What Unmanaged Fishing Patterns Reveal About Optimal Management

Applied to the Balanced Harvesting Debate

by Matthew G. Burgess and Michael J. Plank
ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsaa012

Abstract: Balanced harvesting (BH)—the idea of harvesting all species and sizes in proportion to their production rate—has been a topic of recent debate. Developed world fisheries tend to fish more selectively, concentrating on certain species and sizes preferred in the market. However, fishing patterns in some developing countries, with a range of different fishing gears and more generalist markets, more closely resemble BH. The BH debate therefore hinges on whether selective fisheries should become more balanced, whether unselective fisheries should do the opposite, both, or neither. In this study, we use simple and general analytical theory to describe the ideal free distribution that should emerge in unmanaged fisheries, and we show that this ideal free distribution should approximately produce BH only when prices, catchabilities, and fishing costs are similar across species and sizes. We then derive general properties of yield and profit maxima subject to conservation constraints. We find that BH is unlikely to be optimal in any fishery but may be closer to optimal in fisheries in which it emerges without management. Thus, BH may be more useful as a heuristic for understanding differences between fisheries in locally appropriate management than as an exact management strategy. Read more …

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Announcing the 2020 AAAS “CASE” Workshop Student Competition Winners

The CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research hosted a competition to send three CU Boulder students to Washington, DC to attend the AAAS “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering” workshop March 29 – April 1, 2020.  At the workshop students will learn about Congress, the federal budget process, and effective science communication, and will have an opportunity to meet with their Members of Congress or congressional staff. The competition is supported by the University of Colorado Graduate School and Center for STEM Learning.

Through a highly competitive selection process Shirley Huang (Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences), Marielle Pellegrino (Aerospace Engineering), and Tasha Snow (Geography) were chosen as this year’s winners to attend the workshop. Their biographies are listed below.

Shirley Huang is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Her research focuses on language development in bilingual children and emotional well-being in immigrant children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. As both a healthcare provider and a scientist, she is interested in learning how politics and policies impact culturally-linguistically diverse populations—populations that historically have been considered vulnerable. Shirley is passionate about advocacy work, and she applies her research to a larger scale in science, health, and educational policymaking. 

Marielle Pellegrino is a fourth year PhD student in Aerospace Engineering. She is a Draper Fellow and Smead Scholar working in the Celestial and Spaceflight Mechanics Laboratory at CU Boulder. She studies debris mitigation at high altitude orbits, like medium Earth orbit, where GPS satellites are, and geosynchronous orbit, where communication satellites are. She looks at using the Sun’s light and chaotic resonances to bring satellites back at their end of life to avoid being a collision hazard for functioning satellites in those regions. In her free time, Marielle also runs a blog on astronomy and aerospace engineering, missaerospace.com, and pursues various local science communication opportunities.

Tasha Snow is a fifth-year PhD Candidate in the Geography Department at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her doctoral research focuses on new ways to use satellites to study ocean impacts on ice fluctuations in Greenland and Antarctica. She is passionate about communicating science, especially climate change, to the public, and connecting it with policymaking. She periodically gives live talks at the Fiske Planetarium on climate change effects on Colorado and recently helped produce a science-policy podcast series, called “Sciencing with Purpose.”

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Climate Action Sunday

Peak to Peak News: The Mountain Ear

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, Wild Bear Nature Center launched the first of a series of talks on Climate Action at the Center in Caribou Village. The keynote address was given by Max Boykoff the Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Max has written and edited several books about climate change. The book he based his talk on Sunday Creative (Climate) Communications, as the title suggests, is about having communications regarding climate change. 

“Conversations about climate change at the science-policy interface and in our lives have been stuck for some time. This handbook integrates lessons from the social sciences and humanities to more effectively make connections through issues, people, and things that everyday citizens care about.”

The term “climate change” has taken on significant meaning both for opponents and advocates. In his talk Prof. Boykoff puts forth the proposition that to facilitate better communication it may be better to talk about the effects of a changing climate. Things like the legacy we are leaving our children, the availability and affordability of food, energy and housing, shifts in employment and natural resources and the general feeling of wellbeing in America and elsewhere.

The talk was sponsored by Wild Bear and our own SAB (Sustainability Advisory Board) whose members Melody Baumhover, Reid Barcus and Alvin Mites were in attendance as well as BOT/SAB liaison Alan Apt, and event co-sponsor, Nederland Community Library director Elektra Greer and other town servants. Wild Bear Executive Director Jill Dreves opened the evening by briefly sharing the exciting news on the status of the Nature Center that is going to be built on the Mud Lake property, the only one of its kind in the Nation.

Alvin Mites, wearing a Mad Hatter hat, introduced Max Boykoff listing his many academic credentials and reminding people that Xcel Energy brought cards offering giveaways of LED bulbs, low flow shower heads and other gifts to help conserve energy. Also available at the event were forms for helping to meet Nederland’s 100% renewable electricity goal by signing up for a Home Energy Squad visit. Residents can replace all bulbs with LED, install advanced power strips and sign up for the Xcel Energy renewable energy program. Alvin said, “This evening is about action, and these are things we can all do.”

Boykoff thanked Roberta Brown-Jones for inviting him to Nederland to speak and he shared his appreciation for the people who came to the event for valuing what his Center at CU Boulder works on as well. The students and staff of the CSTPR (Center for Science & Technology Policy Research) mission and vision: “Our long-term vision is to serve as a resource for science and technology decision makers and those providing the education of future decision makers. To improve how science and technology policies address societal needs, including research, education and service.”

Some of the topics that were discussed were how things relating to climate change can scale upward, the existential threat to all aspects of our lives, including cultural, societal, belief systems, economic, political, scientific and artistic. Prof. Boykoff shared the fact that “those who make the greatest impact are not always those with the most resources.” This theme, that everyone’s input, ideas, contributions and solutions are needed and welcomed threaded through the event’s agenda. Not just scientists, policy makers and influential people but artists, comedians, teachers and working class concerned citizens, all of whom were represented at the discussion. Cooperation and collaboration are a focus and a practice at CSTPR. 

Visit CSTPR for more information on programs like Comedy for Climate Change, Inside the Greenhouse Project, and the Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO). 

Max also shared the work of many of his colleagues and associates including Deserai Anderson Crow who edited the book Culture, Politics and Climate Change, How Information Shapes our Common Future in a collaboration with Boykoff. He referenced Susanne Moser, Director and Principal Researcher of Susanne Moser Research & Consulting. Her work focuses in part on equitable adaptation to and transformation in the face of climate change. It is climate change communication in support of social change, decision support and the interaction between scientists, policymakers and the public.

Other studies and advocates Boykoff spoke about were Project Drawdown,  Carvalho & Burgess 2005 article “Cultural Circuits of Climate Change”, and Josh Pasek of the University of Michigan and his research exploring how new media and psychological processes each shape political attitudes, public opinion and political behaviors. He talked about Kari Marie Norgaard, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon and her work on the social organization of denial, especially regarding climate change.

Also mentioned were Leaf Van Boven, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at CU, and Amanda Carrico an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist, also, at CU and Peter McGraw and the Humor Code. Sharing of sources of information on climate change dialog was also shared by many in attendance. John Ott had a copy of the Report by the National Center for Science Education, Spring 2017 with tips on how to have controversial conversations, including on climate change.

The discussion Sunday night was lively with many comments and stories shared by those who attended. “How do we make it so more people are less scared,” asked Ara Greer. On the topic of denial Zoe Lewis said, “You can’t run away from climate change, how do you cultivate greater awareness.” Reid Barcus shared that “the technology for building windmills and oil derricks is very similar” on ease of transition to clean energy. Another scientist and teacher in the room shared how controversial it was when she planned to support her students in the Climate March.  Alan Apt brought up the point that people are overwhelmed and may avoid climate change advocacy and activism because they may be denigrated for their enthusiasm and action in the face of apathy and acceptance of the status quo.

This question of the danger of voicing the truth of climate change with people, in contrast to the statement “Scientists should stand up and advocate for scientific evidence” made by Shahzeen Attari and shared by Boykoff, may be the key to why progress “is moving in the right direction but not fast enough”. Learning how to communicate so that everyone in the conversation feels heard, feels like they are working together towards solutions and common goal. 

Prof. Boykoff shared a lot of information and reminded attendees that more is available in his book Creative (Climate) Communications; Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society. It is also available online and at the library.

The key takeaways were; Be authentic, be aware, be accountable, be imaginative and be bold. Find common ground and emphasize the here and now, focus on the benefits of engagement to empower people to “smarten up”. 

When people make small changes, from small to big, it makes them more aware that they are making changes, working together on land, air and water quality issues we can make a huge impact.

Max, a reader of The Mountain-Ear, said, “In a 21st century communication environment, we must smarten up how we communicate with people to find common ground as we discuss the changing climate. We can draw on a lot of research and practical work has been done that can effectively provide insights and pathways to greater engagement and action on climate change”.

(Originally published in the January 30, 2020, print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)

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100 Women in Antarctica

CSTPR Faculty affiliate, Cassandra Brooks, was one of 111 total women, 2 from University of Colorado, who travelled to Antarctica as part of the Homeward Bound leadership course for women in STEMM and each shared a personal climate story.

Also watch 9news video clip [02.29]

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MeCCO Monthly Summary: If You Think You’ve Heard This Story Before, You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet

Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO)
January 2020 Summary

January media attention to climate change and global warming at the global level increased slightly from December 2019 coverage, up about 4%. Yet compared to a year earlier (January 2019), the number of news articles and segments about climate change and global warming nearly doubled. Across all regions and countries monitored, coverage in January 2020 was higher than coverage in January 2019. Regionally, the ongoing stream of stories in January 2020 increased most in Oceania (up 25%) and North America (up 15%) from December 2019. Increases in coverage in these regions in January 2020 compared to January 2019 was striking, with coverage in Oceania up 144% and coverage in North America up 85%. While coverage in Europe in January 2020 was up just 3% from the previous month, it has gone up 103% from January 2019.

Figure 1 shows trends in newspaper media coverage at the global scale – organized into seven geographical regions around the world – from January 2004 through January 2020.

At the national-level, coverage rose most in Australia (up 30%) in January 2020 compared to the previous month of December 2019. This coverage in January 2020 was also more than triple the amount of coverage in January 2019. Coverage was also notably higher in the United Kingdom (UK), up 17% in January 2020 from December 2019 and up 123% from coverage in January 2019. And coverage in United States (US) television and newspapers increased 7.5% in January 2020 from the previous month while going up 43% from January 2019.

In January, ecological and meteorological connections with climate issues continued to contribute substantially to media coverage of climate change around the world. To illustrate, the ongoing domestic as well as international reports on ongoing Australian wildfires generated numerous media reports that connected the dots between these fires and a changing climate. As the death toll rose into the twenties while 12 million acres have burned and nearly a billion animals have been displaced or killed, media coverage intensified. For example, Washington Post journalist Andrew Freedman reported, “While bush fires are a regular occurrence during the Australian dry season, a combination of long-term climate change and natural variability is making the situation far worse. Human-caused global warming is raising the odds of and severity of extreme-heat events and also adding to the severity of wildfires by speeding the drying of the landscape, among other influences. One of the most robust conclusions of climate studies has been that human-caused warming would increase the frequency and severity of heat waves and also boost the occurrence of days with extreme fire danger”.

However, as media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns News Corp Australia that, in turn, runs nearly 60% of Australia’s daily media organizations, this control over narratives became part of the stories appearing in January 2020. For example, New York Times journalist Damian Cave reported, “The idea that “greenies” or environmentalists would oppose measures to prevent fires from ravaging homes and lives is simply false. But the comment reflects a narrative that’s been promoted for months by conservative Australian media outlets, especially the influential newspapers and television stations owned by Rupert Murdoch. And it’s far from the only Murdoch-fueled claim making the rounds. His standard-bearing national newspaper, The Australian, has also repeatedly argued that this year’s fires are no worse than those of the past — not true, scientists say, noting that 12 million acres have burned so far, with 2019 alone scorching more of New South Wales than the previous 15 years combined”.

News Corp Australia, via The Australian, pushed back while also accusing other outlets of political motivations behind their critiques. The Editors wrote, “our factual account of bushfires, climate change and the remedies, as well as our editorial commentary on these issues, have been wilfully and ineptly misrepresented by The New York Times and The Guardian Australia as climate denial. The truth is that the political and media reaction to this devastating bushfire season is a bid to replay the May election and get a different result. There is a belief that The Australian — having predicted the result — is somehow complicit in driving policies that promote devastating bushfires. This is not only disingenuous but disgraceful”.

Journalist Zoe Samios from The Sydney Morning Herald reflected, “As bushfires rip through the country, criticism of News Corp’s climate change coverage in its Australian newspapers has been unrelenting. As the links between climate change and the ferocity of the bushfires played out, a subsidiary debate about the appropriateness of certain articles and opinion pieces in The AustralianThe Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun gathered momentum… News Corp has run many pieces that have questioned the legitimacy of widely-accepted climate-change science over the past decade”.

In coverage across Australia and New Zealand, ‘fire’, ‘fires’ and ‘bushfires’ along with ‘climate’, ‘change’, ‘Australia’, ‘Australian’, ‘government’ and ‘Morrison’ all appeared in the top 25 most frequently used words in January 2020 news stories.*

In January, political and economic content also shaped media coverage. Prominently, many media outlets abundantly covered the announcement early in January from BlackRock that they were divesting from carbon-based energy projects that posed significant risk to ongoing capitalist profitmaking. In particular, an open letter from CEO Laurence Funk garnered significant attention, as a break from business-as-usual and potentially (with the scale of BlackRock investments) a sign of emerging trends. For example, journalist Stephen Gandel from CBS News reported, “BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, says it is selling $500 million of coal-related investments as part of a larger shift to make climate change central to its investment decisions. BlackRock founder and CEO Laurence Fink, who oversees the firm’s management of $7 trillion in funds, announced the initiative in his influential annual letter to chief executives of major companies. The letter was posted on BlackRock’s website Tuesday. In it, Fink said he believes we are “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance” because of a warming planet. Climate change has become the top issue raised by clients, Fink said in the letter, and it will soon affect everything from municipal bonds to long-term mortgages for homes”. Meanwhile, Washington Post journalists Stephen Mufson and Rachel Siegel noted, “In a separate letter to investors, BlackRock announced it would exit investments with high environmental risks, including thermal coal, which is burned to produce electricity and creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. BlackRock will also launch new investment products that screen for fossil fuels. The nation’s largest financial institutions are under increasing pressure from investors, activists and some political leaders for their tepid response to climate change, even as the Trump administration has systematically rolled back environmental regulations to promote economic growth”.

Also in January, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – with particular attention paid to climate risk – led to media attention. Of note, the annual risk report released ahead of the meeting contained news that for the first time the top five risk concerns related to climate, biodiversity loss, environment and sustainability. For example, journalist Larry Elliott from The Guardian reported, “A year of extreme weather events and mounting evidence of global heating have catapulted the climate emergency to the top of the list of issues worrying the world’s elite. The World Economic Forum’s annual risks report found that, for the first time in its 15-year history, the environment filled the top five places in the list of concerns likely to have a major impact over the next decade”.

In January, scientific dimensions also grabbed media attention to climate change and global warming. For example, pronouncements that 2019 was the second-hottest year on record (and 2010-2019 was the hottest decade) generated media interest. First to report, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (supported by the European Union) made the announcement. Shortly thereafter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced similar findings. Read more …

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Complaining About Climate Change on Twitter Might Actually Help Scientists

by Tim McDonnell & Daniel Wolfe

Thanks to climate change, destructive flooding caused by hurricanes is on the rise. But so is a less dramatic, if still pernicious, type of flooding. So-called sunny-day floods, which occur mostly in the fall when seasonal ocean tides are at their peak, are occurring more often as sea levels rise.

But scientists and urban planners often struggle to predict the impacts of these high-tide floods along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The mere fact that a town’s local tide gauge registers a flood isn’t particularly helpful for, say, school administrators deciding whether to cancel class, or cops deciding which roads to close, or insurance adjusters looking to raise premiums in vulnerable areas.

So some researchers are looking for clues in a new place: Twitter.

There’s good reason to search for more powerful indicators of flood impacts: Sunny-day floods disrupt traffic, threaten infrastructure, and drain local economies. A study in Science last year found that high-tide flooding cost businesses in downtown Annapolis, MD, more than $100,000 in lost revenue in 2017.

Currently, the main sources of data on sunny-day floods are tide gauges, which are often few and far between. They also don’t paint a very detailed picture of how water levels will actually affect a community, said Katherine Mach, an environmental scientist at the University of Miami who led the Annapolis study.

“Most of what we know about coastal flooding is how it affects people through major disasters. We know less about nuisance floods, recurring, short-duration floods,” she said. So, “understanding how high-tide floods directly impact people is a really challenging issue that has been intractable so far.”

new paper in Nature Communications takes a stab at a different approach: Monitoring flooding through peoples’ exasperated tweets. The analysis, which combed through half a million tweets geotagged in more than 200 counties along the East and Gulf coasts from 2014-2016, found that high-tide floods may be even more widespread than a report from NOAA had suggested. In 22 counties—including those of Miami, New York City, and Boston—the study documented a spike in apparently flood-related tweets at tide levels up to half a meter lower than what the gauge recorded as a flood.

The study looked for changes in the volume of tweets containing at least one of 45 flood-related keywords—including tide, inundate, sandbag, drenched, storm drain, and rising waters—and matched those with water levels as reported by the county tide gauge.

Unsurprisingly, in most cases, flood-related tweets ramped up at about the same water level that the tide gauge registered as a flood. But in those 22 counties, the tweets picked up much earlier, suggesting that in some of America’s most populous coastal cities, sea level rise is already more of a recurring headache than official records would suggest.

This approach “integrates the physical exposure to flooding [i.e., water level] with the actual disruptions people associate with that,” said lead author Frances Moore, an environmental science and policy professor at the University of California, Davis. “So in some ways it’s a more natural way to measure the consequences of flooding.”

The study is a followup to another Moore led last year, which used Twitter data to track reactions to extreme temperature events. In that study, Moore found that temperature-related tweets tend to spike during exceptionally hot or cold weather, but drop off in locations that have experienced weather extremes for several years in a row, suggesting that people can get used to a shifting baseline quickly.

The new flooding study is much smaller (the temperature study included 60 million tweets). And tweets have plenty of pitfalls as a source of data on climate change impacts.

Moore reports that on closer inspection, more than half of the tweets tagged as flood-related were false positives, meaning they included one of the keywords but weren’t really about flooding (although because that rate didn’t seem to change during high tides, Moore says it doesn’t affect the study’s conclusions). The demographics of Twitter users are also not representative of society at large. It can be difficult to verify that any particular tweet isn’t either misinformed or intentionally misleading. And only around one percent of all tweets are geotagged, according to Ali Mostafavi, an urban resilience researcher at Texas A&M University who has separately tried using social media to examine climate change impacts.AP PHOTO/BRIAN WITTEPolice closed Dock Street in downtown Annapolis in Oct. 2017, after winds at high tide caused flooding on two streets in Maryland’s capital city.

Still, Mostafavi said, there’s a growing appetite among climate researchers to use social media data—particularly data from Twitter, which is more easily accessible to researchers than Facebook or Instagram—to fill in information gaps in the wake of natural disasters. So far, that effort includes giving early warnings of emerging wildfires and analyzing photos attached to tweets to identify where emergency services might be needed.

Other novel data sources, including satellite imagery and drone footage—the Annapolis study even relied on parking meter records—can also help supplement traditional disaster data.

“As long as we work in a complementary way with scientific sources, like tide gauges, these are great developments,” said Max Boykoff, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder. 

“The more data we can get at a greater resolution, will really help us better understand where people are at risk, where they’re vulnerable,” he said.

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It’s 2020, and Time To Celebrate (and Protect) Academic Climate Advocacy for Evidence and Facts

by Maxwell Boykoff
Director, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and Associate Professor, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado Boulder

CSTPR White Paper 2020-01

Introduction (to a Fraught Situation)
‘Advocacy’ in academia has unfortunately become a dirty word in many quarters. It can be unsettling for numerous reasons:

  • precarity of one’s academic research position
  • susceptibility of one’s institution to funding pressures
  • a feeling of inundation already in one’s job by the time-pressures involved in other aspects of their roles as researchers
  • reticence to take on new and extra tasks in an already busy professional (and personal) life
  • fear of risking one’s individual or institutional scientific credibility
  • reluctance to pull time and energy from one’s core passions of research (in a time limited environment)
  • discomfort with potential peer or public backlash
  • acknowledgement that one simply is not a good communicator of one’s research (and possibly their teaching)

These complexities are real and must be taken into account. Frankly, engagement construed as ‘advocacy’ clearly is not for everyone, especially in the highly contentious and highly politicized United States (US) arena.

As a result, in 2020 we find that many consequently choose to avoid the treacherous waters of advocacy, broadly construed, for fear of undertow.

However, individual and institutional choices have consequences. In a 21st century communications environment, it is important to understand that those who feel their work is done once they have done the field research, and have written up and published their findings are actually those trapped in a 20th century mindset.

It can be soothing and comfortable to take that view.

But as a result of views and (in)actions like these, there has emerged an ‘engagement gap’ where many relevant expert researchers choose to ‘self-silence’ rather than speak out on critical issues they know a great deal about (Lewandowsky et al, 2015). And at times when academic researchers do speak out, there can be a tendency to actually underplay threats so as to avoid appearing alarmist or extreme. Keynyn Brysse, Naomi Oreskes, Jessica O’Reilly and Michael Oppenheimer have called this ‘erring on the side of least drama’ (Brysse et al, 2013).

However, in 2020 I argue that more substantive engagement and ‘advocacy’ is needed among many of us academic researchers so that the scale of the climate challenges are met with some semblance of a commensurate response. Academic researchers are on solid ground when advocating for facts, evidence and truth(s) and allowing this to be conflated with advocacy for specific policies or getting involved in ‘impure’ activities is damaging to our ongoing efforts over the medium-to-long-term.

Perhaps we needn’t worry as much – as individuals, as institutions – that we tend to do. In fact, John Kotcher and colleagues found that “Climate scientists can safely engage in public dialogue about policy matters”…“and in certain forms of advocacy without directly harming their credibility or the credibility of the scientific community” (2017, 9) and “Climate scientists advocating for action broadly may not harm their credibility” (2017, 12).

What is academic climate advocacy?
Some of the reticence I describe stems from a substantial amount of confusion and conflation within the academic community about different points of entry into this world of ‘advocacy’. Mixed in here are also ingredients about what may be the ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ place for academic researchers to enter these worlds. What results is often anxiety about how to navigate these often high-profile, high-stakes and highly-politicized spaces of engagement at the science-policy interface and in the public sphere.

In a book I recently wrote called ‘Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society’ (2019), I worked to clarify and cleave nodes of advocacy across a spectrum, as I mapped out a basic taxonomy of academic advocacy through the case study of climate change science, policy and cultural action.

In the book I sought to recapture solid ground on which researchers can then stand on when considering their varied involvement in the public sphere.

  • Type 0 advocacy = those who choose to stay away from any semblance of advocacy, due to confusion and conflation of perceptions of academic advocacy in the public sphere; this appearance of inaction is in fact a choice or action
  • Type I advocacy = advocacy for (scientific) evidence, facts and truth: this approach also advocates for the intersecting ways in which experiential, emotional, and aesthetic information informs scientific ways of knowing about climate change
  • Type II advocacy = advocacy for policy outcomes: this approach promotes particular decisions (e.g. environmental policies or legislation) based on evidence ascertained its various forms to know about climate change; one strain of this type of advocacy may then involve advocacy for particular political parties that advance preferred policies

These types of advocacy are not meant to be interpreted as a binary or blunt interpretations of varied stakes and contexts (across time and places). Rather, these represent distinct nodes across a spectrum of chosen engagements.

Through defining these nodes across a spectrum, I do not suggest that academic researchers will slot statically into one node or the other. There is dynamism in these flavors of engagement across issues and over time, along with a range from low- to high-stakes situations, all possibly experienced by the same academic researcher. Moreover, this is not just about frequency of advocacy but efficacy.

Understanding this spectrum can help to strengthen rather than tarnish the reputation of science through politically-relevant advocacy and activism.

There are many contemporary examples of ways in which individuals and institutions grapple with whether or how to engage in advocacy. As one example, we can consider the ‘Marches for Science’ that have taken place in recent years. To date, these marches have been a coordinated set of rallies held near Earth Day (April 22). These were first organized amid a backdrop of increased mobilizations in the US and around the world (like the January 2017 ‘Women’s March’).

Other satellite events have included a ‘Rally to Stand Up for Science’ outside the 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Climate researchers who participated in these marches for science took ‘steps’ from talk to action.

These were marches not organized for a specific cause or policy, but for advocacy for the integrity of scientific inquiry. At the 2018 March for Science, journalist Suan Svrluga from the Washington Post reported, “A few people chanted “Science is real. It’s not how you feel,” beating a tempo on buckets, but mostly the mass of people marched through Washington quietly Saturday, letting their homemade signs show their support for empirical research” (Svrluga, 2018).

Many signs declared the need for facts, evidence and truth from science to inform policy (Figure 1). Survey work on the marches and marchers found that 89% marched because they wanted more evidence in policy decisions (Myers et al, 2018).

But other academic researchers found themselves uncomfortable participating or chose not to participate at all due to the reasons stated at the outset of this piece, and due to a sense of unclear demarcations between advocacy for scientific-evidence, or advocacy for particular policies or even advocacy against US President Donald J. Trump. In fact at the marches, calls for a return to evidence-based policymaking and funding for scientific research moved at times from general statement and signs to explicit linkages to the Trump administration’s suppression and side lining of science.

Because of this slippage in the public view, critiques then poured in from many different perspectives. For examples, sociologist Robert Brulle argued that by placing climate scientists as leading spokespeople for climate change action, “it fed into and exacerbated the existing polarized divide” rather than bridging it (2018, p. 3). Meanwhile, physicist Jim Gates opined that “such a politically-charged event might send a message to the public that scientists are driven by ideology more than by evidence” (Flam, 2017).

What have we learned so far?
My recent book catalogued relevant social science and humanities scholarship to better understand which creative climate communications work where, when, why and under what conditions and audiences. The focus on advocacy (in Chapter 6) sought to clarify, provoke and inspire productive deliberations on how one might navigate these fears and challenges associated with advocacy at the science-policy interface and in the public arena.

The book profiled work from scholars like Shahzeen Attari, Naomi Oreskes, John Kotcher, Elke Weber, John Besley, Declan Fahy, Matt Nisbet, and Lydia Messling, who are conducting research to more systematically understand intersections of expertise, public intellectualism and advocacy. For instance, Shahzeen Attari and colleagues who examined personal choices by use of public transportation (not intentions to fly or home energy conservation) and found that “differences in perceived credibility strongly affect participants’ reported intentions to change personal energy consumption” (2016, 325). In the book, I also drew on research that I have undertaken with David Oonk (2018). Together, these scholars and their research provide important insights into academic climate advocacy in 2020 and beyond.

Again, it is understandable if academic researchers do not desire to be type I advocates. However, as academic researchers it is vitally important that we do not lose the term advocacy altogether. In this 21st century milieu of ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’, when we in the academic arena (as well as in others) surrender advocacy altogether, we surrender advocacy for facts, advocacy for truth, and advocacy for evidence as well.

There are consequential and often deleterious impacts when relevant experts do not step up. Unfortunately, this predicament around perceptions of academic advocacy has emerged at a time when involvement is sorely needed.

In February 2018, the Editors of Scientific American penned an opinion piece entitled ‘Go Public or Perish’. In it, they made the observation that “if citizens never hear from legitimate experts, no one can blame them for indifference to fake-science tweets, decisions by politicians that ignore facts, or cuts to federal agencies that are supposed to be built on sound science” (2018).

Conclusion (to an Ongoing Story)
As climate change cuts to the heart of how we live, work, play and relax in modern life, engagement through research and through communications entail reflection on how our personal lives mesh with our professional ones. ‘Advocacy’ is in fact humanizing, and setting (positive) examples do matter. And members of academic communities have engaged various forms of engagement relating to their research every day. Some engage in advocacy in part because they view engagement as part of their responsibility as contemporary climate researchers. Others have engaged because they seek to shift and/or elevate the quality of public conversations.

Exemplification theory suggests that concrete cases of influential actors grappling with issues like climate change can significantly influence citizens’ awareness and inclination to act themselves (Gibson and Zillman, 1994). This is the case because such exertions have been found to lower the psychological barriers to engagement (Zillman, 2006). Pro-environmental and pro-social behavioral engagement though inspirational leadership has been evidenced in numerous studies (e.g. Maki et al 2019; Lin, 2013).

Since I wrote the book, another research contribution from Gregg Sparkman and Shahzeen Attari gives the imperfect ones among us some encouragement too. Detecting possible ‘greener than thou’ blowback (in other words getting some resistance by acting too perfect or extreme), they found that “advocates, especially experts, are most credible and influential when they adopt many sustainable behaviors in their day-to-day lives, so long as they are not seen as too extreme” (Sparkman and Attari, 2020, p. 6).

Today, we are forced to navigate these challenges in choppy waters of climate discourse in the public sphere (Figure 2). There is no particularly ‘easy sailing’ here. However, informed choices (based on social sciences and humanities scholarship and examples in practice that I profile here and in my book), a more clear understanding along with mindful partnerships and collaborations can overcome many of these vulnerabilities and concerns.

When those recoiling from spaces of advocacy for evidence-based climate research are the relevant experts who hold insights for useful and informed commentary, I ultimately argue that they should be viewed as missed opportunities to attend to their present-day responsibilities of meeting people where they are on climate change. Put simply, we must instead normalize, celebrate and protect advocacy for evidence, truth and facts in our shared 21st century encounters at the human-environment interface.

Attari, S. Z., Krantz, D. H., and Weber, E. U. (2016). Statements about climate researchers’ carbon footprints affect their credibility and the impact of their advice. Climatic Change, 138(1-2), pp. 325-338.

Boykoff, M. (2019) Creative (Climate) Communications: Productive Pathways for Science, Policy and Society Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316646823. 302 pp.

Boykoff, M. and Oonk, D. (2018) Evaluating the perils and promises of academic climate advocacy Climatic Change 10.1007/s10584-018-2339-3

Brulle, R.J. (2018). Critical reflections on the march for science. Sociological Forum, 33:1, pp. 255-258.

Brysse, K., Oreskes, N., O’Reilly, J. and Oppenheimer, M. (2013). Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama? Global environmental change, 23(1), pp. 327-337.

Flam, Faye. (2017). Why Some Scientists Won’t March for Science. Bloomberg. 7 March. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-03-07/why-some-scientists-won-t-march-for-science

Gibson, R., and Zillmann, D. (1994). Exaggerated versus representative exemplification in news reports – perceptions of issues and personal consequences. Communication Research, 21: pp. 603–624.

Kotcher, J. E., Myers, T. A., Vraga, E. K., et al. (2017). Does engagement in advocacy hurt the credibility of scientists? Results from a randomized national survey experiment. Environmental Communication, 11(3), pp. 415-429.

Lin, S.J. (2013). Perceived impact of a documentary film: An investigation of the first-person effect and its implications for environmental issues. Science Communication, 35(6), pp. 708-733.

Maki, A., Carrico, A.R., Raimi, K.T., Truelove, H.B., Araujo, B. and Yeung, K.L., 2019. Meta-analysis of pro-environmental behaviour spillover. Nature Sustainability, 2(4), p.307.

Myers, T., Kotcher, J., Cook, J., et al. (2018). March for Science 2017: A Survey of Participants and Followers. George Mason University, Fairfax, VA: Center for Climate Change Communication.

Scientific American Editors. (2018). Go Public or Perish. Scientific American, February.

Sparkman, G. and Attari, S.Z., (2020). Credibility, communication, and climate change: How lifestyle inconsistency and do-gooder derogation impact decarbonization advocacy. Energy Research & Social Science, 59, 1-7.

Svrluga, S. (2018). Washington celebrates a day for marching and remembering. Washington Post. 14 April. Available at:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/march-for-science-returns-to-the-district-on-saturday-for-a-second-year/2018/04/13/40113f00-3f23-11e8-974f-aacd97698cef_story.html?utm_term=.9ede5ba31550

Zillmann, D. (2006). Exemplification effects in the promotion of safety and health. Journal of Communication, 56, pp. S221–S237.

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Humor Helped 90% of Subjects Feel More Hopeful About Climate Change


The precarious state of Earth’s climate is getting harder to ignore. The seemingly constant influx of bad news has contributed to new forms anxiety and depression, and even coined new terms like “climate grief” and “eco-anxiety.”

These new sources of stress demand new remedies — so how do we deal?

To start: Laugh about it.

No really. Research suggests that the power of humor to combat climate-induced anxiety goes beyond just temporary distraction.

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder has published several findings that get at how comedy can influence the way we feel about climate change.

In June 2019, they published a study in the journal Comedy Studies that looked at how “good-natured comedy” — beyond satire — helps people “positively process negative emotions regarding global warming” and “sustain hope.”

The study included 30 students at the university who studied environmental sciences. To gauge whether humor could influence their feelings about climate change, the researchers had them participate in a number of comedy workshops related to climate change, including coming up with their own skits.

After the workshops, 90 percent of the students said they felt more hopeful about climate change during the exercises. Importantly, 83 percent said they felt their commitment to taking action on climate change was stronger — and more likely to last.

The students also said that reframing the climate change narrative from doom and gloom into comedy not only made them feel more hopeful about climate action — it could also help others feel more empowered to take meaningful action. All hope, it seemed, was no longer lost.


A 2018 study by the same scientists examined how comedy can change the conversation about climate change. The researchers analyzed stand-up shows that focused on climate change — specifically, a video competition series at the University of Colorado called “Stand Up for Climate Change” — and tracked how the audience responded over the three years the series took place.

Climate comedy helps to make people more aware of climate change, brings an emotional element to the conversation, and highlights themes like problem solving and knowledge formation, they found.

“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,” the researchers conclude in the paper.

But this conversation isn’t “a given,” they note. Having an effective funny conversation about climate change requires comedians — and communicators — to “meet people where they are.” That means “emotional, tactile, visceral, and experiential communication,” Boykoff describes in a piece for The Conversation.

“Rather than ‘dumbing down’ science for the public, this is a ‘smartening up’ approach that has been shown to bring people together around a highly divisive topic,” Boykoff writes.

Humor doesn’t always lead to positive effects on climate perspective. A 2019 study from a different group of researchers looked at how more than 1,200 people responded to late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s satirical approach (contrasting the “good-natured” style examined in the first study) to talking about the climate.

The researchers edited a segment of Kimmel to highlight either humor or indignation, and tracked how participants reacted to the two approaches. The humor-only segments reduced participants’ anger about climate change — but they rated those segments as less informative. Overall, “avoiding humor helped close the partisan gap in risk perception between Republicans and Democrats,” the researchers found — suggesting a more sober approach may be better in some circumstances. Read more …

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Creative (Climate) Communications Illustration

Cal Brackin, master illustrator and founder of On Board Innovations created this video encapsulating a presentation by Max Boykoff on Creative Climate Communication.

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Jokes Are a Surprisingly Effective Way To Talk About Climate Change

Changing America
by Sophie Yeo

Matt Winning isn’t an ordinary comedian. He is an environmental economist — he lectures at University College London — but he also writes and performs shows about climate change. His comedy routines have caused audiences to break down in tears. Critics love him.

Winning’s latest show is called “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,” which he performed at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland last year. Despite his academic background, and despite the seriousness of the topic, he believes that comedy is the best way to reach out to a large number of people and prompt action when it comes to climate change.

“It elevates the topic,” he says. “There’s a lot of comedy in my show, but occasionally there’s a parcel where I make more serious points, and I think that’s what life is: highs and lows, humorous and dark at the same time. That’s actually how you can talk meaningfully about this topic.”

As climate change gets worse, and the news cycle becomes increasingly dominated by stories of wildfires and melting ice, the decline of nature and increasingly hot temperatures, it may be difficult to trust that levity is an appropriate way to respond to the crisis. Certainly, Greta Thunberg has not become the spokesperson of her generation because of her wisecracks.

Yet, there is a growing body of research to suggest that comedy is actually an effective way to ensure that people engage with climate change. Moreover, academics have found that good-natured comedy, rather than the more downbeat and indignant category of satire, may be the best way to make audiences care about the issue.

While this may be unexpected, it certainly isn’t new. Playwrights have been using comedy to address serious topics for millennia, says Beth Osnes, professor of theatre at the University of Colorado Boulder, who is studying the potential of comedy to communicate climate change.

“One of the most famous Greek plays is Lysistrata, in which there was a sex strike to stop the Peloponnesian War. There was nothing funny about the Peloponnesian War,” says Osnes. “Comedy is not something that makes things ridiculous — comedy has a long history of taking on very serious corruption and things like that.”

Rather than just theorizing about the role that comedy might play in communicating climate change, Osnes has helped establish a stand-up comedy course for students, most of whom were majoring in Environmental Studies and who had found themselves depressed by their course of study. The event is called “Drawdown, Act Up!,” and is part of a wider university program called “Inside The Greenhouse,” which explores creative ways to talk about climate change.

Following the performances, which took place at Rocky Mountain National Park, Osnes and her colleagues surveyed the students about their experiences and published the results in the journal Comedy Studies. They found that 90 percent of students felt more hopeful about climate change when engaging with the subject in a fun or joyful manner, and that 83 percent felt that their commitment to climate change action was consequently more sustainable.

By giving students a positive outlet for their emotions and making conversation around climate change an enjoyable experience, Osnes hopes that young activists are more likely to stay engaged with the topic, rather than failing to deal with their negative emotions and ultimately burning out.

“We found that it really helps young people process negative emotions around climate change,” Osnes observes. “What can help sustain commitment to climate action is the infusion of fun into the process of engagement. If we’re doing something that matches our values and aligns with our passions and it’s fun, the likelihood that we’re going to come back again and again is very high.”

A crucial part of this experiment was that the comedy was explicitly good-natured, rather than satirical in nature — in other words, the humor arises from techniques like word play, innuendo and exaggeration, rather than a pointed attack intended to shame or expose a target. This finding was echoed in another recent study by Chris Skurka, an assistant professor in media studies at Penn State University.

Skurka carried out his study by editing a clip of Jimmy Kimmel discussing climate change and Sarah Palin in four ways: one kept only the informational content, another kept only the humor, one kept only the indignation, and one — the satirical version, and the one which was closest to the original — which kept both the humor and the indignation. While Skarka started his research expecting that satire would be an effective means to communicate climate change humorously without undermining the seriousness of the topic, he actually found that the satirical version was the least effective of the four clips.

“What we suspect might be going on is that it is possible for Kimmel to use humor to talk about climate change, but when he also expresses contempt or hostility, he may inadvertently come off as abrasive. If he’s just humorous about the issue, he may be able to spark young people’s interest,” says Skurka.

He also discovered that Republicans were less likely to be amused by Kimmel’s mockery of Sarah Palin than Democrats, providing evidence of what most people already know from personal experience: that comedy is funny until you become the butt of the joke. More surprising was that the gap between political parties shrank during the humor-free segment. “It is possible for late-night comedians to talk about climate change and even promote Republicans’ perception of climate change risk — so long as they skip jokes targeting climate deniers and/or big corporations along the way,” the paper concludes.

In other words, jokes about climate change can be funny. But for the most laughs and the widest impact, the Jimmy Kimmels of this world must crack the right jokes to the right people.

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