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Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine Highlight

Inside the Greenhouse, Climate Discourse Cools Down


Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine
July 7, 2017

Where one stands on the validity of climate change science depends largely on where one sits on the political spectrum, surveys show. This fact vexes people who respond to climate science doubt by producing more data.

But relying solely on facts doesn’t necessarily advance the discussion, and, thanks to confirmation bias, can actually harden opinions. This is one reason a trio of scholars at the University of Colorado Boulder is practicing and teaching ways to advance climate discourse through the arts and social sciences.

CU Boulder’s Inside the Greenhouse project describes itself as a “collective of professors, students, scholars, practitioners” who creatively frame climate change issues in ways that emphasize people’s common ground. The trio of faculty members who launched the project teach courses in creative climate communication and in climate change and film.

The project’s mission is to “to deepen our understanding of how issues associated with climate change are/can be communicated, by creating artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance art, television programming, and appraising as well as extracting effective methods for multimodal climate communication.” 

Associate Professors Max Boykoff of environmental studies, Beth Osnes of theatre and dance, and Rebecca Safran of ecology and evolutionary biology, say their initiative springs partly from the fact that climate change discourse often breaks down.

“People keep throwing scientific information at people, thinking that’s going to change their behavior, and we see time and time again that it doesn’t,” Osnes recently told Colorado Public Radio.

Osnes and her colleagues believe better discourse is possible. Students who’ve taken Inside the Greenhouse courses concur.

Barbara MacFerrin, who graduated with a master’s in technology, media and society this year, has taken Osnes’ Creative Climate Communications class and Safran’s Climate Change and Film course. A professional photographer herself, MacFerrin wanted to fuse her passion for photography and film with a desire to communicate climate change information effectively.

While in the class, she created a video for the “More Than Scientists” project, a nonprofit initiative that disseminates short video interviews with climate scientists that strives to show the humans working in climatology. Read more ...