Mass Media Representations of Anthromes

by Leslie Sklair and Maxwell Boykoff

In M. Goldstein & D. DellaSala (eds). Encyclopedia of the World’s Biomes: Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences. Oxford: Elsevier, 2020.

Abstract: This article is divided into three sections. The first deals with the ways in which ideas of anthropogenic biomes (anthromes) have appeared in mass media coverage of climate change and global warming. The second section addresses the ways in which ideas of anthromes have appeared in mass media coverage of the Anthropocene. While the precise specifications of anthropogenic biomes have varied somewhat over time, our focus is on the six main categories, namely dense settlements/urban, croplands, rangelands, forests, wildlands, and indoor anthromes. In the third section, we draw out some conclusions from these findings. Read more …

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How to Ruin a Party? Make it Political

by Colleen Johns
Winning entry from an op-ed contest in Matt Burgess’s ENVS 4100: Sustainable Economies class

Photo: Arvada High School students marching for Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Photo: Dick Davis/Rocky Mountain News.

Parties are generally fun. They bring people together through cake and laughter and dancing and sometimes pinatas. Birthday parties, retirement parties, Halloween parties, holiday parties, and block parties exude happiness. But one party in particular is the opposite of happy these days—

the political party.

Today, political parties are anything but fun. In fact, sometimes they’re rude, mean, and cruel. Lately, our nation’s two largest political parties can’t seem to agree on anything. If they were asked to pick a dessert to share, they’d likely disagree. It is no surprise than that solutions to issues much larger than the flavor of a cake, such as climate change, are also stifled by disagreement.

Climate policy hasn’t always been a partisan issue. Nearly fifty years ago to the day on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was officially celebrated in the United States. Developed by Democratic Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and supported by bipartisan grassroots efforts across the country, the celebration was observed by 20 million Americans through rallies and protests for a clean and healthy environment. By the end of 1970, America had established the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Act.

Today, though the parties agree on the reality of climate change, climate policy to address the issue is polarized. But if climate policy is not a new issue, and bipartisan efforts to address climate change have succeeded in the past, why is polarization today so significant?

In a 2018 study, researchers found that citizens and policymakers tend to support policy from their own party and devalue the policies proposed by the other. However, disagreement strictly for the sake of partisanship is sometimes exaggerated, and this exaggeration only increases political divide. If America truly wants to end political polarization over climate policy and move forward addressing climate change, it must speak positively of the working relationship between Republicans and Democrats and decouple political identity from climate policy.

Positivity is powerful. In a study measuring the effects of what the researchers called “positive psychological capital” on work performance and satisfaction, the researchers found that individuals who are more hopeful, optimistic, efficacious, and resilient may be more likely to weather adversity. These individuals perform better in the workplace and are generally more satisfied with their work. Employing any one of these attributes in policy may help Congress overcome polarity.

The first Earth Day succeeded not because the Democratic party supported Nelson more than the Republican party opposed him, but because both parties supported him (Nelson’s co-chair for the Day was Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey). To achieve the bipartisan support the first Earth Day did today, partisanship must be made a nonfactor. The congressional leaders of climate policy must represent both sides such that there are no sides at all; there is one effort by many groups just as there is one Earth inhabited by many individuals. An inhabitable planet must be prioritized. After all, no planet? No parties.

Colleen Johns is an Ohio native who moved to Colorado to pursue her interests in human and planetary health as a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder specializing in Sustainable Food Systems. She studies regenerative agriculture as both a research assistant at the university and as a fellow with the Boulder-based nonprofit, Mad Agriculture. Her passion for food is matched by her passions for comedy, nutrition, hiking, and most recently, roller skating.

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More Protections Needed to Safeguard Biodiversity in the Southern Ocean

CU Boulder Today

Current marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean need to be at least doubled to adequately safeguard the biodiversity of the Antarctic, according to a new CU Boulder study published today, Earth Day, in the journal PLOS ONE

Proposals under consideration by an international council this year would significantly improve the variety of habitats protected, sustain fish populations and enhance the region’s resilience to the effects of climate change, the authors say. 

“Compared to the rest of the world’s oceans, we have some of the healthiest marine systems left in the world in Antarctica,” said Cassandra Brooks, author of the new paper and assistant professor in the Environmental Studies Program. “But there are vast areas of the Southern Ocean that are left completely unprotected.” 

Many international targets suggest that 10 to 30 percent of the world’s combined oceans should be protected. The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, comprises about 10 percent of the world’s oceans, and its protection can play a large role in accomplishing this goal. 

At present, almost 12 percent of the Southern Ocean is designated as part of marine protected areas, or MPAs. MPAs – especially “no-take” MPAs, or marine reserves which do not allow any fishing – have been shown to support the abundance and diversity of species. 

“But percentages aren’t enough,” said Brooks. “You want protected areas to be representative of all the different life that’s in the Southern Ocean.” 

The Antarctic region is home to as many as 10,000 species – including whales, seals, penguins, fish, corals and giant Antarctic sea spiders – many of which are found nowhere else in the world. And as far as scientists know, none of them have yet gone extinct from climate change or other human actions. 

If additional marine protected areas currently under negotiation by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) are implemented, they would encompass almost 22 percent of the Southern Ocean and achieve at least 10 percent representation of its over 40 unique habitats. 

“As marine scientists, it’s important we have places left that we can actually study as healthy systems that are undergoing climate stress,” said Brooks. 

But the Southern Ocean supports international commercial fisheries for Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, sold as Chilean sea bass, as well as krill, which is farmed for fish meal and omega-3 fatty acid pills. Less than 5 percent of the Southern Ocean’s protection bans fishing. 

Pressure on these fisheries has increased in recent years and is likely to continue, due to the popularity of omega-3 pills and demand for fish meal – which is fed to pigs, chickens, and other farmed fish. At the same time, climate change pressures on Southern Ocean ecosystems are also increasing. 

To help boost the resilience of these ecosystems, “we really need large areas that are off limits to extraction,” said Brooks. “Antarctica is a global commons that belongs to all of us.” 

A system in flux

The importance of the Antarctic cannot be understated. The Southern Ocean stores 90 percent of the world’s freshwater, drives global ocean circulation and regulates our entire climate.

“At its most basic level, all Earth’s systems depend on the Southern Ocean,” said Brooks. “And Antarctica is one of the fastest changing places in the whole world due to climate change. It is impacting the entire ecosystem in ways that we really don’t understand yet.” 

Populations of phytoplankton communities and krill – at the bottom of the food chain – to penguins and toothfish – at the very top – are changing. The whole system is in flux.

Most of these animals cannot migrate or relocate. They’re already as far south as they can go. 

Building on work from previous studies, Brooks and her co-authors wanted to know: Are we protecting the right areas that actually will conserve biodiversity?

So they looked at the variety of Antarctic ocean habitats, from the seafloor to the open water, and examined what percentage of them rest within existing and proposed protected areas and which ones do not. 

They found that for protections to be fully representative of the biodiversity in the Southern Ocean, and better protect many ocean birds and mammals, they would need to be increased even more than protections currently proposed by CCAMLR. This international treaty group of 26 member states is next scheduled to meet in October of 2020.

Adopting these protections would be an important milestone in the right direction, said Brooks. 

Additional coauthors on the new study include Zephyr Sylvester and Christa Torrens of CU Boulder; Steven L. Chown of Monash University; Lucinda Douglass of the Centre for Conservation Geography at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, and University of Queensland, Queensland; Justine Shaw of The University of Queensland, Queensland; and Ben Raymond of the Australian Antarctic Division.

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Stand Up For Climate Change on April 22

A Celebration for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day
More Information

This “best of” show features brief climate comedy videos from our five years of hosting this event along with this year’s international climate comedy video contest winners. Max Boykoff and Beth Osnes will co-host, and Philadelphia comedian Chuck Nice is a featured guest! Appearances also by Ed Begley, Jr., Katherine Hayhoe, Bill McKibben, Ben Gleib, Rollie Williams, & more!

This online offering is an example of something we call, ‘good natured’ comedy,’ which our research shows helps process negative emotions, feeds hope, and sustains climate action. Reversing global warming is a mighty challenge to our survival that requires a steep incline in new behaviors. But like any huge mountain, there’s only one way to get over it. Climate!

For viewers across the world we first air the show April 22 (Earth Day) beginning: 8am Boulder time / 11am Rio de Janeiro / 3pm London / 7pm Dushanbe  / 10pm Beijing / midnight Sydney – From there it will be available online for viewing anytime later.

Tune in here to watch!

Live tweeting will be throughout the day with hashtag #climatecomedy via @boykoff @osnesb & ITG_Boulder

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The Climate and Biodiversity Crisis: Moving Towards a Global Awakening?

Boulder Faculty Climate Science and Education Committee Presents

The Climate and Biodiversity Crisis: Moving Towards a Global Awakening?

Tuesday, April 21
5:00pm to 6:30pm

by Dr. Cassandra Brooks
Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado Boulder

Online Only – Participate remotely using ZOOM

Please note: There is a new meeting link for this event that is different from the one previously listed. Please RSVP to to receive the correct link and password.

Cassandra Brooks is an Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. She completed her PhD at Stanford University studying international ocean policy, with a focus on marine protection in the Antarctic. During that time she was also a core member of The Last Ocean, a grand-scale media project focused on the Ross Sea. Her efforts helped drive the adoption of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica – one of healthiest and most productive marine ecosystems left on Earth. In 2015, she was awarded a Switzer Fellowship in Environmental Leadership. During her previous graduate work at Moss Landing Marine Labs, she studied Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea, a population that supports the most remote fishery on Earth. Cassandra has worked in the lab, underwater, and at sea – including five research cruises to Antarctica – and has presented and published her work around the world. Cassandra is also trained as a Science Communicator through the University of California Santa Cruz and has published more than 150 articles and multi-media stories about marine science and the environment. Cassandra is also Science Faculty with Homeward Bound, a global women’s leadership initiative set in Antarctica, and the future of the earth.

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Making Learning by Governments More Common

What Disaster Research Tells us About the U.S. COVID-19 Case

Photo: RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

by Deserai Crow, School of Public Affairs, CU Denver and CSTPR Faculty Affiliate and Elizabeth Albright, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

We study learning by governments that is catalyzed by disasters. Learning involves reflecting on the root causes of problems, examination of past policies and failures, rethinking goals and objectives, and changing policies moving forward. This disaster-induced learning can help governments improve their preparedness to future disasters or can make them more resilient when another one happens in the future. Right now, we are all living through a public health disaster that US government agencies were warned about months ago. Perhaps more importantly, they were warned about such a disaster years ago and had opportunities to learn from H1N1, Ebola, and SARS over the past 16 years.

In some ways, we have learned. Colorado, like other states, trains for pandemics like COVID-19. Nationally, we spend time, resources, and attention providing resources to state and local governments to help them prepare and plan for disasters like COVID-19 so that we can respond when a crisis comes.

In other ways, we’ve failed to learn. We have witnessed budget cuts to public health agencies and disease spread monitoring, waning of high-level federal policy attention to threats posed by pandemics (such as the elimination of the National Security Council’s pandemic team), and the inability of the Strategic National Stockpile to meet national needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So why have we failed to learn and act on some essential lessons, especially when so many lives are at risk? There are undoubtedly countless ways of answering this question. Our research helps shed some light on this. Among other cases, we studied the 2013 floods in Colorado, which caused billions of dollars in damage to Colorado communities, homes and businesses, and regional infrastructure. Based on our research, we argue that several factors make government learning and post-disaster policy action more likely.

First, resources available to a government after a disaster are critical to processes and outcomes of disaster recovery. These resources may include financial sources the government previously had through taxes and normal budgeting processes. They may also include external resources from other levels of government or other sources. Low capacity governments or those that face significant disaster damage may be more reliant on external resources for successful disaster recovery and their processes may be dictated by higher governmental authorities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shows, resources are critical to government action. In the case of pandemics, essential resources include testing, medical supplies, protective equipment for front-line workers, and contact tracing for infected patients (among others). These are bolstered by government willingness and ability to issue stay-at-home orders or other social distancing rules to suppress the spread of the virus. If we don’t know the source, spread, and effects of the virus, we cannot adequately deploy resources or respond with policies. All of these require coordinated funding, technical expertise, and administrative capacity.

Second, intergovernmental dynamics and relationships across local, state and federal governmental authorities are important to consider and can either hamper or assist local- and state- governments in making needed changes in the wake of a disaster. These relationships can determine how well governments can leverage resources and networks from outside their own jurisdiction or agency to respond to disasters and plan for future ones.

COVID-19 illustrates this acutely. Due to ongoing feuds between the federal government and states, everything from ventilator access to isolation orders has become divisive. These relationships are critical during any disaster, but particularly one of this magnitude. As a result of these feuds, states that are the most impacted by COVID-19 are going at it almost alone, or in tandem with other state partners. This is possible only for the most well-resourced states like New York and California, but is a huge burden to them as well. States with fewer resources, such as Michigan and Louisiana, will likely not fare as well. Negative intergovernmental relationships hamper response and recovery at all levels of government, from municipalities to the entire nation.

Finally, internal community characteristics can influence the devastation that a disaster causes as well as disaster recovery outcomes. These include the size and demographic composition of a community, along with cleavages that exist within the community. Disasters frequently affect communities and individuals differentially, often over-burdening low income and communities of color most severely. Similar to the devastating floods in Colorado and elsewhere, families and individuals with limited access to resources, marginalized communities (such as undocumented workers), and those who have less autonomy in where they work are being most severely impacted by the pandemic.

The degree of trust that individuals place in one another, their governments, and the information they receive about disasters is critical. These factors can influence whether they believe a risk is worth focusing on, whether they believe it’s real, and whether they think they have a role to play in helping solve the problems.

Trust is key here. People must trust one another to do the right thing and help a collective effort during a pandemic. They must trust their government to do the right thing to respond to the pandemic and protect lives. They must also trust the information provided by their government in order to make good decisions about how to mitigate their own risks and how to contribute to collective risk-mitigation. However, when people don’t trust, there is a breakdown in action and effective responses.

All of these factors combine to influence the learning we observe within disaster-affected governments. Learning is key to making the change needed to ensure that we can prevent – or are at least prepared for – a disaster like COVID-19 and the economic collapse that we are witnessing. The Atlantic explored the possible paths for COVID-19 and the role that governments have in putting us on certain paths. The learning we discuss here is key to the various pathways we might observe in the coming months. While the US is behind-the-curve in pandemic crisis learning, more nimble governments like states are working hard to adapt and learn in real-time. We can hope that in the coming days and weeks they can make up for lost time – by leveraging creative resources, developing and improving relationships, and by working to cultivate trust (with residents as well as other governments) and account for differential COVID-19 impacts across demographic groups – and put us on a more positive COVID-19 pathway.

Visit the research team’s website at for a full report and publications.

Drs. Crow and Albright’s book Community Disaster Recovery: Moving from Vulnerability to Resilience is due out next year with Cambridge University Press. Their flood recovery research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Bear Witness: The Ubiquitous, Imperfect Signifier of Climate Change

Columbia Journalism Review
by Eva Holland

In late summer 2015, I stood on the deck of a small cruise ship in the Canadian Arctic and saw a polar bear. It was my first time encountering one up close. The bear was lonely and beautiful, adrift on a snow-covered slab of ice in the open sea. The water beyond the floe was cold and dark, but around the bear, where a hidden mass of ice below the surface captured light, there was turquoise.

I had seen other bears on this trip, some just vanilla ice cream scoops on red-brown tundra in the far distance. A few were distinct: one scaled a cliff to rob nesting seabirds of their eggs; another swam by as passengers crammed into the small inflatable boats we used for shore landings, its ears and snout barely visible above the water. But this sighting was different. The ship’s PA system had crackled in the dining hall as we all sat eating our lunch; a crew member announced that there was a polar bear ahead. We’d abandoned our soup bowls and stampeded to our cabins to grab puffy down jackets and cameras; the captain had slowed the ship to a crawl and then brought it to a full stop, coming to rest with the gentlest bump against the berg that held the bear.

Now a hundred tourists packed the deck in near-perfect silence, our only sounds the artificial clicks of digital cameras and the occasional sigh. The bear glanced up at us briefly, sniffed, and then dismissed us, returning his attention to a disemboweled seal that lay bloody on the snow beside him. He worked at the carcass, tearing off dark strips of tough blubber with his long yellow teeth, ignoring a handful of gulls that hovered eagerly nearby. We stood and watched the bear butcher that seal for more than an hour. We were close enough to hear the scrape of his claws on the ice, close enough to see that the seal’s eyeballs had popped out of their sockets and now dangled in the snow on long tendrils of nerve tissue.

As I observed the scene, I realized that I was witnessing a kind of reversal: the real animal behind the iconography—that is, the image of a solitary bear on a dwindling ice throne. In the age of climate change, the polar bear has become the mascot for a planetary crisis. With its crucial habitat, Arctic sea ice, in inexorable and well-documented retreat, it seems a useful—and, to those who haven’t seen one maul anything, adorable—symbol for an otherwise abstract warming process.

The polar bear as climate change symbol is ubiquitous. A Google search yields links to countless stories from CNN, the BBC, CBC, and many more outlets, alongside search suggestions for “starving,” “global warming,” “sad,” “skinny,” and “dying.” A notable example came in 2006, with the big-eyed cartoon polar bear swimming hopelessly in search of vanished sea ice in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The appeal of polar bears has been attributed to the “identifiable-victim effect.” As Kate Manzo, a geographer at Newcastle University, writes in a 2010 paper, “The basic idea is that numbers (or ‘dry statistics’) fail to either spark emotion or motivate action in the same way as images do.”

Bears, in other words, are more compelling than bar graphs. Manzo charts the rise of the polar bear as an embodiment of climate change in connection with a few near-simultaneous events in the mid-2000s. One was a viral image of two Alaskan polar bears that seemed to be “howling against injustice” as ice crumbled around them. (The image was shot in 2004 but received its widest circulation when the Canadian Ice Service released it alongside a 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.) Another was the sudden global celebrity of Knut, the Berlin Zoo’s baby polar bear, born in 2006. As a cub, he was not only photographed and relentlessly documented by webcam but also trademarked, televised, and commemorated in everything from ringtones to stamps to credit cards. Knut even posed for Annie Leibovitz, landing the cover of Vanity Fair.

With polar bears, journalists had stumbled on a shorthand for climate change—something specific, with emotional heft, that could be used to stand in for a slow-moving and almost invisible crisis. For millions of people who would never lay eyes on one in real life, let alone on a shrinking shard of ice, the polar bear would signify a looming disaster that otherwise felt distant, even irrelevant. But the polar bear, hungry and paddling on, couldn’t tell the whole story.

f the polar bear capped the modern age of climate journalism, we can trace the beginnings of that era to the summer of 1988. It was unusually hot. Since the early years of the twentieth century, scientists had discussed the possibility that the planet would eventually be warmed by an excess of carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere. By the fifties, the first long-term data-gathering projects to document the increase in CO2 had been launched. But public awareness was limited, and news outlets had given the threat only occasional notice. The New York Times published its first reference to a terrestrial “greenhouse effect” on August 2, 1970, reporting that “its future consequences are unknown.” (A story from 1961 had referred to the same effect on Venus.) Through the sixties and seventies and into the eighties, global warming was “a prediction about something that might happen,” says Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University who specializes in the story of climate change. “Most people think it’s still pretty far away and they don’t want to put a date on it.”

But a hearing on June 23, 1988, changed that. Dr. James Hansen, the director of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, appeared before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Capitol Hill. Forty-seven years old, with a thinning brown comb-over, he wore a tan suit and a dark reddish tie. Seated before the committee, he pulled a pair of microphones in close, leaned forward, and explained his findings. He offered three key conclusions: First, that in all recorded history the earth had never been hotter than it was in 1988. Second, that the planet’s warming could now be attributed “with a high degree of confidence” to the greenhouse gas effect. And third, that the effect was already pronounced enough that it might explain the incidence of extreme weather events. “The greenhouse effect has been detected,” Hansen said, “and it is changing our climate now.” In a highly visible forum, with reach beyond the scientific community, the climate discussion had turned abruptly from speculation to something concrete.

Hansen’s role was to share his research on global temperature patterns, not to prescribe policy. The presiding senator on the committee, Timothy Wirth of Colorado, picked up where the scientist left off: “The global climate is changing as the earth’s atmosphere gets warmer,” he said after Hansen had testified. “Now the Congress must begin to consider how we are going to slow or halt that warming trend and how we are going to cope with the changes that may already be inevitable.” The next day, the front page of the New York Times was topped by the headline “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

A few months later, Discover made global warming its cover story. Andrew Revkin, the author of the piece, used Hansen’s testimony as the jumping-off point for a wider look at climate science. The magazine’s eye-catching front depicted Earth glowing white-hot and melting into a puddle, overlaid with the lines “The Greenhouse Effect: This Summer Was Merely a Warm-Up.” The next year, 1989, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, which would become known as the first mainstream book on climate change. It seemed as though something was changing, that attention was being paid.

And then came the backlash. Hansen’s testimony triggered a rapid public relations response from the fossil fuel industry and other interested parties; that reaction and its fallout were the subject of Oreskes’s 2010 book Merchants of Doubt. “Sadly, that’s when the ‘both sides’ false equivalence kicks in,” she told me. “Because journalists don’t realize what’s happening. They don’t get it. They don’t understand that this is a disinformation campaign. And frankly, most of the scientists don’t understand it either. So the scientists don’t call it out.” That old journalistic touchstone of “balance” provided an ideal platform for companies like Exxon and BP to distort the science of the greenhouse gas effect. In a 2008 paper on televised news coverage of climate change between 1995 and 2004, Maxwell Boykoff, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, found that 70 percent of American news segments dealing with climate offered the kind of “balanced” coverage that ultimately obscured the scientific consensus.

In 2001, the George W. Bush administration announced its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty that had offered a road map for emissions reductions and emphasized the contributions of industrialized nations. Kendra Pierre-Louis, who is now a reporter on the climate change desk at the New York Times, was in college at Cornell at the time. She remembers a series of campus protests and sit-ins where students spoke out against Bush’s decision and called for the university to implement Kyoto even if the federal government would not. Pierre-Louis read The End of Nature and was shocked to realize that it had been published so many years earlier. “I don’t want to call it a blackout rage moment,” she said. “But I was just very confused. Everyone seemed to have known about this for over a decade and there didn’t seem to be a lot of traction.” By the mid-aughts, that’s where things stood: scientists were largely in agreement, the public was largely unengaged, and journalists were struggling to connect the two. Enter the polar bear.

“I’ve been trying to tell this story for a long time,” Gore says in the opening minutes of An Inconvenient Truth, “and I feel as if I’ve failed to get the message across.” Back in college, Gore had studied under one of those early CO2 data gatherers, Roger Revelle. So after Gore’s loss in the 2000 election, he returned to a project he had put aside during his vice presidency: giving public presentations about global warming. A touring slideshow led to the documentary, an Academy Award, a Nobel Peace Prize (awarded jointly to Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and a critical milestone in the public’s awareness of climate change. I remember the image he put on-screen: the animated polar bear, stranded on a shrinking iceberg, the open ocean menacing all around. As Gore’s voice-over describes polar bears “swimming long distances…to find the ice,” he transfers the bear’s sense of crisis to the viewer. The image cemented my awareness of the polar bear trope.

Journalism’s wide embrace of the polar bear was logical, to a point. It “leaned on the language of conservation,” Pierre-Louis said. The polar-bear-on-sea-ice image was similar to save-the-whales campaigns and dolphin-safe tuna can labeling and the World Wildlife Fund’s panda logo. The overwhelming problems of the environment could be channeled through friendly megafauna.

But that focus also had limitations. For one thing, it led to several news cycles, over the years, of wrangling about the precise connections between viral images—of a sad-looking bear, for instance, that was most likely dying of starvation or injury at the moment the photojournalist’s camera snapped—and the effects of climate change. “I do think, in retrospect, there were some problems with it,” said Boykoff, whose recent book, Creative (Climate) Communication, is about effective ways to engage the public in environmental science. The polar bear, so far from most people, made it appear that climate change was “something that was distant from us,” Boykoff added. “And so there is an argument that could be made that it did have this kind of stifling impact on engagement. Whereas if we really talked about how it’s affecting urban centers, how it’s affecting our daily lives, how it’s really an intersectional set of challenges, not just a single issue, and it permeates everything from land-use decision-making to immigration policy in the United States—that livens up all kinds of discussions that I think people find relevant.” Read more …

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Successful Climate Communication Based On Science w/ Max Boykoff

You’ve Been Warmed

Max Boykoff – Director of CSTPR at CU Boulder – joins the show to discuss how to communicate successfully on climate change, the different types of strategies that can reach different audiences in different contexts and combining authenticity, accuracy and humor.

Episode Notes

Today’s You’ve Been Warmed episode features Max Boykoff – The Director of the Center For Science & Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Max also researches & teaches science-policy & society at the same University and he is the author of ‘Creative (Climate) Communications’ – a book that examines what mix of communication strategies can be effective in inspiring people to take action on climate change in an effort to recapture a common ground on the topic within the public arena.

Throughout the episode Max impressed me with very thoughtful and well articulated answers that give a balanced view on climate communication while not offering a silver bullet that can solve everything. Instead he advocates for a ‘silver buckshot’ approach where a number of strategies reach different audiences in different contexts.

We spoke at large about the role the media plays and how it covers the effects of climate change – in fact one of the projects Max leads, called the ‘Media and Climate Change Observatory’ analyses this quantitatively and qualitative, which uniquely positions him to give an informed observation on the topic.

We dove into why authenticity and accuracy when it comes to communicating the effects of climate change is extremely important, but why we also have to combine that with inspiring visions & stories that can get people to take action rather than make them feel lonely and hopeless. We also spoke about the role that humor plays in climate communication and how it can erase some of the partisan issues that might arise from approaching the subject.

I probably cannot do this episode justice by trying to summarise the points more here, so I invite you to have a listen to our chat!

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Steal This Joke: Uplifting Climate Comedy Celebrates Earth Day 2020

by Beth Osnes

Actually, you can’t steal these jokes on climate change because we’re giving them to you for free. In fact, we’re going out of our way to encourage you to give climate comedy a try. If anything in this article tickles your funny bone, it’s yours. Go ahead, try it on. And, yes, this joke does make your butt look big. Whereas comedian and author Paul Tompkins bemoans the reality of joke plagiarism within the field of stand-up comedy, we embrace it as a channel for disseminating creative climate communication. With my comedy collaborator, Max Boykoff at the University of Colorado, we’ve led our students in performing live climate comedy, we’ve run international climate comedy video contests, and have even published academic articles about the surprising benefits of utilizing comedy to communicate climate — all through Inside the Greenhouse, an initiative at the University of Colorado for creative climate communication.

As a comedian, I find that research is the most creative force on Earth. That is why we partner with Project Drawdown which has researched a list of the top climate solutions. This list is a veritable snack platter of comic material. According to Drawdown’s 2020 revised ranking of solutions, family planning is part of the third most impactful solution for reversing global warming — above solar. Who knew? This knowledge can help us invest our finances, guide policies, and provide funny rhymes. Love the glove. Give the pill a free refill. Put your buck on the interrupted f — …well, you get the idea.

When environmentalist Paul Hawkens, who is the originator and former director of Project Drawdown, learned in 2017 that refrigerant management was the top solutions he pronounced it a PR nightmare. It could likewise be thought of as a comedian’s nightmare. What’s funny about refrigerants? Yet even in the chill of this subject, there is comedy to be found.

A 1950s refrigerator walks into a bar, sees a good-looking refrigerator and asks, “Are you Freon Friday night?” Since this joke relies on chemical knowledge of how Freon factors into the process of refrigeration, this may be a lesson in “know thy audience.” This joke would fall flat on a less informed crowd, but at our performance at the 2019 Drawdown conference in New York, this in-joke got a hearty laugh.

When looking for comedic material beyond climate solutions, remember that nothing is more worthy or ripe for ridicule than us environmentalists. The only risk is that we can be seen as too easy a target. But regardless, we will gladly paint red concentric circles over our bleeding hearts. How do you get an environmentalist to change a lightbulb? Tell them its incandescent. What do you get when you cross F.D.R. with a liberal in the pickle aisle? The Green New Deal.

In giving these jokes away for free, we hope to unleash a rogue agent in an otherwise commodified world. Jokes, freely shared, can liberate us through that strange involuntary opening of the mouth and the mind known as laughter. In that moment, rigidity is relaxed, the single perspective is questioned, hypocrisy is exposed, and delight is released.

Get a jumpstart on your inspiration for creating climate comedy by watching Stand Up for Climate, a celebration for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, released April 22, 2020 at 7:30 PM Mountain Daylight Time (go to This “best of” show features brief climate comedy videos from our five years of hosting this event along with this year’s international climate comedy video contest winners. Max Boykoff and Beth Osnes will co-host, and Philadelphia comedian Chuck Nice is a featured guest. This online offering is an example of something we call, ‘good natured’ comedy,’ which our research shows helps process negative emotions, feeds hope, and sustains climate action. Reversing global warming is a mighty challenge to our survival that requires a steep incline in new behaviors. But like any huge mountain, there’s only one way to get over it. Climate!

Works Cited:

Tompkins, Paul. “Joke theft: Is it really an issue in comedy?” Big Think. January 5, 2020.

Osnes, Beth, Max Bokoff, & Patrick Chandler. “Good natured comedy to enrich

climate communication.” Comedy Studies. 10:2, 2019, 224–236, DOI:


Check out #insidethegreenhouse, @everydayclimate, @ITG_Boulder

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5 Takeaways from Colorado Climate Education Webinar

CU Boulder Today

Getting people to care about climate change as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe is tough—but not impossible, several Colorado political and environmental leaders said during a webinar Tuesday hosted by CU Boulder.

“Power Dialog: Climate Solutions for Colorado” was hosted by Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Max Boykoff, Associate Professor of Communication Phaedra Pezzullo and engineering undergraduate student Andrew Benham. Similar events were hosted by universities nationwide. At least 251 people tuned in from across the state for the event. 

The recorded webinar, plus subject-area online resources, will be available through May. 

Here are five key takeaways:

1.) We could have imagined this future

COVID-19 is giving us a stark lesson about what happens when we ignore warnings from science, and our systems are vulnerable to extreme events, as COVID-19 has revealed, said Eban Goodstein, director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College in New York and organizer of this national webinar series. 

“We need to listen to and trust scientists, and act on their knowledge sooner rather than later,” Goodstein said. 

For example, relying on sound science to make policy decisions has made a huge difference in the number of deaths in South Korea compared to the United States. Both countries saw their first case reported on the same day

“In the same way, the sooner we act on climate change, the better our global outcomes can be. The longer we wait, the more work it will take to address,” said Pezzullo.

2.) Environmental health is directly tied to human health

As reported by The New York Times, air pollution makes negative health impacts of COVID-19 worse. And improving air quality improves both public health and reduces greenhouse gases, Pezzullo noted.

“Clean air action should be integral to our COVID-19 Colorado and climate change response,” Pezzullo said. 

Panelist and former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said this means addressing the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which contributes to the state’s poor air quality.  

3.) The importance of a ‘just transition’ 

Environmental justice was mentioned by every person on the webinar, host or panelist. Founded by Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado is the first state to have created a Just Transition Office “to think about communities that have been left behind” as a result of climate change, and offer opportunities to transition into green jobs. 

Both Ritter and Pezzullo said we need to bring people along as we create solutions to both climate change and COVID-19. 

“We need to include more Latinx, indigenous, and non-white voices who have been disproportionately impacted by polluting industries in our dialogues about climate,” said Pezzullo.

It’s important that we listen to communities directly about what a just transition looks like, in the same way we are listening right now to health care workers on the front lines, added Jorge Figueroa, a Water Education Colorado board member who runs El Laboratorio to promote agricultural and food security in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  

“Climate change isn’t being taken seriously by those not at the front lines,” he said. 

4.) We are capable of radical change

The challenges ahead of us are not insurmountable, noted Ritter. In the past 10 years, he noted, Colorado has made enormous progress in making its electricity sector more efficient. He said we have the chance now to choose how we create new jobs in the industrial, transportation, and agriculture sectors. 

“This is a dual challenge that can be solved together,” said Ritter. 

He also said we could and maybe should maintain certain elements from the behavioral changes we’ve had to make from dealing with COVID-19, such as traveling less. 

“COVID-19 has proven the world is capable of radical behavioral change in a relatively short period of time if we are convinced lives depend on it,” said Pezzullo. 

5.) Local level changes will make the difference

When it comes to the pace of the energy revolution, it will be focused in your state and city, Goodstein said. 

“The most powerful thing you can do to solve climate by 2030 is to join the campaign of a candidate that shares your vision of climate solutions for the future,” he said. 

Teachers of all disciplines are encouraged to use this webinar to “make climate a class,” and help refocus the nation and the world on the challenge that still lies beyond COVID-19: climate change, Goodstein said. 

The Colorado webinar hosted by CU Boulder was co-sponsored by the Colorado Energy Office, the Conference on World Affairs, the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, the Boulder Faculty Climate Science & Education Committee, the Media and Climate Change Observatory, and Inside the Greenhouse at CU Boulder.

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