Tourism in Antarctica: Edging Toward the (Risky) Mainstream

Travel to one of the most remote parts of the planet is booming. What does that mean for the environment and visitor safety?

New York Times
by Paige McClanahan

In January, the Coral Princess, a ship with 2,000 berths and a crew of nearly 900, plowed through the frigid waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, cruising past icebergs, glaciers and mountains clad in snow. The cruise, which had been advertised at less than $4,000 per person, is remarkably cheaper than most Antarctic expeditions, which often charge guests at least three times that amount for the privilege of visiting one of the wildest parts of the planet. Visitors to the region — and the ships that carry them — are growing in number: Antarctica, once accessible only to well-funded explorers, is now edging toward the mainstream.

But managing tourism is a tricky issue in this distant region where no individual government has the power to set the rules, and the challenge is becoming more complex as Antarctica’s popularity grows. During the current austral summer, which runs from roughly November to March, visitor numbers to Antarctica are expected to rise by nearly 40 percent from the previous season. Some observers warn that such rapid growth risks imperiling visitor safety and adding pressure to this fragile region, which is already straining under the effects of climate change, commercial fishing for krill, toothfish and other species, and even scientific research.

Human activity in Antarctica falls under the governance of the Antarctic Treaty system, a model of international cooperation that dates to the Cold War era. But day-to-day management of tourism is regulated by the tour operators themselves, through a voluntary trade association that sets and enforces rules among its members. Observers agree that this system has worked well since it was set up in the 1990s, but some worry that booming tourist numbers could push the old system to a breaking point. They say that the consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty system — governments like those of the United States, France, New Zealand, Argentina and some two dozen others — must act more quickly to manage tourism, and protect the region’s value as a wilderness.

“The bottom line for us is that there aren’t a lot of hard rules governing tourism. It’s mostly voluntary,” said Claire Christian, executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), a network of more than 15 conservation groups that serves as an observer to the Antarctic Treaty system. “Right now, there is a lot of good will. But that’s not something you can guarantee.”

Scientists warn that the rise in tourism also increases the risk of disrupting the fragile environment. The introduction of invasive species — nonnative crabs or mussels clinging to the hull of a ship, foreign plant seeds stuck in the lining of a tourist’s parka — remains an important and ever-present threat. There is also evidence that populations of penguins and other wildlife have been disturbed by human activity in some areas. At the popular Hannah Point, there have been two reported instances of elephant seals falling off a cliff because of visitor disturbance. At other sites, historic structures have been marred by graffiti.

The Antarctic Treaty parties have drawn up “site visitor guidelines” for 42 of the most popular landing sites; these govern things like where ships are allowed to land, where visitors are allowed to walk, and how many landings are allowed per day. But the IAATO website lists more than 100 landing sites on the Antarctic Peninsula. Those with no guidelines in place may become more popular as tour operators try to avoid the crowds.

Pollution from ships is another concern. Although the International Maritime Organization’s polar code introduced new measures to control pollution, it still allows ships to dump raw sewage into the ocean if they are more than 12 nautical miles, roughly 13.8 miles, away from the nearest ice shelf or “fast ice” — stationary sea ice attached to the continent or grounded icebergs. It also fails to regulate discharges of “graywater,” runoff from ships’ sinks, showers and laundries that has been shown to contain high levels of fecal coliform as well as other pathogens and pollutants. Concerns about pollution are perhaps all the more worrying given the arrival of Princess Cruise Lines, which — alongside its parent company, Carnival Corporation — has been heavily fined for committing serious environmental crimes in other parts of the world.

A spokeswoman for Princess Cruises stressed in an email that the company is “committed to environmental practices that set a high standard for excellence and responsibility to help preserve the marine environment in Antarctica.” Negin Kamali, Princess Cruises’ director of public relations, added that the company meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements for Antarctica.

Fuel pollution, especially carbon emissions — is another concern, although there have been some positive steps. In 2011, the use of heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic was banned under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Today, ships in the region generally use less-polluting marine diesel, although some — like the MS Roald Amundsen, run by the Norwegian company Hurtigruten — have gone a step further, supplementing their traditional fuel with battery power. Princess Cruises is currently testing similar technologies, said Ms. Kamali.

In the background, warmer temperatures are making the entire continent more vulnerable to external threats.

“It’s important to understand that all of these impacts — climate change, fishing, tourism — are cumulative,” Cassandra Brooks, an assistant professor in environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, wrote in an email. “Given the sheer carbon footprint of Antarctic tourism, and the rapid growth in the industry, these operations will become increasingly difficult to justify.” Read more …

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Saying Bernie Sanders ‘Rejects’ Climate Reality is Profoundly Foolish

by Mark Kaufman

So far in short-lived 2020, Antarctic scientists measured warm waters eating away at the planet’s most threatening glacier, Earth experienced its warmest January in over 140 years of record-keeping, and the Australian Navy rescued 1,000 residents trapped by the nation’s historic, climate-enhanced fires

Sen. Bernie Sanders has an ambitious, though imperfect, plan to help slash Earth’s skyrocketing carbon emissions. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, appointed a non-climate scientist to the National Security Council who incorrectly claimed Earth’s plants are in dire need of more CO2, directed his administration to officially leave the world’s climate change agreement in November, and got owned by Captain America when he childishly tweeted that the inevitable presence of winter means the planet isn’t warming.

Yet Washington Post opinion columnist Fred Hiatt has chosen to write to the paper’s massive audience that Sanders and Trump “both reject the reality of climate change.” You may ask, Did the PR arm of a powerful oil company write this? No, but almost. The column is buttressed by a conversation with the CEO of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies (Total). It argues that Sanders’ climate plan is “fantasy extremism,” largely because it doesn’t rely on less-aggressive carbon taxes to curb human-caused warming.

This argument, however, is critically flawed. It’s unpleasant to hear, but avoiding the worst consequences of a heating planet (a planet that warms by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 Fahrenheit, above 19th-Century levels) will indeed require widespread, extreme measures. “Limiting warming to 1.5 C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” U.N. climate scientist Jim Skea said in 2018.

So while it’s true Sanders’ $16 trillion framework (and Democratic plans similar to it) is extremely ambitious, it grasps what’s required to radically transform how we power our vehicles, homes, and economy. 

“This kind of ambition gets us into the ballpark that’s commensurate with the scale of the challenge,” Max Boykoff, the director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Mashable last year.

Take, for example, wind and solar energy in the United States. Since 2008, 90 percent of the nation’s wind and solar has come online. While an admirable achievement, this only accounts for around 10 percent of electricity produced in the U.S. today. Sanders’ plan wants to ramp this up to 100 percent in a decade’s time. Unprecedented, yes. But U.N. scientists emphasize that to stay on track for largely eliminating carbon emissions (attaining “net zero”) by 2050, civilization’s emissions must plummet by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. 

Is it a “rejection of climate change” to strive for the unparalleled carbon cuts as called for by the United Nations, the world’s leading intergovernmental organization? Not nearly.  

Sanders’ climate plan may be easy to attack in an Op-Ed because it’s bold, far-reaching — and imperfect. 

For example, Hiatt criticized Sanders desire to ban fracking for natural gas, which Hiatt argues can be a credible “transition fuel” from coal (fracking means injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break open hard-to-reach pockets of fossil fuels). Sanders wouldn’t be able to ban fracking, as no president can legally ban fracking on the private land where some 77 percent of fracking occurs. But at least Sanders doesn’t support more fracking on public, federal land — a place where a president can prohibit more drilling. 

Natural gas, which leaks in prodigious amounts from fracking sites and is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years, is clearly not a climate savior nor a dependable “transition fuel” that can be relied on in the decades ahead. Yet, natural gas is now the largest electricity source in the nation. It’s certainly not going away anytime soon, but Sanders aims to speed up the replacement of natural gas with renewables. Read more …

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Saving the Planet Through the Education of Climate Change

Texas A&M’s The Battalion
by Jennifer Streeter

While climate change affects everyone on the planet, researchers who focus on how climate change is communicated showed the negative effects already impacting communities on the margin while noting that no one is unaffected.

Day one of “Communicating the New Climate Regime: Confronting the Coming Barbarism” included presentations on the global climate movement inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg in contrast to the history of environmental racism against poor, African American communities in the U.S. The conference continues Friday, Feb. 21, with nine speakers discussing the science and religion of global warming, designing a just climate policy, and fascist and democratic tendencies in the new climate regime. All presentations are open to the public; no advance registration required.

Professor Nathan Crick, Ph.D., opened the conference by focusing on the rhetoric of the new climate regime and how it impacts individuals. Crick is the author of six books and specializes in rhetoric and public affairs in the Dept. of Communication at Texas A&M.

“We are trying to show how climate change is communicated,” Dr. Crick said. “It affects communities in the center and on the margins. Part of what global warming does as a movement is that there is no one unaffected.”

Zoe Clemmons, a researcher at Colorado State University in the Journalism & Media department, has analyzed Thunberg communicates on her Instagram account. Thunberg, who was nominated for the 2019 and 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, has maintained a largely hopeful outlook in her posts, said Clemmons, in contrast to the content of many of her speeches including at the U.N. Thunberg has called out leaders for not doing more to combat the climate crisis, said Clemmons.

While 69 percent of American are worried about climate change, 70 percent would not donate $10 to fight the cause, noted Clemmons.

Thunberg’s message of hope on social media stands in sharp contrast to the key issue of trash – and where it is dumped – the focus a presentation by Hana Masri of the University of Texas at Austin. Her research defined the rhetoric of smell — specifically the omnipresent stench of trash — and early organizing efforts by CORE against environmental racism during the Jim Crow era in the South.

“They put garbage where they think garbage lives,” Masri explained about the decision of white community leaders to put the town’s landfill in the center of the African American neighborhood while also limiting trash pickup within the black community.

The health problems imposed on impoverished African American communities was highlighted by Racquel Robvias, Ph.D., from Louisiana State University, in her presentation on an “Urban Heat Island.”

“It’s a slow violence,” Robvias explained. “It’s internal; what’s going on, on the inside.”

Ryan McGeough of the University of Northern Iowa, who presented on the changing relationship to land, said he appreciated the chance to bring together academics from across the country to address the rhetoric of climate change.

“They did a nice job of getting some really heavy hitters academically to come and be in one place talking to each other,” McGeough said.

Phaedra Pezzullo from University of Colorado, Boulder, will close out the conference tomorrow by focusing on “climate barbarism.” Pezzullo said she feels strongly that it is imperative to respond to the climate crisis.

“Do we want to have radical individualism?” Pezzullo asked. The alternative, she noted, is to act in the public good.

Day two of “Communicating the New Climate Regime: Confronting the Coming Barbarism” resumes at 9 a.m. in MSC 1400 with Giselle Warren of Texas A&M University presenting “The Science and Religion of Global Warming.”

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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,, 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:

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:

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

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