

Members of the Nimmo Bay staff greet us: someone holds an umbrella over my head and offers me a warm, wet towel to wipe my face and hands. I smile and shake hands, slightly flustered. It is a new way to start to a field project with a welcoming committee, not to mention the floatplane ride.

We are anxious to connect with our research equipment, which made the journey before we did. Dylan, one of the wilderness guides, shows us the four stamped boxes we mailed weeks ago, and we begin unpacking. Funnels studded with cable ties to discourage birds from perching, sections of PVC and rebar to mount the funnels above the ground surface, and precious tubes filled with resins that will collect nitrogen from the rainwater falling into the funnels. We account for all parts of our rain collectors and get ready to distribute them across the landscape.

Salmon remains left by a grizzly near Nimmo Bay Resort.

Adrien, head of the guide team, says that he and Dylan can take us to scout study sites by boat for the afternoon. The guide team is almost exclusively tall, dark-haired men dressed in the emerald greens and blues of the landscape where they were born. Many found their way to Nimmo Bay after tours through the commercial fishing industry. We learn that the move from resources extraction to guiding was welcome.

We will rely on the guides for the duration of our two-year project. They will record rainfall data, collect stream water, and swap out and mail the nitrogen-filled resin tubes every two months until the lodge closes for winter. Their efforts are critical; without the commitment of the guides, there will be no data.

“This is where the grizzlies will be pulling salmon from the river onto the banks,” Adrien tells us. We’re standing in a mossy grove along a quiet river. It’s hard to believe that it will soon be a raucous feeding frenzy when the bears journey down from the mountains and salmon swim from ocean to river, the two groups meeting in the middle. The pearly remains of last year’s run provide definitive evidence—jaws and fin plates left in piles on the ground.

Adrien not only manages the guide staff, but also monitors the bears’ movements closely. He’s part of a conservation effort to keep their population healthy and raise awareness of their vulnerability within the Great Bear Rainforest. I can’t help but look around us at the evidence of feedings past and convert the wreckage into a nitrogen flux, imagining how salmon carnage enriches the soil each summer. I consider the next set of measurements I’d like to make.

Sheila and I decide to place the collectors under three different environments typical of the Great Bear Rainforest– open sky, old growth cedars, and secondary growth hemlock trees—to determine whether they have different nitrogen inputs. We are confident that we can repeat this design at our other sites, comparing open and closed canopies.

Dylan’s on grizzly watch while we pound in rebar and screw funnels to resin tubes, our eyes either on the ground or reading the trees. We are learning the landscape as we install collectors in nests of four, filling in the details we simply could not know from offices two thousand miles away.

Our cabin sits by the waterfall that inspired Nimmo Bay Resort’s construction in the 1970s. When we’re not out with the guides, we’re in researcher mode, reading and writing. Sheila is transfixed on her laptop screen, determined to pull what little data exist for the vast rugged landscape we’ve now entered.

Her scavenger hunt reveals that the nearest record of rainfall near the region was in Kingcome Inlet, about 30 kilometers east of Nimmo Bay, as the gull flies. The data she finds are for the mid-1970s to 1980s. Rain and snow amounts probably vary regionally, but the data provide a ballpark figure for the average annual rainfall amount, 2.5 meters. This information is better than nothing…and confirmation that our project will make a contribution.

We install a simple, manual rain gauge near the guide shack. Everyone is excited about it. The guides tell us that they will read it daily, beginning a new era of rain data collection at Nimmo Bay. We will match the rainfall amounts with the chemistry data from our collectors, allowing us to quantify the flux of nitrogen coming into the region. Rainfall amount and chemical concentration go hand in hand to understand one of Earth’s most important nutrient cycles.

Before Sheila and I leave Nimmo Bay, we brief the guides one last time and record the first rain gauge reading, officially beginning our study. We pile into the Raven – purportedly the fastest boat north of Seattle – with six other staff members who are rotating off work for a couple of weeks.

“Can you believe that our next stop’s in a week?” I say to Sheila, thinking ahead to Ecuador, when we will continue our journey. “Cloud forest!” She smiles and we take our seats.

Dylan is at the helm and we motor away, slowly at first, as though reluctant to head back to civilization. I feel a sense of calm, knowing that our first set of collectors is installed, already receiving drops of rain whose nitrogen content we will determine in a couple of months.

What secrets will we learn about this place? It’s one of the great questions we get to ask every time we start a new project.

Sitting back, we watch the waterside cabins get smaller and smaller, until they are just six red and white dots against the black water. Then we round a bend and Nimmo Bay is gone from view, swallowed back into the wild.

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Forests of the Future: Why Private Landowners are a Key Piece of the Climate Challenge

by Angela Boag

Angela Boag is a PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder investigating the relationships between climate change, forest management and land ownership. She is the 2018 recipient of the Radford Byerly, Jr. Award in Science and Technology Policy. Angela will share some of her research findings at the CSTPR seminar series on September 19, 2018.

One summer day three years ago, I was curled up on my couch in Denver after three months of camping in rural eastern Oregon. I had spent the first summer of my PhD interviewing fifty private forest owners about how they managed their forests, including how – if at all – climate change affected their decisions.

While travelling through Oregon, I regularly checked the wildfire news to know where I should and shouldn’t be, and kept up the habit back home. That afternoon, I logged onto the national wildfire map and saw there was a huge fire just south of John Day, Oregon, where I had spent several weeks.

Further online research revealed that some of the people I interviewed had lost their homes in the inferno. Just two weeks previously, I had been sitting on their porch sipping lemonade, chatting about the history of their land and the ways they managed their trees. They had shown me the places they had thinned where they felt confident a fire wouldn’t spread, as well as those places they still felt were too dense and needed more work. The Canyon Creek Complex wildfire destroyed over 40 homes, the largest loss of property in Oregon in 80 years, and scorched 110,000 acres of public and private forestland.

Thousands of other families have experienced similar losses across the West, and fire scientists expect it to get worse. Large wildfires are becoming more common, in part because ongoing wildfire suppression policies have stopped the natural fire cycle. Regular fires historically reduced the amount of woody fuels on the landscape and created open meadows between forest patches. After 70 years of putting fires out, many forests have high densities of small trees, so when a wildfire ignites, it burns at high intensity across a huge area.

The other factor fueling more large wildfires is the changing climate. Warmer temperatures mean forests dry out more quickly in the summer, and heat waves combined with windy conditions create the perfect environment for massive, uncontrollable fires like those we saw in California this year. Humans are also starting fires more often as more people continue to move into the wildland-urban interface.

There is a lot of ire directed towards the federal government for the wildfire problem, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. Family forest owners own 38% of forestlands in the US and around 17% is owned by corporations focused on timber production. Only 31% of US forests are managed by the federal government. In the western US, where public forestland covers larger areas, private ownership still comprises 30% of forestland[i]. Therefore, by virtue of the large number of trees they manage and the carbon stored therein, private forest owners have a key role to play in adapting US forests to changing conditions. The U.S. Forest Service operates under a guidance to consider climate change in management decisions, however no such coordinated effort exists among private forest owners.

While wildfire is the in-your-face impact of climate change on forests, other impacts are also becoming evident. Shorter and warmer winters mean higher bark beetle populations as the beetles complete more generations in the growing season. And while warming is often the chief climate concern, more precipitation at specific times – particularly in spring – may mean more widespread disease and fungal infections in some tree species. So how do forest owners adapt?

Adaptation actions primarily aim to reduce vulnerability to increasingly likely natural disasters like wildfire, or increase capacity to respond to gradual change. Thinning trees back to densities similar to those pre-fire suppression can ease drought stress on individual trees and reduce wildfire severity. Thinning combined with prescribed burning has the most fuel reduction benefits, however most private forest owners are reluctant to implement prescribed burns on their land due to liability concerns.

Research indicates that many tree species will move to higher latitudes and elevations over this century, suggesting forest managers should begin thinking about replanting species post-fire or post-harvest that are “future-adapted” to projected climatic conditions.

Most forest owners I interviewed know thinning is important for wildfire mitigation, but lack a plan or funding to get the work done. Research shows that forest owners who get support for developing a forest management plan and access to cost-share and grant funding through state forestry agencies, university extension or non-profit organizations, are much more active managers. These are avenues through which best practices for climate change adaptation could be communicated.

In eastern Oregon, I found very few private forest owners who were concerned about climate change itself. Climate change is a highly politicized issue in rural Oregon as it is elsewhere in the US. Therefore, organizations supporting sustainable forest management by private forest owners may make more progress by focusing on the symptom of climate change, wildfire, rather than the cause. In the end, fuel reductions are still one of the first steps towards “climate-smart” forest management that almost all private forest owners need to take.

[i] Hewes, Jaketon H.; Butler, Brett J.; Liknes, Greg C. 2017. Forest ownership in the conterminous United States circa 2014: distribution of seven ownership types – geospatial dataset. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive. https://doi.org/10.2737/RDS-2017-0007

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Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance Town Hall

On September 6, the City of Boulder, the University of Colorado and the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance hosted a local climate action town hall. At the event, representatives from cities including Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, New York City, Oslo and Yokohama discussed how their communities are addressing climate change. Several cities presented video visits demonstrating examples of local climate innovations. 
Beth Osnes, CSTPR affiliate and Associate Professor of Theatre and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado spoke on behalf of CSTPR’s Inside the Greenhouse project.
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Pushing Boundaries: Grad Students Think Like Barn Swallows to Craft an Artistic Nesting Site

CU Boulder Today
September 5, 2018

For hundreds of years, barn swallows have signaled the coming of spring. In many cultures, it is considered good luck to have barn swallows build nests on a person’s property.

Artifacts depicting barn swallows can be found throughout the world: in hieroglyphs at the pyramids in Egypt, on Bronze Age pottery, in cave paintings in France and Greece, and on Native American Lakota art.

Distinguished by their deeply forked tails, dark blue bodies and reddish breasts, barn swallows can be seen swooping low over the water and land in search of flying insects to feed their young. Barn swallows once built their mud nests in caves and on rock cliffs throughout North America, but they now construct nests almost exclusively on built structures, such as barns, sheds, underpasses and abandoned buildings.

Humans and barn swallows have long coexisted peacefully, but several factors have dramatically reduced the birds’ numbers, one of which is a lack of available structures for the birds to use. Learning more about their breeding and migration habits, and providing more places they can use to nest, could help researchers determine how to protect them.

Rebecca Safran, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at CU Boulder, and her group of student researchers have teamed up with Aaron Treher, lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History who developed a novel approach to conservation that’s part site-specific artwork and part structure to entice the birds into making it their home. If successful, the structure could be a model for similar ones in urban areas.

“The conservation status of barn swallows is declining precipitously,” Safran said. “Our goal with this installation was to create a structure that not only highlights the science and conservation concerns, but also the interesting co-existence we have with barn swallows and shows that they really do live side-by-side with us.”

Barn swallows can be found in Colorado from mid-April until the end of September and lay multiple broods during that time. They build a cup nest from mud pellets and feeds on insects caught in flight. The barn swallow’s song is a cheerful warble. One of the benefits of our coexistence with them is that a barn swallow consumes more than 800 mosquitoes a day.

Molly McDermott, a PhD student, and Treher, an MFA graduate, collaborated on the wooden sculpture that has been installed at a barn swallow colony on private land north of Boulder.

The site-specific artwork is attached to the barn on land owned by Richard Cargill. Safran and her team have been researching barn swallows at Cargill’s barn for more than 10 years. One of the tagged birds has been returning to the barn for seven years. It’s one of several study sites in Boulder County used by Safran and her team this summer. They have studied barn swallows throughout most of their breeding distribution in Asia, Europe,the Middle East, North Africa and North America.

The creation of the artwork began as Treher’s thesis work for his master’s degree. He named the structure the Observation Station. Its distinctive shape—a horizontal box stacked askew on top of a vertical box—is his interpretation of what a structure might look like if barn swallows designed it and how they might stack the two segments. Read more …

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: Morrison Installed, Clean Power Plan Uninstalled

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
August 2018 Summary

In addition, North American coverage was up 27% in August, due primarily to media attention paid to the mid-month proposal by the US Trump Administration to replace the Clean Power Plan with what was dubbed the ‘Affordable Clean Energy rule’.Elsewhere, moderate increases were also detected in Central/South America (up 18%), Africa (up 10%) and Europe (up 8%), while going down only in Asia (down 7%) this month compared to the previous month of July.

In January of this year, MeCCO expanded coverage to sixty-two newspaper sources, six radio sources and six television sources. These span across thirty-eight countries, in English, Spanish, German and Portuguese. In addition to English-language searches of “climate change” or “global warming”, we search Spanish-language sources through the terms “cambio climático” or “calentamiento global”, German-language sources through the terms ‘klimawandel’ or ‘globale erwärmung’, and Portuguese-language sources through the terms “mudanças climáticas” or “aquecimento global”. Figure 1 shows these ebbs and flows in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – over the past 176 months (from January 2004 through August 2018).

Moving to considerations of content within these searches, Figure 2 shows word frequency data in the dynamic spaces of Australian media coverage in August 2018.

As was noted at the top, considerable attention was paid to political content of coverage during the month of August. Frequent stories from the Southern Hemisphere involved the replacement of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Scott Morrison. While Morrison was invoked 571 times across 495 articles in August, the focus was on the departure of Prime Minister Turnbull, mentioned 2311 times in the month. Stories like ‘Energy industry anger as PM splits climate from power policy’ by journalists Ben Packham and Greg Brown in The Australian described the fallout from this leadership changeover on energy policy in the country. Another article appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald by journalists Nicole Hasham and Peter Hannam discussed how this change of power would impact Australia’s ongoing adherence or abandonment of the Paris climate treaty. And an opinion piece by former Liberal opposition leader John Hewson in The Age discussed how “climate change has now proved a defining element in a run of Australian political leaders, from John Howard through to Malcolm Turnbull”.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Trump administration’s proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan an ‘Affordable Clean Energy rule’ generated media coverage in August. For example, journalist Lisa Friedman wrote in an article in The New York Times, “the Trump administration has hailed its overhaul of federal pollution restrictions on coal-burning power plants as creating new jobs, eliminating burdensome government regulations and ending what President Trump has long described as a “war on coal.” The administration’s own analysis, however, revealed on Tuesday that the new rules could also lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 from an increase in the extremely fine particulate matter that is linked to heart and lung disease, up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.” Read more …

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Dan Rather Claims that Global Warming ‘Rarely Tops the Headlines’

The Daily Caller
August 30, 2018

News anchor Dan Rather said global warming is “causing real damage and death” in a tweet excoriating the media for supposedly ignoring “one of the most important stories of our time.”

But is it really true that global warming “rarely tops the headlines”? Not really.

Liberal journalists routinely complain that global warming coverage has been “siloed” or marginalized. More recently, The New Republic’s Emily Atkin said news outlets needed to connect every extreme weather event — in that case wildfires — global warming.

NRP and MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes were forced to defend their supposed lack of global warming coverage. Hayes said global warming segments had been a “palpable ratings killer” as a reason he didn’t do them very often. However, just because large networks didn’t focus much on global warming, since they’re driven by ratings, that doesn’t mean mountains of climate coverage isn’t generated every year.

Northeastern University professor Matthew Nisbet took issue with Atkin’s claim of climate coverage being “siloed.” He pointed to data showing thousands of articles written by just five major U.S. newspapers.

Thousands of articles have been written on the topic, including 252 articles from The New York Times alone in July 2018, according to University of Colorado researchers. Nisbet cited these figures.

And those figures likely don’t include the digital-only articles written at The Washington Post and other papers tracked by university researchers. Type “climate change” into your google browser, go to the “news” section and you’ll get 81.5 million results.

Here are the figures from University of Colorado researchers. Read more …

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A Theory of Climate Change – and Climate Wonder – for the Classroom

Sierra Magazine
August 27, 2018

Last October, Katharine Wilkinson, the vice president of communication and engagement for Project Drawdown, addressed an auditorium full of eighth graders in Jackson, Mississippi. She was there to deliver a message that global warming is real, and that it can be solved.

Wilkinson presented slides that included a graphic illustration of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere for the last 400,000 years; the sudden upward trend of emissions in the last century was alarmingly undeniable. But she also ticked off the dozens of readily available solutions to reversing that trend. A path, she argued, is right in front of us. We only have to be willing to walk it.

At the end of her talk, the students handed in questions on index cards. Sorting through them, Wilkinson came across one she gets asked all too often at talks like these.

Is the planet doomed?

It’s exactly the kind of question she wants teachers around the country to take on with their students—in a way that gets them to ask a different question instead:

How do we solve it?

Wilkinson is part of a team of scholars, researchers, entrepreneurs, and environmental advocates who make up Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing realizable solutions to reversing, or “drawing down,” global warming and improving the national discourse around climate change science in general.

Last year, the organization released the best-selling book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin, 2017). Edited by environmentalist Paul Hawken, the book is easily one of the most ambitious compendiums of climate science ever published. Using peer-reviewed research gathered from climate experts, scientists, PhD researchers, and graduate students, Drawdown prescribes 100 decisive (and readily available) solutions to solving global warming—from refrigerant management (topping the list at #1) to everything from educating girls (#6) and afforestation (#15) to indigenous peoples’ land management (#39) and walkable cities (#54)—with a goal of reversing the trend line of carbon build-up in the atmosphere within 30 years.

Part of Drawdown’s theory of change is to demarcate the difference of priorities between climate mitigation and reversing global warming. Beyond presenting solutions for simply mitigating and adapting to climate impacts, the book offers solutions that “draw down” the causal factors that are leading to global warming in the first place.

Drawdown has become an inspiration to teachers and pedagogues looking to incorporate a solutions-based model of systems thinking to global warming in classroom curricula—an approach that moves past the problem-oriented thinking of Are we doomed?

“These are the questions students are asking as they hear media coverage, they hear conversations, they engage with these topics in the classroom,” Wilkinson said in a recent interview. “I think they intuitively get that articulating the problem statement over and over and over again is not a solution. It’s important that we understand it, but it doesn’t necessarily move us forward on its own.

“You also come to realize that students’ understanding of solutions, like most of us, is very limited,” Wilkinson said. “They usually think lightbulbs, solar panels, bicycles, recycling. What is really cool is to see them light up when they get how broad and diverse the landscapes of solutions is, and to have a sense of things that they can impact immediately, even as young people—things like food waste and a plant-rich diet.”

“What is emphasized in conversations about global warming is often the threat, the problem,” Paul Hawken told Sierra. “Inasmuch as that conversation often describes the mechanism of global warming—how the atmosphere works, how the atmosphere is created, the interaction between the atmosphere and living systems—that’s great, but it always devolves back on problem: threat, future, doom. Children need and deserve to be educated in a way that allows them to fall in love with the living world, with life—to discover it through the lens of awe and wonder, including the miracle of climate, as opposed to the disaster of climate.”

At the college and university level, teachers are engaging Drawdown with their students in different contexts and disciplines: in some cases, using it to address specific topics; in others, utilizing the book as an inspiration for students to creatively express themselves, with climate science as their muse.

Beth Osnes is an associate professor of theater at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and cofounder and codirector of Inside the Greenhouse, an endowed initiative dedicated to creative storytelling projects around climate change. She and cofounders Max Boykoff and Rebecca Safran wanted to find new ways to tell stories about climate science in a way that would make sense to their students, and help them evolve beyond simplistic ways of thinking about global warming solutions—such as recycling water bottles or changing your lightbulb. Read more …

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Inside the Greenhouse Newsletter, Issue 11

Issue 11 | May 2018
Subscribe to ITG Newsletters

We hope you’ve had a great summer. We’re excited to continue our programming into Fall after productive summer. We continue to engage in research and activities in in order to 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 thank you for your ongoing support.

Please continue your support by visiting the Inside the Greenhouse Gift Fund to provide a tax-deductible gift. We are grateful for contributions in any amount.

Warm regards,
Rebecca Safran, Beth Osnes and Max Boykoff
(Inside the Greenhouse co-directors)


Max Boykoff, Beth Osnes and Rebecca Safran recently published research in a Spanish-language volume on ‘Audiovisual Communication of Science’, edited by Guillermo Orozco, Miquel Francés and Bienvenido León. (‘Comunicación Audiovisual de la Ciencia’). The chapter is titled ‘Telling Stories about the Science of Climate Change: Inside the Greenhouse’ (‘Contando historias sobre la ciencia del cambio climático: Dentro del Invernadero’). The chapter features research into the efficacy of work that Inside the Greenhouse has done with the More than Scientists project over the past three years.

The main sections of this book are:

  • genres and media formats in scientific communication
  • narrative strategies in audiovisual realization and production of scientific content
  • scientific communication in the digital multicast video online
  • quality and scientific rigor in the audiovisual dissemination of science

This research output emanates from collaborations that Max Boykoff has been involved in with TVMorfosis. The group met in June 2017 in Valencia, Spain as part of ongoing work on science communication for Spanish-language audiences in Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay.

The Art of Science Communication

Coming up in Spring 2019, Rebecca Safran (Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and Erin Schauster (Assistant Professor, Advertising, Public Relations, Media Design) will co-teach a new course during the Spring 2019 term titled ‘The Art of Science Communication’.

This cross-disciplinary course is an evolved version of the Film and Climate Change class (taught each Fall by Rebecca Safran for the past nine years). This new course will integrate the science of climate change and science communication with the science of advertising, public relations, and media design. This class will be designed for early undergraduate students, with an enrollment cap of 40 students.

The basic premise is this: Students of advertising require the most concise visual storytelling toolkits in order to sell brands and products. Scientists working on the multi-dimensional problem of climate change require facts to anchor policy and conservation initiatives but often lack the communication skills required to relate to the public. Therein lies a huge gap: the issues of climate change science are more pressing than ever yet reaching the public has largely failed. How do we turn abstract, scientific facts into compelling visual stories that reach people across all political and socio-economic walks of life? The course will address this hugely pressing and timely question through a cross-disciplinary engagement focused on creating ads for the planet.

Drawdown Act Up

Set against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Inside the Greenhouse premiered its latest performance-based project that features Grandmother Refrigerator, singing wind turbines, and a very hungry caterpillar. Drawdown Act Up leads participants in embodied youth engagement in climate solutions. Participatory activities and games physicalize the science behind a Drawdown climate solution, and the accompanying funny skit contextualizes the solution and cleverly demonstrates how to activate that solution locally in daily life.

This July, families visiting the Discovery Center of Rocky Mountain National Park joined in the activities and enjoyed the brief performances that dramatized the importance of properly recycling of aged refrigerators, the beauty of wind turbines, and how to reduce food waste. Many were surprised to learn that these skits were each based on the three top solutions for drawing down carbon to reverse global warming.

To maximize impact, Inside the Greenhouse focused artistic expression on the most impactful solutions identified by Drawdown’s team of researchers who generated a list of top solutionsfor reversing global warming.

Piloting this project in a US National Park was a continuation of Inside the Greenhouse association with the National Park Service Climate Response Team. This project was designed to encourage, invigorate and maximize commitment to environmental stewardship among visitors to US National Parks through Drawdown Act Up activities.

This October, ITG co-founder, Beth Osnes, will be sharing this work at the Drawdown conference, “Drawdown Learn: Teaching a Solutions-Based Approach to Climate Change,” at the Omega Institute in New York. Students in the Spring 2018 Creative Climate Communication course developed compositions to help cultivate material for this project. In the coming year ITG will continue to research how engagement in this project can contribute to student learning and effectively communicate climate solutions.

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Five questions for Deserai Crow

CU Connections highlight on CSTPR Faculty Affiliate Deserai Crow – Environmental policy, natural disasters prove fertile research ground for lover of the outdoors

Growing up in Colorado made a huge impact on Deserai Crow, both personally and professionally.

“My family had always been very outdoorsy and had shared a lot about environmental issues,” she said. “I think that outdoor experience and gaining an appreciation of the environment influenced me. It’s as simple as that.”

Born in Boulder and reared in Longmont, she earned her undergraduate degree in journalism at CU Boulder, a master’s degree in public affairs from CU Denver, and a Ph.D. from Duke University. She has spent the past decade on either the Boulder or Denver campus and currently is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at CU Denver.

She researches state and local environmental policy, including stakeholder participation and influence, information sources used, and policy outcomes. Much of her work focuses on natural disaster recovery and risk.

She also serves as director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security concentration, a position that brings together her two areas of research. The concentration draws a variety of students, but this fall, a new concentration will allow more specialization for students who want to focus on homeland security issues versus those who want to focus on general emergency management and disaster or resilience management and policy.

“Disasters, Hazards and Emergency Management will be launched in August to appeal to students who are more interested in natural hazards and disasters and questions about resilience,” she said.

Crow is on sabbatical for the next year, giving her the “luxury of having the space and time to think through new projects and ideas, including a couple of book projects, and recharge my batteries from 10 years of hard work,” she said. She’ll also spend time with her family during a lot of outdoor activities like hiking, camping and skiing. Read more …

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