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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Max Boykoff on Having Conversations About Climate Change

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

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

ABC 6 On Your Side
by Stephen Loiaconi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antarctic Marine Protection Treaty Offers Lessons for Global Conservation

CU Boulder Today
by Trent Knoss

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

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

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

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

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

Emerging Threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room For Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sam Brasch
CPR News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RC/RCCC Notes from the Field: Experiences of Drought in Turkana County

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Internship Program
by Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner is the 2019 Junior Researcher in the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCRCCC) program. She is a Masters student in the Geography Department at University of Colorado Boulder.

View photo gallery in the field by Sarah Posner

I peer out the window of the turbulent plane that dips up and down in the hot air. Below lay a series of dendritic tributaries that spread like fingers across the dry landscape. I am on my way to Lodwar, Turkana to collect primary data on the impacts of drought on the ground. Turkana is the largest county, located in the furthest corner of northwestern Kenya, and is believed to be the birthplace of humanity where archaeologists found the oldest skeletal remains of the famous ‘Turkana boy’. I am meeting with key stakeholders who engage in disaster risk management as well as attending a focus group discussion with members of a local Turkana community experiencing the drought first hand. The aim of the trip is to formulate a case study that will be presented at the upcoming national dialogue, which brings together county and national government officials, NGOs, and donors to discuss implementation of the Forecast based Financing system.

It hasn’t rained for months in many parts of Kenya, with two consecutive failed rainy seasons, which has put 2.6 million Kenyans at risk of food insecurity (Daily Nation, 2019). This is a significant increase from the estimated 1.6 million people that was established in May 2019 (NDMA, 2019). The situation is especially bad in this hot, remote and arid area of the country, where pastoral societies have beared the brunt of the impacts, many facing starvation. These counties include Turkana, as well as Mandera, Baringo Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit and Tana River in the pastoral livelihood zones, plus Kitui, Makueni, Kilifi, Meru North in the marginal agricultural and agro-pastoral areas (NDMA, 2019).

When I arrive in Lodwar, the temperature is 36°C (about 97°F), and the sun beats down on my shoulders. I squint my eyes and make out a Landcruiser approaching in the distance bearing the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) emblem. The car grinds to a halt, kicking up dust. A woman by the name of Rakodia steps out of the passenger side to greet me, who is the director of the cash transfer program at the Turkana Red Cross branch. Rakodia will be supervising my stay here in Turkana. She welcomes me with a warm smile, a firm handshake, and we get in the car and head over to the branch office. There, I meet the county coordinator, Nicholas Thuo, who has scheduled the various interviews I will be conducting throughout the course of the day.

First on the list is a meeting with an officer named Dennis from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). The NDMA is an agency of the Government of Kenya mandated to establish mechanisms which ensure that drought does not result in emergencies and that the impacts of climate change are sufficiently mitigated in the arid, drought-prone counties of Kenya (NDMA, 2019). We meet to discuss data availability and limitations to forecast drought, which is at the forefront of work by the NDMA. During the meeting, we discuss the use of the Vegetation Condition Index (VCI) for drought monitoring. The VCI gives an idea where the observed value of vegetation condition is situated between the extreme values (minimum and maximum) compared to previous years. Expressed as a percentage, lower values indicate bad vegetation while higher represent good vegetation conditions, which are standardized internationally. However, the lack of specificity within the VCI is one drawback of the measure as it covers all vegetation types, even those unpalatable to livestock. This is problematic in the case of Turkana where Prosopis, an invasive species of mesquite, has greened the landscape but is not edible for livestock and is often referred to as a “dryland demon” by locals. As the map in Figure 1 shows, Turkana appears to have relatively good vegetation conditions compared to its neighbors due to the coverage of Prosopis.

This masks the reality of the situation on the ground, as the county continues to suffer a devastating drought that is killing off livestock. Thus, I learned from seeing the landscape first-hand that using the VCI for drought monitoring has drawbacks as it paints greener pastures than the reality of the situation on the ground.

Next, we travel to a remote village along a dusty road to engage in a focus group discussion with the local Turkana people. I am met by a larger group than I was expecting of about 25 to 30 people of all ages, ranging from grandmothers to young children, sitting in a half circle under the shade of an acacia tree. The community is excited to have a new visitor, and I am greeted with a warm welcome. I introduce myself and describe my intentions for the visit, which is to hear from the locals about their first-hand experience of the impacts of the unfolding drought in their area. A translator is there to help relay the message in Turkana, the local dialect spoken by the community. 

An older gentleman stands up, acting as the representative for the community and begins: “We have many stories about drought, more than 10 problems. I will only speak of one problem for now, and let others tell their stories.”

“We are here through God’s will, but the big problem we face is water. There is no water here, and the only source we are getting water from is the river.” He points in the distance, referring to the Turkwell river, located several kilometers away. He continues, “The young people fetch water from there, but the old people will not drink there. The trekking distance is far, and one injured his leg in the rocky river bed when he went to fetch water just the other day. This is one problem we face, that is access to a water source.”

A younger man in a powder blue, button down shirt now stands; it is his turn to tell his story, “Poverty is the big one. Before we were eating wild fruits, but now we can’t use that formula. The community wants now drugs for our animals. Another problem we face is animals, they were our solutions to our problems. But the drought took them all, even one community member does not have any goats. Before, my father was killing animals like goats, cattle, and sheep when visitors come when there was lots of livestock, but we can’t even compare to the situation now.” Read more …

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If You Have No Hope, You Can’t Act: Patrick David Chandler on Bridging Science and Art

by Alison Gilchrist, CSTPR Science Writer

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

Halfway through my interview with Patrick David Chandler, a current Environmental Studies graduate student based at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR), I told him that it felt like his career trajectory had been a straight line—that each job he has had was a natural progression from the one before it.

“Oh no, definitely not a straight line,” Chandler said, laughing. “It’s been swirly.”

But despite this protest, it seems that Chandler has naturally made a career out of caring about the natural world, wanting to educate people about these spaces, and incorporating art into his life.

Immediately after college, Chandler worked as a professional raft guide in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But he quickly became more focused on the educational aspect of the trips he was leading. 

“The places where I was finding value, the trips I enjoyed most, were those where I got to engage people about the human and natural history of the area,” said Chandler. “So, I transitioned to environmental education.”

Chandler moved to Homer, Alaska to work for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and teach intertidal ecology and marine biology. Soon after, he was offered the position of Special Programs Coordinator, which included the role of International Coastal Clean-up Coordinator for the State of Alaska. His job was to provide resources and education for communities that wanted to be involved in research and clean-up of marine debris; he also recorded all of their data in the International Coastal Cleanup database.

“That was incredibly emotionally taxing and intense work,” said Chandler, about the position. He explained that Alaska has over 40,000 miles of coastline, which is more than the rest of the United States combined, and very few people. A surface current pattern moves across the Pacific from Asia and another that moves up from the continental United States, so there’s a huge amount of plastic pollution and marine debris moving towards Alaska. The result of that ocean current is striking and horrible: “There were beaches that were a quarter to a half mile long where we’d pick up 10,000 pounds of plastic every year. Clean it completely, come back the next year, clean it again.”

Chandler found that he was disappointed by the impact even his best efforts were having: “We weren’t really doing much as far as shifting the needle on awareness, on policy, and action. It just was an endless cycle of heartbreak.”

Then he discovered Washed Ashore, a project devoted to making community-based art with washed-up debris from beaches. The art made something beautiful out of serious environmental problem, and brought new people into the conversation about marine debris. 

“I watched the way that people engaged with the work. It started conversations in a way that no amount of talking and data could possibly do.”

Chandler became Education Director for the Washed Ashore Project, and toured the country with some of the sculptures, engaging people from all different backgrounds on the issue. At the same time, he was also talking to educators about the effectiveness of using art to talk about marine debris.

“I kept getting the question: ‘can we do this here?’,” said Chandler. “No! And you shouldn’t do this here, you should get scientists, artists, and educators together in a way that enables your community to give voice to an issue that matters to them.”

The Washed Ashore exhibit shown at the Denver Zoo in 2017.

In other words, marine debris was a specific topic that Washed Ashore was tackling. Chandler is deeply aware that a project that connects scientists, artists, and the community must have community buy-in. Marine debris isn’t the issue that will necessarily spur community buy-in from places like Boulder or other cities, especially land-locked cities. Instead, scientists and artists should engage with their communities and ask for feedback on what issues are important to them. The process is iterative: scientists and artists can collaborate to create something that explains a scientific issue, and the community can respond with what worked for them.

These ideas are the foundation of some of Chandler’s current dissertation work. Chandler won a CU Engage Graduate Fellowship in Community Based Research, and is currently designing a curriculum on climate communication with a team from the Inside the Greenhouse Project, CU Natural History Museum, and Jefferson County Schools for teachers, using the principles he learned with Washed Ashore. His goal is to work with teachers, and use their feedback iteratively, improving the curriculum and piloting it at new schools over the next few years.

“We want to get to a place where teachers can pick it up and use it and it works without us,” said Chandler. “If you can’t do that, it’s pretty pointless for mass distribution.”

Chandler also won a fellowship from the Nature, Environment, Science & Technology (NEST) Studio for the Arts, along with David Oonk. Together in partnership with the Inland Ocean Coalition, they are working on a project about microplastics in Rocky Mountain streams that they hope will educate the local community in an engaging way. Chandler is trying to impress upon locals that just because you can’t see the plastic pollution in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

“These pristine places… what is pristine?” he asked. “These beautiful streams and parks in Colorado: they’re still touched by our trash. We can’t be in a place that’s unaffected by our actions.”

I asked Chandler what it feels like to work on issues (marine debris, microplastic pollution) that are so large, and that are very obvious signs of negative human influence.

“It makes you feel hopeless,” admitted Chandler. “And the only way to move beyond that is to acknowledge and settle into the idea that we’re more than just the facts we compile. Through our creativity, through our intuition, through our emotion, we can create. And we will re-create the world in the next one hundred years, inevitably. So, it’s up to us if we’re going to do that intentionally.”

Chandler thinks that this is why the arts are so important.

“I’m not belittling the importance of science: we must have the wit and technology to enable some of the things that we can dream up and create. But if we lose the idea that we can create a new paradigm, that we can shift this polluted sphere we live in to be sustainable—if you don’t believe that, you have no hope. And if you have no hope, you can’t act.”

Chandler has been guided through several jobs by the principles of art, engagement, and education. The result is an impressive series of creative and artistic projects that have brought more people into the conversation surrounding climate and pollution. He may describe his career trajectory as “swirly,” but sometimes the best art is a little bit swirly.

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The Kids Are All Right – Adults Are the Climate Change Problem

by Max Boykoff
Daily Camera

I have been deeply disturbed by the “Greta bashing” going on. My disappointment has been compounded by the fact that the verbal attacks have overwhelmingly emanated from older adults.

For those not following her more closely, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year old Swedish activist who began demonstrating outside Swedish parliament to raise the need for urgent action on climate change. Her commitment has sparked the Youth Climate Strikes over the past year.

On Aug. 28, the young climate activist just completed her cross-Atlantic trip by sailboat to New York City. She has arrived for the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week, punctuated by two widely anticipated Youth Climate Strikes taking place mid- to late-September.

Climate change is set to feature extensively in the news this month.

“Kids today” has been a common utterance laced with exasperation and disappointment that many of us have likely heard throughout our lives. Commonly disparaging comments about millennials, Generation Y and Z are that they are lazy, delicate, sensitive, fragile, narcissistic, selfish and entitled. These disparaging comments point to assumptions that adults lead the way in work ethic, resilience, altruism and morality.

On climate change, the opposite has been shown to be true. Evidence abounds.

In June, polling data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication showed that younger generations are more likely to view climate change as personally important while they are more willing to take action on climate change than older generations. This is consistent with Gallup polling from last year that found 70% of people ages 18-34 say they worry about climate change, contrasted with 56% of those over age 55.

Moreover, Pew Research Center polling shows that younger conservative voters are confronting climate change in much higher numbers than their conservative elders: Twice as many young Republicans (ages 23-38) than older Republicans (over age 52) say that humans contribute to climate change and effects are being felt now in the United States.

Maybe we can attribute this difference in part to the powerful intoxicant called nostalgia. This often involves a yearning for an idyllic past and romanticized times gone by. But nostalgia is troubling for many reasons. Among them, it looks backward rather than forward. Problematically, nostalgia may also emanate from feelings that “things aren’t what they used to be.” Well, things aren’t what they used to be.

On climate change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that anyone born after December 1984 (currently people up to 34 years old) has not experienced a below average month of global temperatures. Decisions made in the good old days have led us to the present predicament.

I worry that we adults, who got us into this mess, are not doing enough as the kids they have introduced to climate challenges. Adult utterances about “legacies” and “intergenerational” generally ring hollow when the scale of engagement and action pales in comparison to the scale of the ongoing challenge.

With all this in mind, young people have valid reasons for feeling angry, anxious or melancholy about the state of human-environment conditions today. However, many young people are not merely accepting the state of affairs as they are. Many are now creatively expressing visions for different futures. Leaders like Thunberg have been met by other young voices, such as indigenous environmental leader and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, as well as filmmaker Slater Jewell-Kemker, to meet the scale of these climate challenges with commensurate promise and resolve.

Through creative communications, younger generations are expressing their ambitions and concerns about climate change more than ever before. Whether by choice or by necessity, many younger people are both talking the talk and walking the walk.

The Youth Climate Strikes and youth presence at the UN and Climate Week next month and beyond may be one sign that young people are pulling on levers of change available to them: voice through creativity and protest.

U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert has joked, “I don’t trust young people. They’re here to replace us.” In reality, though, going forward using informed, decidedly and constructively optimistic approaches are critical.

Communications approaches that empower youth to make change can be effective, as is listening to their perspectives, minimizing their burdensome worries and amplifying their voices as new knowledge brokers in a contemporary communications environment. Trust in this next generation of leaders and trust in progress in creatively communicating about climate change are vital to effectively tackling this 21st century challenge.

The kids are alright, adults must step up.

Max Boykoff is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of a new book, “Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy & Society.”

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