Last June, we 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows were asked to sketch out a “destination postcard” envisioning ways we’d work to advance a project during our practice year. I decided that I really wanted to move forward on a collective project that my two co-conspirators at the University of Colorado-Boulder – Rebecca Safran (Associate Professor in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Beth Osnes (Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Theater and Dance) – and I have called “Inside the Greenhouse.”
Recently, journalist Alex Sobel Fitts wrote in Columbia Journalism Review that “‘just the facts’ haven’t been a good enough story…facts also have to be told compellingly. There are other ways of creating a narrative surrounding the facts of climate change that doesn’t distort, but is compelling.”
Welcome “Inside the Greenhouse.” Along with many collaborators and contributors, Beth, Rebecca, and I have constructed an experimental space where students can grab hold of the means of (creative) production to engage a range of audiences on climate-related topics. We work collectively to create constructive conditions where participants can analyze climate communication research, appraise effective methods for multimodal climate communication, and assemble artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance, and television as well as new/social/digital media programming.
During the 2013-14 academic year, we held two sets of public and community events, hosting Constance Okollet and Ngozi Onuzo from “Climate Wise Women” in fall and Andy Revkin from New York Times Dot Earth and Pace University in spring. We also taught a two-course sequence: Rebecca taught “climate and film” focusing on personal narratives in the fall, and Beth and I co-taught a multi-modal creative climate communications course in the spring.
In our spring course, as our classroom erupted in applause after a set of impromptu “climate karaoke” performances, we gained further confirmation that we were tapping into powerful and productive energy for creative climate communication. There were forty juniors and seniors majoring in Environmental Studies, Geography, International Affairs and a few other disciplines. In 20 minutes from song assignment, each group composed climate-related lyrics for popular contemporary songs and classic hits and then performed them in front of the class.
As had been transpiring throughout the semester, habitually quiet and shy personalities mixed with the more outgoing ones, science-focused students mixed with those in the humanities, and groups happily harmonized and enthusiastically sang climate-themed karaoke ranging from versions of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” to the Isley Brothers’s classic “Shout.” Everyone stepped up and committed to the creative climate communications process.
The karaoke session was one of many gratifying experiences that we’ve had in teaching these courses. In addition to reading and discussing social science and humanities literature on climate communications (“left brain” action), students got moving through improvisational acting, role play and other activities (“right brain” action). In small groups, they contributed to multimodal climate communications, such as:
James Petrie, Patty Bruder, MacKenzie Pope, Mike Elges and Conor Meyer created the “Climate Change Board,” placed it at two locations on campus and in downtown Boulder, and created a video with their reflections about the conversations it generated.
Performances: Gracie Nichols, Dylan Podel, Eddie Marovich and Alexis Levin created a radio program called “Dear Grandpa” (modeled after “This American Life”) where they read hypothetical letters written to their grandparents about climate change, focusing on intergenerational dimensions of the issue.
Summer Hazlewood, Maxwell Fleming and Taylor Gifford created a climate-themed board game “Planet to Planet” (modeled after the popular game “Apples to Apples”) and built a website to support it.
Braeden Miguel, Chris Greenwood, Kyle Hockstad, Daniel Higgins, and Cameron Nelson created a board game called “Breakthrough” to provide an engaging new avenue for environmental thinking.
Dylan Podel, Eddie Marovich, Gracie Nichols, Alexis Levin, & David Ushakow produced a heavy metal music video called “Eat More Pine,” performed by singing and tree-destroying pine beetles.
Reflections: Through ITG, we’ve sought to capture, value, interrogate and creatively communicate complex, multi-scale 21st century climate challenges. We’ve seen journeys in the classroom spill out into the “real world,” and the notion of “meeting requirements for the class” give way to students making the most of the classroom opportunities. We hope this work inspires and fosters sustained, productive, interdisciplinary creative climate communication collaborations and engages students and the public alike to make climate change meaningful. Our project illustrates ways in which many people are confronting the challenges of meeting others “where they are” while encouraging them to consider climate issues in new ways.
In getting to know 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows, as well as others in the Leopold network and beyond, I’ve learned about many fantastic projects underway around the country and the world. Do you have a project on creative climate communications that you’re involved in, or that you know about that you’d like to share? Please share a story about your work in these areas, and/or a link to a project you have found inspiring and useful.
Max Boykoff, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is an associate professor in the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. For more about “Inside the Greenhouse” check here and follow @ITG_Boulder on Twitter. See Andy Revkin perform “Liberated Carbon” (from his new album “A Very Fine Line”) with the Shadow Puppet Theater during his visit to the University of Colorado-Boulder this spring.