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Students sprout creative communications on climate change Inside the Greenhouse

Posted on 16 August 2012 by Max Boykoff, Beth Osnes

“El Verde”, the star of a student-created music video engaging Latino youth on the issue of climate change, takes a long drag on his cigarette, exhales, and re-inhales the smoke in through his nose.  Cut to a shot of his silhouette against a sky of wind turbines generating clean energy as he raps in Spanish (the captions read) “My name is El Verde and with a bit of luck, the health of the world is not already f**ked”. 

Welcome to ‘Inside the Greenhouse’ (ITG), a project at the University of Colorado-Boulder that we have embarked on with students. The chosen title of the project acknowledges that, to varying degrees, we are all implicated in, part of, and responsible for greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Through the development and experimentation with creative modes to communication, we treat this ‘greenhouse’ as a living laboratory, an intentional place for growing new ideas and evaluating possibilities to confront climate change through a range of mitigation and adaptation strategies.     

Our project objectives have been:

  1. To generate multimodal compositions on the subject of climate change
  2. To engage with various dimensions and issues associated with sustainability
  3. To produce and distribute the 'Inside the Greenhouse' program

Through this project, we have worked 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. The centerpiece of this project is the Inside the Greenhouse (ITG) television program, featuring a high-profile figure engaged in climate and environment issues (stay tuned for our upcoming schedule). As part of the programming, we also feature work produced in the associated course for undergraduate students called ‘Inside the Greenhouse: Utilizing media to communicate positive solutions for climate change’ at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The project has also developed in the spirit of the James Lipton-led ‘Inside the Actors Studio', based at Pace University. We see that effort to have an effective vehicle for interrogating and enhancing the 'process' behind the 'product' of performance content over the past decades

Through our work over the years, it has become very clear that 'science' as a privileged way of knowing about our environment and climate is necessary but not sufficient for engagement in the general public. Yet, we have also found that in the high-profile issues of climate science and policy, various actors have retreated all too often to 'scientific evidence' in order to compel people to change behavior to alleviate their environmental impact. While some people continue to ask 'why don't people just get it?' and 'why can't people make the 'right' decision?', with the ITG project, participants have moved into these challenges through the arts as they provide useful ways of acknowledging and embracing the complexity of these issues - meeting people 'where they are' while also encouraging people to consider these issues in new ways. So the interdisciplinary approach with ITG seeks to capture, value and interrogate the complexity of multi-scale and contemporary climate science, policy and politics as well as the challenges of performance and communication of these issues. Our motivations here spring from an expansive view of climate science and policy in society, where more formal scientific and policy work is part of, rather than separate from, public uptake. Representational practices of various sorts play key roles in interpretation, framing climate change for policy, politics and the public, and drawing attention to how to make sense of the changing world. Mediated portrayals – from television news to live performance – are critical links between people’s everyday realities and experiences, and the ways in which these are discussed at a distance between science, policy and the public.

We have been enthused to work with university students on this ITG project because they are a generation uniquely equipped and ready to address 21st century climate challenges. Nowadays, college-age students have been born into a world where anthropogenic climate change has consistently been a complex and vexing issue discussed and in the public arena. And these are potential future leaders who have generally inherited 3% GHG emissions increases/year since they were in elementary school, and who are primed for opportunities to explore novel communications on climate change.  These students also came of age in a time of rapid expansion of digital information, arts and technology.  This class encouraged students to critically engage with digital modes of communication that they have been receiving, maybe passively, their entire lives.  Their awareness in this regard was increased by creating their own works, receiving feedback from their peers, and through critiquing the works of their peers.  Reflecting on the class, a student, Christopher, stated “every time you’re presenting something, you’re presenting it to a specific audience, so you always need to have that in mind.” Another student, John, added, “It’s like that Shakespeare line, ‘all the world’s a stage’ and this is a way to project ideas to the community and even the globe.”

This project has thus far been supported through the University of Colorado Outreach and Engagement Program, the Arts and Sciences Support of Education Through Technology (ASSETT), and the Grace and Gordon Gamm Interdisciplinary fund. We have also benefitted from the support of both the Environmental Studies program, and the Department of Theater and Dance.

Check out the work so far at and follow our twitter feed @media_climate

Max Boykoff
Assistant Professor
Environmental Studies program
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)
University of Colorado

Beth Osnes
Assistant Professor
Department of Theater & Dance
University of Colorado

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. As a native Coloradan, with family ties to UC-B that date to the turn of the 20th century, I'm proud of the work UC-B has done, and is doing in support of this critical issue. I've followed along, best I can (with my "inside contacts up at UC-B!) and I'm ~thrilled~ to read of your work. good luck, and I hope to see lots more of your posts on SkS!
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  2. "Students sprout creative communications on climate change Inside the Greenhouse" I see someone has put Joe Romms book into action ;)
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  3. Dude in the first video sure smokes a lot.
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  4. Would not receive a good grade from me in Visual Communications
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Please make a comment that adds substance to the discussion. A drive by statement of your personal opinion is of no value.
  5. The video "El Verde Edited Final" has at least some parts in mock-Spanish. And I don't mean an excusable use of English indicative when Spanish subjunctive is essential, but the use of Spanglish and a certain fail to even look up terms in the dictionary, like the refrain "respecta a tu madre" which is ungrammatical, with a meaning closer to "regarding to your mother" than the intended "respect your mother". I consider that culturally insulting, as this is not an exception but the rule in the States.
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