INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Issue #8

In these uncertain times, Inside the Greenhouse works 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 systematically appraising as well as extracting effective methods for multimodal climate communication. Through both research and practice in these ways, our efforts advance wider interdisciplinary academic communities to build capacity, competence and confidence in CU Boulder undergraduate and graduate student communicators with whom we primarily work. As we continue with these commitments to foster a deliberative space to co-create and analyze creative climate communications, we value and appreciate your ongoing support.

Enjoy our end-of-summer newsletter that highlights some of the many ongoing research, teaching and engagement endeavors we’ve been working on.

And if you’re able to support our ongoing work, please visit our donation page to provide a tax-deductible gift. Any amount helps us as we work to meet people where they are ‘inside the greenhouse’.

Up with hope,
Beth Osnes, Rebecca Safran and Max Boykoff
(Inside the Greenhouse co-directors)


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This summer, through the Faculty in Residence Summer Teaching Program (FIRST) in the Office of Continuing Education, the Environmental Studies program and Inside the Greenhouse hosted Professor Bienvenido Leon from the University of Navarra (Spain) to CU Boulder to teach a course he called ‘How to Effectively Represent Climate Change in a 21st Century Multi-Media World’. During his time in Boulder he also presented on ‘New Coordinates for Environmental Documentary’ as part of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) Fall seminar series (follow the link to watch the archived webcast of his talk) and to take part in the Lens on Climate Change summer film festival held in the Atlas Institute on campus.

Professor Bienvenido Leon and Max Boykoff in front of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the end of his visit.

Prof Bienvenido Leon recounts his experiences for us here:

"Communicating climate change is not an easy task. In fact, the media have not done a good job in communicating it: they have simply failed in transmitting the existing scientific consensus and promoting public awareness and engagement. But, in my view, there is still hope. The Internet tsunami has provoked a profound change in social communication and has offered a new range of options, based on new tools and formats that can be very effective to communicate this process.

The course "How to effectively communicate climate change in a 21st century multi-media world" was taught at CSTPR from July 11th to August 11th. It focused on the possibilities offered by online video; a tool of immense potential that it is easy to produce and can reach huge audiences.

The course was designed as part of the Inside the Greenhouse project. It explored some new trends and formats in audio-visual communication about climate change that offer valuable options to communicate in a more effective way, such as proximity journalism, infotainment and new interactive formats. We also had the opportunity to review some narrative principles of science communication that play a key role in this new environment.

The discussion of these trends was the base for a practical assignment that the students had to undertake in the final two weeks of the course. Working in small groups or individually, they produced short videos about a specific facet of climate change. Although most of them had no previous experience in video production, they successfully completed the production process, from the original idea to the final postproduction.

The videos that the students have produced can be useful tools to spread information about some implications of climate change that are still unknown to many and can foster engagement."

Left Photo: Professor Bienvenido Leon speaking during the Lens on Climate Change film festival in July.
Right Photo: Professor Bienvenido Leon giving a presentation in August as part of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research Fall seminar series.

video by Jake Zimmerman & David Dvorak 

video by Jennifer Taylor


The Inaugural Women’s Energy Party: in Paonia Colorado, summer 2017

Young women in their twenties and early thirties are often at the point in their life where they are making personal choices that are going to lock them into certain levels of energy consumption and climate impact. Inside the Greenhouse’s recipe for a women’s gathering sought to invigorate thoughtful consideration of what kind of energy/climate story young women want to tell with their lives.

For the 2017 ITG Summer Internship, Stephanie Selz and Ellie Milner made a short film featuring young women in Paonia, Colorado area getting together in Colorado’s beautiful North Fork Valley to use creative, participatory activities to explore and tell a new story of energy.

Using simple interactive arts-based activities young women:

  • expressed their underlying values surrounding energy
  • critiqued the current story of energy
  • imagined a new story they want to tell through our lives
  • identified and rehearsed possible actions that could get from the current story to the new story
  • gave each other feedback, support, and encouragement

This all took place on the Boland family farm in Hotchkiss, CO. After enjoying pizza’s fresh from an outdoor clay oven, attendees used participatory activities, songs, and sharing of personal stories to advance us in our efforts. Several of the participants camped in the field under a canopy of stars. After breakfast the next morning, participants continued activities and culminated with a shared lunch featuring food grown on the farm. The entire experience was emotionally enriching, aesthetically stirring, and fun. Each participant left with actions they had authored to tell a sustainable story of energy with their lives.

Left Photo: Participants at the women’s energy party.
Right Photo: Party hosts, ITG alum Clara Boland Peña (second from right) and her family.

A 2016 New York Times article reported that even Germany, viewed by many to be the world leader in the push against climate change, altered their goals for reducing carbon emissions from coal once Chancellor Angela Merkel received sufficient pushback from labor unions and governments from coal regions. This directly influenced the choice to host the Women’s Energy Party in Colorado’s North Fork Valley, a community traditionally identified with its coal mines.

Additionally, what inspired this location for this inaugural event was the fact that one of our ITG student alumna (and superstar) Clara Boland Pena had recently decided to move back to this town to build her life: to work with her parents and husband to refurbish the family orchard, live more closely to the land, and teach computer arts in a local school in which she integrates lessons of sustainability and environmentalism.

Our ITG interns were tasked with making a short film of our Women’s Energy Party and to make another film telling the story of Clara’s new life. These films will be completed by early fall, after which Inside the Greenhouse will begin to disseminate them to inspire more communities of women.

Summer 2017 ITG intern Stephanie Selz described the experience and the ongoing project in this way:

"Rebecca Safran’s [Fall 2016] class ‘Climate Change & Film’ was a catalyst for my journey into creative communication about climate change. Months later, I am still enjoying the opportunity to do so: this time I explored these areas through an internship working with Beth Osnes. In co-winning the class’ film festival, [fellow summer 2017 ITG intern] Ellie Milner and I were given the opportunity to connect with a wonderful community of women in Paonia, where we spent a weekend outdoors filming a women’s energy party, reflecting on our personal stories of energy. The process of filming this event was very moving. In such an interactive and expressive event as the energy party, I am grateful for the willingness of our participants’ cooperation. In editing, my efforts are to capture the unique moments we shared so that other communities can catch a glimpse and join the women’s energy movement."

Participatory Photography Project Exhibit at CU Art Museum Fall 2017

Green Suits Your City is a participatory photography project by Inside the Greenhouse that infuses embodied creativity into the greening of our cities. It is a collection of photographs from cities around the world by over fifty different photographers of people in full green suits in nearly every pose imaginable. As part of this exhibit, visitors are invited to check out a green suit with a leafy sash and submit a photograph of themselves or a friend in some iconic place in their city. This interactive project is designed to engage the participation of a wider constituency in the greening of our cities. Placing actual bodies in service of this vision marks the commitment to joyful acts that will inspire action on behalf of environmental resilience. Sometimes it takes a literal representation of an idea to make it real. Both the process of taking the photos and the photographs themselves spark conversation, and are a part of an ongoing effort to infuse embodied fun and broad engagement in resilience planning.

The opening reception for the exhibit is set to take place at CU’s Art Museum on Thursday September 7, 2017 from 5-7PM. The project will be on display from August 17th until October 28th, 2017.

This project was inspired by the Rockefeller Foundations 100 Resilient Cities Initiative of which Boulder is a part, helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

We can benefit from discovering new ways of communicating while experimenting – ways that help us to feel what unites us above what divides us. Since words can trip and snag us, this project is visual, physical, playful, and a bit silly. That could all seem frivolous, yet we have a hunch something important can happen when we connect around delight. If the spark for a larger conversation about resilience planning is open and fun, something new and wonderful could follow.

Left Photo: Durban, South Africa.
Right Photo: Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA).


In May 2017, ITG co-founder and co-director Becca Safran traveled to China for research. Now back in Boulder for start of the academic year, she offers these observations and reflections:

"I am guessing that when most of us think of China, the images that first come to mind are of huge, populated cities and industrial areas. Indeed, China is a HUGE country and the scale of human density and manufacturing is immense. I had the opportunity to travel through China in May. I got to see some of the largest cities in the world, which happen to be in China, but also to travel far outside of them in a remote province that is situated north of the Tibetan Plateau and south of the Gobi Desert. By Chinese standards, the Gansu Province is not a highly-populated region of this immense country: its 175,460 square miles is home to about 25 and a half million people which amounts to about 150 people per each square mile. Compare that to the density of our home state of Colorado which is about 50 people per square mile and you’ll easily get a sense that even in the farthest regions of China, there are lots of people. OK, so yes: confirmed. There are a lot of people in China and this is not surprising."

One of many electric vehicles in use, rural China.

"For one, the public transport systems in place to move all of these people around is quite admirable. As of 1994, car ownership has been encouraged in China which has its ups and downs. That said, the use of electric scooters and cars appears to be more mainstream in China compared to what I see around here. According to one source, China registered more than twice the number of electric vehicles (more than 300,000) than those in the US in the year 2016 alone. The lifestyle I witnessed ranged from everything you’d see in any modern city to those living a more basic life in the countryside. But travel anywhere through the United States and China and you’d notice another striking difference between these two countries: throughout China there is widespread evidence of solar energy being used in all of these dwellings, ranging from solar water heaters on the tops of nearly every city building to very smart yet other-worldly satellite-dish style solar water heaters seen in every home within the smaller rural villages. As well as a sense of progress."

Left Photo: Massive wind farms, western China.
Right Photo: Public bikes in the city.

"During my trip in May, two other significant things happened which will likely further accelerate China’s role in the global sustainability movement and (pun intended) ‘trump’ that of the United States. First, the Chinese government announced new funding for advancement and leadership at a time when we are talking about cuts to science in the US in every which way. Second, and most importantly, China is maintaining their commitment to reduced emissions according the Paris Climate Agreement while during my visit an announcement was made to indicate that the US will likely depart from our climate commitment made in Paris."

Left Photo: Solar water heater, rural China.
Right Photo: Widespread use of solar power, rural China.


Ongoing information-sharing, talks and workshops

This summer, Inside the Greenhouse participants have led information-sharing and participatory workshops as well as giving talks involving creative climate communications. Among them, co-director and co-founder Max Boykoff spoke about Inside the Greenhouse at a workshop on ‘re-defining the boundaries of science and journalism in the debate on climate change’ at Universität Hamburg in June.

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