INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE | Re-telling climate change stories

Issue #9

As 2017 ends, it is as important as ever to meet people where they are and ‘re-tell climate change stories’ from a range of perspectives. Through Inside the Greenhouse (ITG), we have pursued these objectives while providing opportunities for students and the wider public citizenry to make sense of changes in our climate and environment.

We in the ITG project recognize that we all are implicated in and responsible for causes and consequences of 21st century climate change. We nurture ITG as a place for growing new ideas and evaluating possibilities to confront climate change through a range of creative communication approaches.

This autumn has been a very productive time at ITG. Read on for some samplings of our fall activities and ongoing commitments. 

As we head into 2018, your support is critical. Please provide a tax-deductible donation. Any amount helps.

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

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First Year Seminar = Science and Environmental Communication

This fall 2017 semester, as part of our ITG program co-director and co-founder Max Boykoff has taught a first year seminar in ‘Science and Environmental Communication’. With help from course assistant David Oonk (Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) PhD student), Max has enjoyed working with seventeen enterprising students across many majors in their first semester at CU Boulder.   

In this class, students have completed two compositions. In the first composition, course participants worked to visually tell a story about a selected science or environmental issue through Instagram. The projects were structured either through an interview of an environment- or science-related student group on the CU Boulder campus or through participation in a CU Boulder Eco Engage fieldtrip on water or food issues. First year seminar students took still photos with camera phones and built a coherent narrative using accompanying captions of 100 words or less per photo (up to twenty photos total). In their second composition, First Year Seminar students collaborated with the Lens on Climate Change (LOCC) project (led by Anne Gold, Lesley Smith, Erin Leckey and David Oonk from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)). First year students organized into teams of 2-3 and then connected with a LOCC middle- or high-school team located in the Front Range schools. Groups of students in the CU Boulder First Year Seminar and the LOCC groups then separately developed video-stories on Colorado-based climate change issues such as snow pack, water resources and agriculture, wildfires, extreme events, wildlife, and the state economy. 

These compositions were designed to build skills in collaboration and critique. Compositions required everyone to consider not only the work itself, but how they could make it resonant, meaningful and appealing to an intended target audience.

First year CU Boulder students also participated in a number of roundtable discussions of current themes, topics and research in science and environmental communication (e.g. images of climate change, hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), and decarbonization).

Center for Environmental Journalism co-Director Michael Kodas visits the First Year Seminar class to discuss his recent book ‘Megafire’ and his experiences communicating about climate change and the environment.

Together, the class has explored logical yet elusive questions that students, practitioners, scholars, and everyday people have asked many times over the years, like ‘what is the ‘right’ approach to communicating about science so that people ‘get it’?’ and ‘why can’t we find the silver bullet in science communications to consequently sort out associated problems?’ Collectively participants have come to better understand the reality that these are vexing, complicated, and difficult questions to sort out. Moreover, the issues associated with them involve high stakes, high profile, and highly politicized intersections between science, policy, culture, psychology, environment, and society. These interdisciplinary engagements appraised and evaluated work in these areas while course participants also sought to successfully create new communications. Along the way, participants (students, David and Max alike) all worked to identify how and why certain approaches find success with selected audiences, gaining insights from varying perspectives, viewpoints, disciplines and methodologies while improving understanding of the many dynamic and contested factors, pressures and processes that are involved in science and environmental communication.

First Year Seminar = Comedy Matters

Why were four CU freshmen dressed in penguin suits in their dorm on a Thursday night? Not only were they fulfilling part of a class assignment, but they were also drawing attention through comedic plays to the 2017 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP23) talks in Germany that took place in November.

This CU event was a part of an international effort, Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented to draw public attention to the importance of the climate talks. Students performed as eagles in a city dump outside of Vancouver, penguins outside an Antarctic research station, and as evolved humans regarding homo sapiens in a zoo from the future. Intermingled were original comic rants written and performed by the students calling out everything from bad grammar, slow pedestrians, people who show up at Dairy Queen five minutes before closing, critics of vegetarians, and gum chewers (and all tied loosely to issues surrounding the environment and climate change).

One response from a student after the event was that it gave him more hope; that previously he had felt a lot of hopelessness around the state of the global environmental situation, but that being a part of the event gave him a glimpse of a possible better future. The feeling of solidarity and shared laughs helped to strengthen the feeling of community among class members. Throughout the creative process, everyone involved acknowledged comedy’s inability to do heavy lifting in regards to social issues, and rather highlighted its ability to draw people’s attention to the issue tangentially. Overall, participants felt that they succeeded in associating the issue of climate change and the COP talks with a positive and uplifting experience.

This project was a part of a First Year Seminar called ‘Comedy Matters’. This class has been taught this fall semester by ITG co-founder and co-director Beth Osnes. The course has explored the role comedy can play in climate communication. Comedy Matters explores matters related to comedy as a noun – understanding the nature, place, and function of comedy within society – and as a verb – the meaningful role comedy can play in bringing about positive social change (with a focus on comedy for engagement in climate-related action). In this course, participants have studied the theory behind climate communication with a focus on comedy and have engaged in participatory activities to put this theory into practice. For their final project, students are creating participatory activities, games, and skits for youth visiting Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) that communicate some aspect of climate change and involve some aspect of comedy in order to increase feelings of environmental stewardship by youth and families. ITG will implement some of these compositions this coming summer for Discovery Day at RMNP.

Left photo: Freshman CU student Adam Elsayed in the Comedy Matters course submitted this photo for his contribution to ITG’s project, Green Suits Your City.
Right photo: Freshman CU student Greg Gorskiy submitted this photo, ‘the one of the two hands’.

Film and Climate Change Course

‘Film and Climate Change’ is an upper-division undergraduate course now in its ninth year. The class is cross-listed through CU’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department and the ATLAS program. While co-director and co-founder Rebecca Safran is on sabbatical, Dr. Ryan Vachon (Research Associate at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research) is teaching the course.

Students in this class come from many different majors such as Environmental Studies, Media, Communication and Information, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. However, from the very first class, students owned a common mission to gain the knowledge and skills to communicate a seed of thought. All expressed a need to share their feelings about the state of climate. For some, strengths lay in understanding climate dynamics, and for others this was their third course related to storytelling with media. The objective has been to achieve both.

Each day opened with the teaching of one scientific concept related to climate dynamics and one primary filmmaking skill. Gradually, student’s foundations in science and film were pushed towards equalization. However, four large projects served to merge the fields.

The course lifted off with students producing a 2-3 minute film describing something defining about themselves. Intimate knowledge of self, a rich understanding of how this defining element affected their lives, and the freedom to use their simple smartphone cameras meant that they could focus on learning the fundamental architecture of Adobe Premiere, their video editing program. Careful storytelling proved to be the most challenging hurdle even though stories were so personal and well understood. 

Next, students paired up to interview an interesting personality at the cutting edge of humans’ relationship with the environment. It was an exercise in practicing basic camera framing and light adjustment, recording quality audio, and piecing together a discussion about a topic unfamiliar to themselves. 

Third, students had to film a simple grocery shopping experience. They were mandated to film twenty-one different clips (such as a can of soup) and piece it together into a catchy narrative. The purpose complemented classwork dedicated to techniques for filming the next level of great footage.

As the semester ends, students are scrambling to tackle their final video projects in the class. This final and most important assignment was introduced eight weeks prior to the end of the semester. Their final projects are a careful weaving together of knowledge about the climate sciences, recently acquired filmmaking skills, and the ability to convey a tone with careful storytelling. Their assignment is to produce a 1.5-5 minute film relating or quenching one of their thoughts or curiosities about human’s relationship to climate. It is an effort to manifest a film that conveys the motivations that first drew them into the course.

As the semester wraps up, energy levels are high. All films will be screened and celebrated at a December 15th, 2017 film festival.


Each newsletter we feature past students from our two-course series. This issue, we feature Carley Rutledge, who took Rebecca Safran’s fall 2015 course. In her own words, Carley offers some comments and reflections on her experiences through ITG and the work she continues to pursue today:

“My name is Carley Rutledge and I am a current Graduate student in the Creative Technologies and Design program at CU. Growing up I always had a passion for film and photography. I was enthralled by nature documentaries, how beautifully the medium of film could communicate about the natural world around us. In my undergraduate degree I studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Chemistry. My senior year of college my creative side and passion for film began pulling at me again. I enrolled in the class Climate Change and Film, and found my passion. This class showed me the gaps in science communication and how creative work can be used to fill this gap.”

“Growing up in Texas and moving to Colorado, I had an unusual understanding of many sides of climate change arguments along with politics, and science in general. Rebecca Safran, who taught this class - pushed me, inspired me and showed me my potential in this field. After that class I went on to make films for museums, foundations, and more.”

“I have now started my own production company called Carley Rutledge Projects that specializes in science communication through film, photography, and graphics. My latest project is an interactive documentary series called Hotspots. It tells the real and honest stories and opinions of people all over America (and now international!), and how they have been affected by climate change. There is no push or angle to this series, every interviewee from Colorado, to California, to Texas have their own opinions to share and I do not filter them for any agenda. Their stories show how climate change is affecting people’s families, jobs, and traditions, regardless of their political opinions. This is an ongoing series that will continue over the next few years.”

Carley Rutledge Projects is currently looking for an intern, as they continue to grow and further advance work in science communication. If interested, send a resume to


Co-founders Beth Osnes, Becca Safran and Max Boykoff recently contributed a peer-reviewed book chapter to an edited collection of works titled What is Sustainable Journalism?. The book is edited by Peter Berglez, Ulrika Olausson and Mart Ots and is published through the Peter Lang Publishing House. The wider compilation focuses on an integration of environmental, social, and economic challenges of journalism. The chapter by Osnes, Safran and Boykoff is titled ‘Student Content Production of Creative Climate Communications’, highlighting the goals of ITG with a particular focus on the work that ITG students are doing to inspire dialogue about climate change. The chapter presents the case that students have a lot to contribute to the broader dialog about climate change through the films, stories, and other works they produce, and through the shared experiences and journeys they embark on as our students and interns. ITG has learned from their personal reflections that then become a part of ongoing curricula within the classroom as well as part of the ongoing ITG mission. This article afforded Beth, Becca and Max the opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished to date through ITG and collective pathways into the future. One thing has become clearer and clearer: the students and their experiences are the center of what ITG does effectively. Participants in ITG benefit greatly for opportunities within the large research University of CU Boulder that enables ITG to reach students from a variety of departments across campus to work on authentic and meaningful projects.


Ongoing Information Sharing, Talks and Workshops

This fall, ITG house 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 ITG at a University of Reading workshop on ‘Communicating Climate Change in Troubled Times’ in November. Max also spoke about creative climate communications in a talk in October for the National Parks Service Climate Change Response Program.

Meanwhile, co-director and co-founder Beth Osnes attended several conferences to help disseminate the launch of the open-source materials for Shine and the book published on this musical performance called Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Climate and Energy through Music, Movement, and Theatre. With a lively passel of Chicago youth, Beth and others presented a performance of Shine in Chicago for the Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research Conference at the Goodman Theatre. Beth also presented on her work at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference in Sacramento, CA, the Imagining America National Conference in Davis, CA, and for the Women in Solar Energy Forum at the American Solar Energy Society National Conference in Denver, CO.

This fall, Beth and Max have begun co-advising Master’s student Patrick Chandler in the CU Boulder Environmental Studies program. Before arriving at CU Boulder, Patrick was the Education Director for Washed Ashore. In addition, this fall Beth has begun advising Master’s student Sarah Fahmy in the Theatre department. Sarah is from Alexandria, Egypt and she is passionate about the intersection of issues affecting women and climate change. She recently graduated from University of Kentucky and this September starred in the ITG musical ‘Shine’ in the Goodman Theatre in Chicago at a conference on STEM learning and performance.

And the fall term means the official start of co-director and co-founder Rebecca Safran’s yearlong sabbatical. While staying in Boulder, Becca is beginning work with two new graduate students, Javan Carter and Molly McDermott. As they have arrived, she has also said good-bye to a PhD student, Dr. Amanda Hund, and postdoc, Dr. Liz Scordato. Amanda was a long-time supporter of ITG events and participated in the film and climate change annual film festival as a judge for four years. In addition, the Safran lab will welcome a Fulbright Scholar in January, Dr. Peter Pap from Romania and two new postdocs, Dr. Angela Medina-Garcia and Dr. Georgy Semenov.

In addition, in November Beth Osnes and Becca Safran visited Max Boykoff’s ‘Introduction to Environmental Studies’ class along with two ITG alumna, Meridith Richter and Carley Rutledge.

They provided students with information about goals associated with the production of creative climate communications: 1) carefully considering audience, 2) emphasizing solutions, 3) bringing climate impact issues ‘home’, 4) telling meaningful stories, and 5) making behavior change easy.

Meredith was able to share her experience of working as an Intern with Beth Osnes on the digital production of ‘Shine’ that ultimately became a part of her capstone project for her Technology and Media minor degree.

Carley, now a MA student in ATLAS, shared her work project on science communication titled ‘Hotspots’, focusing on the human stories of climate change.

Left photo: Meredith Richter speaks to the class about her experiences through ITG.
Right Photo: Carley Rutledge shares her experiences through ITG and discusses her new production company.

Communications and Swag Update

ITG now has three new versions of trucker caps. Two are shown here, worn by Sam Flaxman (Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at CU Boulder) and Max Boykoff respectively. Get in touch with ITG and get yours now!

Going forward, follow us via Twitter (@ITG_Boulder), Instagram (‘everydayclimate’) and Facebook. And find more information about on ongoing courses, events and activities on our ITG website.