THE DISCOURSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE: IS THERE A CULTURE OF CLIMATE
CHANGE ON THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO DENVER CAMPUS?
B.A., Montana State University, 2008
M.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2015
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Eiyka Ayn Thorley
has been approved for the
Department of Anthropology
John Brett, Chair
Steve Ko ester
Gaby Petr on
Thorley, Eryka Ayn (M.A., Anthropology)
The Discourse of Climate Change: Is There A Culture of Climate Change on the
University of Colorado Denver Campus?
Thesis directed by Associate Professor John Brett.
This thesis seeks to explore the question, "Is there a culture of climate change
on the University of Colorado Denver campus? The University of Colorado Denver
(CU Denver) is an invaluable place to explore a populations socially shared values,
knowledge and practices (culture) as it gathers a large group of educated adults,
representative of generational cultural shift. Rooted in ethnographic techniques and
applied anthropology, this study examines the intricacies of a climate change
paradigm on a large urban campus. Utilizing previous research examining
perceptions of climate change among U.S. groups, this work is situated in time and
place, therefore contributing a view into the current conditions of climate change
within a particular demographic and exclusive landscape (The CU Denver campus).
Methods utilized include semi-structured interviews with 19 sustainability leaders
on campus as well as participant observation (observation of meetings, lectures and
other locales of climate change discussion). Preliminary research was conducted in
2013 exploring perceptions of first semester freshmen on the larger Auraria campus.
Consistent with national results, this research suggests that while students are
aware of climate change, they feel powerless about it. The current research
highlights the integrated and multidimensional dialog, action and forces that affect
and contribute to the conditions of climate change on the University of Colorado
Denver campus. Utilizing the socio-ecological framework, a useful tool in dealing
with complex multidimensional and interrelated relationships such as those
common with issues of climate change, the culture of climate change on campus
becomes easier to examine and understand. Interviews revealed a multitude of
overlapping relationships that influence climate change and sustainability more
broadly on campus. These dynamics or interdependencies both impact and are
impacted by current discourse and shared behaviors surrounding sustainability and
climate change on the CU Denver campus. As a result of the current and future
challenges presented by climate change, this paper argues for the general
improvement of climate change discourse on the CU Denver campus as this
conversation is invaluable for the success of students as both informed citizens as
well as future participants and leaders within local, national and international
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: John Brett
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Climate Action Plan.....................................15
Science and Public Perception...........................17
Location: The Auraria Campus............................26
A. Interview Guide..............................................55
LIST OF TABLES
1. The Code Book...............................................................25
2. Table explaining the key themes and their significance from Figure 2.3......38
LIST OF FIGURES
2.1 Diagram illustrating the overall explanation given by interviewees regarding the
network of both the University of Colorado school system as well as the larger
state run AHEC instituion. Relationships and associated factors on each campus
are representative of information gathered via interviews and is not exhaustive.
2.2 Conceptual map illustrating the larger student numbers of MSUD (21,000) in
comparison to the smaller student bodies of both CU Denver (14,000) and CCD
(13,000). Representation in student numbers was not mentioned by
interviewees, however, it is important to acknowledge that each school is not
equal in population on the Auraria campus....................................27
2.3 Diagram of interrelated issues surrounding the dominant challenge and theme of
lack of communication on campus. The main issues for each demographic group
are labeled; students in italics, faculty bold and administrative personnel
underlined. Note: there are numerous ways in which each component influences
and interacts with the others................................................37
"Take care of the Earth, we have not inherited this land from our ancestors; rather we have
borrowed it from our children" -Kenyan Proverb posted atone entrance to campus
This research explores the culture of climate change on the University of
Colorado Denver campus in downtown Denver, Colorado in 2013-2015. Exploration
into this topic began as a result of my own interest in climate change. I was intent
on personally engaging in the dialog of climate change and its actions on campus yet
after hunting for its location and actors, found myself confused as to who, what and
where climate change discourse exists on the CU Denver campus. As a result of
preliminary findings as well as my own experience with the potentially hidden
climate change discourse on campus, the question emerged, "Is there a culture of
climate change on the CU Denver campus?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "climate change
refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended
period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in
temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over
several decades or longer (2014). Dramatic changes in climate have occurred
throughout the history of the Earth. What distinguishes the natural changes in
climate that have occurred throughout the duration of the Earths history with the
"climate change of today is the impact that human behavior is having on the
otherwise previously natural processes including unprecedented global mean
temperature increase. Directly influencing these changes is the increase of carbon
dioxide emissions as well as methane and other greenhouse gases as a result of
changes in human behavior.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a collaborative
global organization that was established by the United Nations Environmental
Programme and The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988. The goal
of the IPCC is to "provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state
of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic
impacts (IPCC 2015). The IPCC explains, "Human influence has been detected in
warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in the changes in the global water cycle,
in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some
climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since the IPCC
Fourth Assessment Report was released in 2007. It is extremely likely that human
influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th
century (2013). This human influence on the climate is referred to as
anthropogenic climate change and within the last decade it has influenced the
distinguishing title of the Earths current epoch, "the anthropocene (Steffen et al.
Due to the extent of its predicted implications, climate change has become
one of the most important societal and ecological issues of the 21st century (Watt
2014; Richter 2010). Climate change will impact the entirety of Earths ecosystems
in a multitude of ways and as a result has the potential to alter all forms of life on
this planet. Holdren (2015) outlines a number of U.S. based quantifiable outcomes
as a result of our changing climate. These include rising sea levels, an increase in
forest fires, drought prone areas that are becoming dryer while simultaneously
other parts of the country are experiencing unprecedented floods, the increase of
storm strength due to changing weather patterns, increasingly acidic oceans and
overall global average temperature rising. For example, 2014 was the warmest year
on record since temperature record keeping began in 1880 with 2010 in 2nd place
and 2005 in 3rd (Holdren 2015). Holdren reiterates, "Earths climate is changing at a
pattern and a pace that is not consistent with natural influences. He continues
explaining that the "dominant driver is the human caused build up of CO2 and other
heat trapping substances in the atmosphere, mainly from fossil fuel combustion and
land-use change (2015).
This increase in greenhouse gases in the Earths atmosphere is significant
because of its overall warming influence. Greenhouse gases like water vapor,
carbon dioxide and methane are crucial in keeping the Earths temperatures
consistent and hospitable for life as they trap a specific amount of outgoing thermal
radiation from the Earths surface within its atmospheric boundary. The challenge
with this however, is when the concentration of heat trapping gases change, the
amount of radiation absorbed or released from the Earths atmosphere also changes.
In the case of current climate change concerns, increased greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere, mainly as a result of the burning of fossil fuel and human influenced
land use change, trap greater thermal radiation emitted at the Earths surface and
therefore raises global average temperatures. As communicated by the United
States EPA, potential future global mean temperature increase, based on various
climate models and greenhouse gases emissions scenarios, will range from a 2
degree Fahrenheit warming (an almost unrealistic lower limit at this point) to
potentially 11.5 by 2100 (2014). Despite the frequently communicated urgency (as
explored above) to reduce human caused greenhouse gases emissions, the main
drivers of Earths recent warming, outside of the scientific community, the topic of
climate change remains quiet within much of the U.S. population.
Klein further explains todays quiet discourse surrounding climate change,
"Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this
jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting
us in the faceand yet we are doubling down on the stuff that is causing the crisis in
the first place (2014:3). She continues,
We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing
emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change
everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown,
ancient culture will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high
chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing
and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we
dont have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do
is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now, whether its
counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves
were unfortunately too busy to deal with it. (2014:4)
While a number of people may not be concerned with the implications of
climate change, it is suggested that the majority are confused more about the
science or what they themselves can do to mitigate the hazard. Leiserowitz
captures this in his 2013 survey of Coloradans climate change perceptions. "More
than half of Coloradans say that more should be done about global warming at all
levels of government. Yet, "Many are unsure that people will rally to do whats
necessary to reduce global warming. A plurality (43%) believes humans could
reduce global warming, but its unclear at this point whether we will do whats
needed (Leiserowitz 2013).
In order to further understand todays social and ecological complexities that
provide a daily frame to the issues of climate change, this research explores whether
or not there is a "culture of climate change, or shared beliefs, knowledge and values
surrounding climate change on the University of Colorado Denver campus in
downtown Denver, Colorado. The idea of "culture is significant for numerous
reasons including that it dominates much of human interaction including our
interpretation and exchange with the natural world. Adger et al. further reiterate
the influence of culture on the understanding of climate change and its drivers,
explaining, "Culture is embedded in the dominant modes of production,
consumption, lifestyles and social organization that give rise to emissions of
greenhouse gases. The consequences of these emissionsclimate change impacts
are given meaning through cultural interpretations of science and risk (2013:112).
Specific topics targeted by this research include individual and group
perceptions within the University system (students, faculty and staff) including are
people engaging in the conversation of climate change and what overlap or
awareness exists between its invested members? Where and what climate focused
activities are occurring on campus and who are their participants? How do
organizations operate and disseminate climate change related information on
campus as well as share their values?
This research intends to further understand the interactions between
different groups on the CU Denver campus as well as to obtain a more complete
picture of the shared perceptions and values surrounding climate change among
people engaged with this topic. The Research was conducted through the lens and
understanding of the socio-ecological framework. This framework aids in the
exploration of complex issues through the perspective that humans and nature are
intimately interconnected (Waltner-Toews 2008:110). Exploring the culture of
climate change on campus through this perspective offers insight into the dynamic
interdependencies of issues that emerged throughout interviews including the lack
of communication and the many pathways that led to this overarching theme.
The CU Denver campus is unique for a multitude of reasons. Located in
downtown Denver, it is tightly woven into a larger urban campus called Auraria that
houses two other schools: Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) and the
Community College of Denver (CCD). Because the Auraria campus is a tri campus
institution it brings in a diverse body of students ranging in age, income and
ethnicity. This creates unique opportunities as well as challenges within the system.
Additionally CU Denver is one school within the larger University of Colorado
system. This larger system includes the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado
Springs and the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado.
This project is conducted through the discipline of applied anthropology, as
climate change is a relevant and timely issue for modern society including a large
current push to further understand the local perspective in order to reduce
emissions, mitigate risk, increase resiliency and adaptation as well as inform policy.
This research offers insight into the culture of climate change on a large, urban
commuter campus in America in 2015.
The thesis format is as follows: First, background information will provide an
introduction into the present day division between science and public awareness, as
well as perception, including how this dualism has created the space and necessity
for this research. Additionally, anthropology and its contributions to this discussion
will be explored including preliminary research conducted on freshmen perceptions
of climate change on the Auraria campus. Second, the theoretical framework
applied to this research, the socio-ecological framework, will be discussed including
its structural and organizational contribution and appropriateness within this
research. Third, methods utilized will be discussed including applied anthropology,
semi structured interviews and participant observation. Fourth, findings and
themes will be reported. And fifth, a discussion will conclude the document
exploring the potential leverage points and pathways to improve the
communication and overall discourse and action concerning sustainability and
climate change on the CU Denver campus.
Colorado is a national hub for climate science with various large research
centers like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National
Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado hosting large
facilities outside of Denver in Boulder. Colorado as a state focuses much effort
towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to the Western Water
Colorado Climate Preparedness Project there are 81 Organizations "actively
involved in climate preparedness projects within Colorado (WWCCPP 2015). This
list includes Colorado organizations such as "NGOs with a specific climate change
mission such as the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization; groups of elected
officials with a broader mission but which have addressed climate change such as
the Western Governors Association; university programs that are relevant to one of
the sectors in this project such as CSUs Colorado Climate Center; as well as
consulting firms that have authored major reports for the Western Water
Assessment Report (WWCCPP 2015).
Despite the large amount of climate change research conducted in Colorado
only about half (48%) of its residents believe that global warming, or climate
influenced global temperature increase, is caused mostly by human activities
(Leiserowitz 2013). Yet consistent with nation wide Pew Research Survey results,
the majority of Coloradans (70%) believe that global warming is happening
(Leiserowitz 2013; Motel 2014).
Although there have been significant fluctuations in public perception of
climate change in response to disinformation campaigns and countless local and
global events (Oreskes and Conway 2010; Boykoff 2015; Leiserowitz 2005; Adger et
al. 2009), perceptions and themes influencing them have not dramatically changed
over the past 25 years (Read etal. 1994; Kempton 1990; OConnor 1999; Bostrom et
al. 1994). Read etal. explored the topic of climate perception with well-educated
adults around the Pittsburgh area in the early 1990s. Based on distributed
questionnaires, they concluded that the "U.S. society cannot have intelligent
democratic debate on the choices regarding climate change "unless lay mental
models are better informed (Read etal. 1994:982). Similar early climate
perception studies include Kempton (1990), OConnor etal. (1999), and Bostrom et
This disconnect, or the division between the well understood and
documented science of climate change, indicating that it is unequivocally human
caused (Holdren 2015) and the perception of over 50% of still conflicted Coloradans
as to who or what is responsible as well as the lack of action and discourse, is the
catalyst for the current research.
Anthropology offers an unparalleled and relevant perspective within climate
change research and communication (Barnes 2014). This is due to its unique
capability to bridge the gap between science and public perception or as the
American Anthropological Associations Global Climate Change Task Force states,
"No other discipline and profession is better positioned to comment on the human
challenges of global environmental change (2015:17). Anthropologys contribution
lies in its unique ability to capture records, experiences and narratives of local
people. These are the details that are otherwise overlooked or often insufficiently
gathered by other disciplines. Anthropology has the ability to capture local
narratives that provides an invaluable perspective into the perception of climate
change today. Roncoli etal. reiterate, "Anthropologys potential contributions to
climate research are the description and analysis of these mediating layers of
cultural meaning and social practice, which cannot be easily captured by methods of
other disciplines, such as structured surveys and quantitative parameters
Although the conversation of anthropogenic climate change is familiar
among countries and communities within the global network, the topic has taken on
escalating significance over the past decade. The global climate continues to warm
and today the effects of climate change can be viewed and documented in specific
weather events and changing climate patterns worldwide. This dramatic shift in
tangibility has sparked focus on the human implications of the changing climate.
Crate explains, "It is only through vigorous cross-scale local to global approaches
and interdisciplinary projects, which effectively accommodate and integrate
qualitative data, that anthropologys offerings will bring the greatest contributions
(2011:176). On a global scale, average temperatures are rising and climate patterns
are shifting. It is the implication of the changing climate on local populations as well
as their responsive actions that remains elusive and therefore the largest
contribution anthropology has to offer within climate studies. Exploring the
relationship between local perspectives and climate change is no simple task and
anthropological methods are undoubtedly an appropriate tool for the job.
For example, Becker explains this appropriateness from the position of
fieldwork for an ethnographer, "The point is not to prove, beyond a doubt, the
existence of particular relationships so much as to describe a system of
relationships, to show how things hang together in a web of mutual influence or
support or interdependence or what have you, to describe the connections between
specifics the ethnographer knows by virtue of having been there. Being there
produces a strong belief that the varied events you have seen are all connected,
which is not unreasonable since what the fieldworker sees is not variables or factors
that need to be "related but people doing things together in ways that are
manifestly connected (1996). It is this web of mutual influence, interdependence
or as used in this research, the socio-ecological framework, that separates
anthropology from other variable seeking disciplines. It is the unique positionality
as an ethnographer that employs one to examine intricacies and connections that
may otherwise be overlooked in traditional survey focused research. It is this
positionality of ethnography that deeply influenced and informed this current
The criterion for anthropologically rooted fieldwork is a requirement of deep
engagement with local actors. Strategies to accomplish this in this research include
the mesh of traditional practices such as participant observation as well as semi-
structured interviews. It is important to utilize new concepts within the field such
as climate ethnography, with its heavy focus on collaborative work but ultimately, it
is the responsibility of the researchers to vigilantly reflect on local position as well
as the larger national or even international influence of their research. Cited in
Crate, Hastrup eloquently suggests, "Global warming introduces new disjunctions
and inequities between local worlds, while establishing knowledge about the
environment becomes destabilized. The "global is what envelops the local, all while
becoming part of it... We need new ethnographies to show how this imbalance
occurs and how people become literally unsettled as nature develop out of bounds
(Crate 2011:177). As anthropological methods are refined for climate specific work
and multidisciplinary collaborations are increased, a greater understanding of the
human capacity to adapt not only perceptions, but culture more broadly, may occur.
Preliminary research was conducted in the fall of 2013 in which 12 first
semester freshmen on the Auraria campus were interviewed regarding their
perceptions of climate change. Interviews were recorded and transcribed for major
themes; unsurprisingly results were similar to previous research conducted on
teenagers in America (Leiserowitz 2011).
Of the 12 students interviewed, when asked what they know about climate
change, 11 responded passively with answers such as "not much at all, "very little,
and "just a little bit. Only 1 student assertively responded with "plenty. When
further asked if climate change affects them individually, students responses
included "eventually it will probably affect my life, probably everybodys or "no, not
in a major way but it could have minor effects that I dont really think about
(Thorley et al. 2013). From these interviews the major theme of communication
emerged including the lack of climate education within K-12 schooling and its
limited discourse on campus.
Anthony Leiserowitz has explored the topic of climate change related
perceptions for much of the last decade (2005, 2006, 2011, 2013, 2015). Specifically
Leiserowitz has focused on teen perceptions and consistent with our research,
found that "70% of teens say they would like to know more about global warming
(2011:3). He also uncovered, through detailed surveys, that 1 in 5 teens (20%)
believe that they are "very well informed about how the climate system works or
the different causes, consequences, or potential solutions to global warming, and
only 27% say they have learned "a lot about global warming in school (2011:3).
These findings led to the current research study. If students desire more
information yet are unsure about climate change when they enter college, then
where is the gap regarding this knowledge, how is climate information disseminated
on campus, and ultimately how can this exchange be improved. Reiterating the need
for greater climate change based communication on campus, one freshman
College students, they dont really know anything. You come here and
are independent for the first time and you are really finding out your
views. Especially on a campus this large that has a really diverse
population. There are a lot of different people here so I think there
are a lot of issues... this is a great place to start. There arent a lot of
places where you have this many curious minds. So I think it is really
awesome. There are a lot of issues that people care about and if you
care about something then it is important to exercise it and act on it
and not just throw it away. (Thorley et al. 2013)
The University system is the last opportunity students have to learn about
climate change within the academic system. Based on the preliminary study,
students receive a climate introduction in primary school but are still unsure of
climate science and the larger implications of climate change by the time they start
college. This is exemplified in the interviews with freshmen in 2013. When asked
what he knows about climate change one student explained, "Not much at all. Global
warming. Nothing else really, I havent had a class like that since Human Geography
my freshman year in high school. It was generic and so I dont really have any
education on climate change right now (Thorley et al. 2013). Without a greater
integration of climate change science and policy within the education system, these
students may remain entrenched in their limited knowledge and therefore will
likely contribute to the already limited understanding of climate change within the
general public as well as the curbed level of action that is seen today.
To further understand where groups engage in climate related topics and
issues on campus this research extends to the entirety of CU Denver campus. This
involves exploration into the institutional structure and actions of the University
including the Climate Action Plan that is a requirement of the American College and
University Presidents Climate Commitment that was signed by the by CU Denver in
Climate Action Plan
In 2006 the three Auraria campus schools signed the American College and
University Presidents' Climate Commitment or ACUPCC. ACUPCC is,
A high-visibility effort to address global climate disruption
undertaken by a network of colleges and universities that have made
institutional commitments to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions
from specified campus operations, and to promote the research and
educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize
the earths climate. Its mission is to accelerate progress towards
climate neutrality and sustainability by empowering the higher
education sector to educate students, create solutions, and provide
leadership-by-example for the rest of society
This agreement holds each school to a number of sustainable initiatives
1. The completion of a greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
2. Within two years, setting a target date and interim milestones for
becoming climate neutral.
3. Taking immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by
choosing from a list of short-term actions.
4. Integrating sustainability into the curriculum and making it a part of
the education experience.
5. Making an action plan inventory and progress reports publically
The only school on campus to have their own, the CU Denver Climate
Action Plan is managed and maintained by a full-time sustainability officer.
This officer operates out of the Anschutz campus and is responsible for the
collection and reporting of CU Denvers greenhouse gas emissions on their
own buildings, leased buildings, as well as their portion of emissions from
communal buildings operated by the Auraria Higher Education Council
(AHEC) (Smith 2010). Although each of the three schools signed this
contract independently, the majority of each schools buildings remain leased
from the larger AHEC state institution. Due to this, a significant fraction of
each schools effort to reduce greenhouse gases is not directly seen by the
school but rather is reflected at the larger AHEC aggregate level for
greenhouse gas inventory for all three schools. This results in a loss of
traceability and attribution of emission reduction efforts, which emerged as a
significant theme when discussing tangible sustainable practices on the
University campus. Interviewees explained that because of the structure of
the three school campus and its governing body of AHEC, there is little to no
direct relationship between a schools financial investment in physical
sustainable infrastructure and the buildings they lease.
Established in 2008, arising from discussions around a PhD program
in sustainability, the sustainability minor has 11 departments that are
officially involved with its integration on campus with roughly 60 students
declared in the program. The goal is to increase this to over 150 students in
the next year. Despite the limited funding ($1,500 outside of the professors
salary budget) and discourse (Referenced and discussed in both Findings and
Discussion sections), significant collaborative efforts still exist. According to
the sustainability minor website, departments offering a total of 78 potential
classes compatible with the minor include anthropology, engineering,
communications, biology, chemistry, economics, environmental sciences,
geography, history, philosophy and public health.
Figure 2.1: Diagram illustrating the overall structure of the network of both the
University of Colorado system as well as the larger state run AHEC institution.
Relationships and associated factors on each campus are representative of
information gathered via interviews and may not be exhaustive.
Science and Public Perception
In 1975 anthropologists Margaret Mead and William Kellogg established
conference to discuss the fate of the atmosphere. Although this conference was
designed to combat issues such as "dust, smoke, smog, and other forms of
particulate pollution that were the object of public attention at this time the
conference also emphasized and shared the invaluable global nature of the
atmosphere eluding to the importance of greenhouse gases long before they hit
main stream conversation (Fiske 2014:14). Interestingly enough, not only did Mead
bring focus to global climate forces, she also forecast the now "current division
between scientists and politicians, and between social scientists and decision-
makers, which she believed would derail global governance of the atmosphere
From Mead and Kelloggs conference in 1975 to today, communication has
dramatically changed regarding climate change. We have seen atmospheric
scientists clearly stating the implications of climate change; like Hansens early
announcement to the House of Representatives in 1988 to his perceptions studies of
today (2012) or Hayhoe (2009), who has successfully accessed various fundamental
religious denominations in the United States. Yet in alignment with Meads forecast,
there remain large divisions in understanding between different groups of people.
One of these large rifts emerged and still exists between science (scientists) and
Many disciplines, including anthropology, now highlight direct human
impacts and adaptations to climate change in order to communicate the need for
action; Berrang-Ford etal. (2012) explore the vulnerability of indigenous health to
climate change for Batwa Pygmies in Uganda, Norgaard (2011) explores the impact
of climate change on the people of Norway while Crate (2008) discusses the impact
of a changing climate on the Siberian people of rural Viliui Sakha.
Large climate research entities like the IPCC, in many ways have become the
reference science communicators of climate change. For the past 25 years, the IPCC
has synthesized and disseminated the science of climate change within the scientific
community and international policy makers but has largely struggled with public
outreach. In 2014, in a report released by the Climate Outreach and Information
Network, it was realized that "although the IPCC is succeeding in its aim of
presenting facts about climate change to policy makers, this role reflects an
outdated model of how science is incorporated into society, and how social change
occurs. Catalyzing a proportionate political and public response to climate change
means rethinking how climate change is communicated: from science to human
stories (Corner, 2014). This research intends to capture the "stories of local
knowledge and action regarding climate change on the CU Denver campus.
After exploring the background information behind the discourse of climate
change broadly it is important to situate this research within the organizational
perspective of the social ecological framework. This framework employs the
"integrated concept of human and nature, encapsulating the larger institutional and
societal system in which this research exists as well as enabling an outsider to make
sense of research results (Walter-Toews etal. 2008:110). Initially coined by Ingold,
an anthropologist, he explains that this concept puts humans back into nature in
which we utilize "skills, sensitivities and orientation that have developed through
the long experience of conducting ones life in a particular environment (2000:25).
In one example of the utilization of the socio-ecological framework, Kay and a
group of researchers "sought to reduce the waste generated in a student residence
cafeteria on the University of Waterloo campus in Canada (Walter-Toews etal.
2008:17). Upon interviewing a number of related and involved people, researchers
quickly realized that "no one individual had a compete picture of the food
production process on campus, rather they "only knew their limited area, such as
the kitchen or the scrape room (Walter-Toews etal. 2008:18). In the research of
food waste, as well as what emerged on the University of Colorado Denver campus,
"individuals know about the piece of the system in which they are most closely
involved (Walter-Toews etal. 2008:17). Due to the emergence of countless diverse
perspectives when researching topics such as reducing waste on campus or in the
case of CU Denver, the discourse of climate change, the socio-ecological research
framework in which individual pieces are combined into a larger overall system
description is key.
In addition to collecting various perspectives and layers of influence within a
topic of research, the socio-ecological framework allows a researcher to explore
potential multiple levels of influence. An example of this can be drawn from the
field of public health in which researchers Bull and Shlay explored the behaviors
surrounding "dual protection against pregnancy in the United States. Framing
results within social ecology, the researchers were able to "offer an understanding
of complex factors that influence dual protection and also present an opportunity to
consider strategies for promoting dual protection that include interventions at the
structural/environmental level, the social/interpersonal level, in addition to the
individual level (Bull and Shlay 2004:1). Creating levels such as these allow a
researcher to more thoroughly explain and illustrate the complex interrelationships
amongst issues involving dynamic human and environmental exchange.
The socio-ecological framework has only recently found significant
application within the field of climate change research. Traditionally research
involving climate change or environmental concerns more broadly has remained
isolated from its humanistic connections (Victor 2015). Recent shifts focus on the
reintegration of humans within the ecosystem or creating a social environment
component in climate change studies. This does not come without challenges.
Because of its integrated and complex nature, the forces surrounding climate change
are not exclusive to one another. Rather, they are a cumulative ecosystem or system
in which all parts are interrelated. As Waltner-Towes et al. explain, "Observations of
an ecosystem are shaped by cultural filters and organized according to the
worldview of the observers. The resulting cumulative body of knowledge-practice-
belief is grounded in a particular ecosystem (2008:117).
Nineteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals within
the University of Colorado system between January and March of 2015.
Interviewees were identified via a purposive sampling approach and chain referrals
from this group were used to "gain a qualitatively representative sample of
information about the culture (Trotter and Schensul 1998). Each interview was
audio recorded and coded for major themes utilizing NVIVO software.
An interview guide was utilized for consistency yet simultaneously each
interview was established as fluid and conversational lasting roughly 45 to 75
minutes. Diligent field notes were taken and a first round of analysis was conducted
in the process of their digitalization. Although codes were established in vivo this
initial preparation of the data was integral in establishing a post interview
processing of the data as well as initial emerging themes.
An initial interview contact was utilized based on the persons academic
participation and experience. Suggestions for additional interviewees were
collected from the primary contact, an integral member of the sustainability
conversation on campus.
NVIVO software allows a researcher to systemically code for repeated ideas
and concepts that emerge throughout interviews allowing a researcher to better
understand the similarities or unique differences between interviews. Codes were
derived a priori as well as in vivo and sections of data were simultaneously coded for
Informed a priori codes emerged from both the literature as well as the
preliminary research. These included the ideas of actions (recycling) on campus,
challenges (3 school-identity, communication, commuter, funding, isolation,
participation, politics, and socio economic level), education (integration) and
organizations (Climate Action Plan). Additional in vivo codes were derived from the
Table 1: The Code Book
The Code Book: A Priori Codes in Red Italics, In Vivo Codes in Black
Actions (286) Bicycle Related Organizations (414) AASHE
Divestment (FossilFreeCU) ACUPCC
Efficient Use of Space Administration
Enerqy Audits and GHG Monitorinq Alliance for Sustainable Colorado
Food Chanqes April 1st Enqlish Event
Greater Demand for Sustainability ASC (Auraria Sustainable Council)
Hydroponics Auraria and AHEC
LEDs Auraia Climate Justice
Neiqhborhoods Board of Reqents
Normalizinq Sustainability CAP
Outreach Chancellors Task Force
Push for Brandinq City (Denver Water)
Recycling Climate Chanqe Coalition
Renewable Enerqy Denver Reqional Council
Research Earth Day
Waste Diversion Facilities
Business (36) Enerqy Savinq ($) Faculty Assembly
Challenges (424) 3 Schools (Identity) Fossil Free CU
Bottom Up Home Town Colorado
Community (Coilaboration/Partnerships) Metro (Water Stewardship)
Commuter NASS (Native American Student Services)
Fundinq School Depts and Faculty (Business, Arch and Planninq, Enqineerinq)
Isolation SCP Project
Greater Specific Directive STARS
No On Campus Housinq State Directive
Politics Sustainable Summit
Socio Economic Levels UCD Sustainability Officer
Tenure Wirth Chair
Time Respondents (19) Professor
Top Down Staff
Climate Chanqe (100) Student
Culture (18) What Else Can Be Done (61)
Does Well (52) Who Else Should be Involved Administration
Education (118) Community Colleqe of Denver Everybody
Experience, Travel, Sustainability Faculty
Graduation Metro and CCD Sustainability Officers
Integration Outside Organization (One World One Water)
Sustainability Minor Students
GIS Software (1)
In addition, participant observation was utilized to aid in the positioning of
emerging themes from the semi-structured interviews within a larger context of the
culture of climate change on campus. Observational environments included
undergraduate and graduate classroom participation and observation, a Student
Campus Program (SCP) weekly sustainability meeting, the sustainability minor
faculty meeting and various other Denver based climate and sustainability focused
Location: The Auraria Campus
The University of Colorado Denver downtown campus is located on the 150
acre Auraria campus in downtown Denver, Colorado. The Auraria campus is unique
for a multitude of reasons including that it houses three different schools:
Metropolitan State University Denver (MSUD), the Community College of Denver
(CCD) and the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver). With a collective student
population of roughly 48,000 (with almost half being students at Metropolitan State,
21,000) and additional 5,000 faculty and staff members, the campus is large and
complex. Because it is a commuter based demographic, it holds a diverse body of
students ranging in age, income, and ethnicity. The above conditions have created
unique opportunities as well as challenges within the Auraria system.
One such challenge is the struggle of maintaining the campus grounds as
each school leases the majority of their space on campus and as a result does not see
the direct link and benefit from investments towards sustainability or otherwise. In
order to manage this shared space, a state organization called the Auraria Higher
Education Council (AHEC) was created. AHEC is responsible for supervising the
shared campus space including organizing and scheduling office and classroom
locations, building and grounds maintenance as well as the overall reporting of
greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability practices for the campus
Figure 2.2: Conceptual map illustrating the larger student numbers of MSUD
(21,000) in comparison to the smaller student bodies of both CU Denver (14,000)
and CCD (13,000). Representation in student numbers was not mentioned by
interviewees, however, it is important to acknowledge that each school is not equal
in population on the Auraria campus.
The first and most striking research finding involved the depth to which
climate change discourse is buried on the CU Denver campus and almost non-
existent. This theme also emerged when interviewing freshmen on campus in 2013.
The challenge of this buried discourse first emerged during the construction of the
semi-structured interview questions. The goal of this research was to target the
culture of climate change with initial language and action focused specifically on
"climate change, an already observed quiet topic on campus. Because of the limited
discourse on climate change, interview questions were deliberately shifted towards
sustainability. This proved significant as climate change impacts and mitigation
were rarely discussed as the direct motivation for administrative, faculty or student
The buried discourse of climate change was exemplified throughout
interviewee responses when asked directly about climate change on campus. For
example, when asked where the conversation of climate change is on campus one
interviewee (an integral leader on campus) explained, "Its slowly growing but it is
woefully behind. The question is, how long is the campus willing to be this far
behind. Another interviewee responded, "If we are literally just talking about
climate change and not this umbrella term of sustainability then I havent seen
anything about climate change since Ive been here but granted Ive been here a
little over a week. Another interviewee explained when asked about climate
change activities, symbolism, or communication on campus "I couldnt tell you, I
wouldnt know if there were things like that happening. I cant think of anything
that I ever saw on the campus and on the shared space between the three
institutions or at the level of public events except those that were sponsored
Additionally, each interview discussed AHEC and associated challenges with
the tri-school institution. Because there are numerous players on campus, people
mentioned struggles with investment, location, isolation, communication and
changing policies. One interviewee explained,
The Auraria model is imperfect because its the classic paradox of
landlord versus tenant. Why should the tenant pay for an
improvement in somebody elses building when they are not going to
reap from the return. CU Denver, just as an example, may be the
tenant of the North Classroom building but to date since they dont
own the building they havent personally invested any money into the
efficiency of the building. There is disconnect between saving energy
and paying for energy savings.
Highlighting the associated frustrations in communication and isolation,
another interviewee points out,
Id like to see partnerships between this campus and the folks in the
city, of which there are a large number who would be willing partners
but with the University campus system so isolated it almost never
comes up in food system conversations that I have had in the city
which is a shame because there is a lot of opportunity to work
together here. And I think there are other institutes out in the world
that would be a great use.
Another interviewee expounds on the frustrations with changing campus
policy, explaining that, "Making food related changes are difficult. For example,
there has been an effort for at least 5 years to change the food scape on campus
through planting fruit trees as part of decorative landscape. AHEC is fundamentality
opposed to that because its fruit and they have to pick it up and its messy but yet
they wont let anyone harvest it. They continue, "I will grant to them that it is a
complex issue but their tendency is to just say no, its too hard, rather than saying,
yeah, thats a good idea, how can we make this work? But on the other side there is
a huge amount of interest on the part of students and faculty.
The physical arrangement of the Auraria campus results in structural
implementation challenges as there are numerous entities involved in the decision
making process. One interviewee eloquently reiterated this challenge explaining,
"Auraria is not a school; its a management group. Another interviewee, a student
involved with sustainability decisions on campus further illustrated this challenge
when asked what could be better on campus,
I could go off on a rant there. What could be better? So we just did a
waste audit a couple weeks ago and what we found is that food waste
is probably the biggest contaminant in the recycling and in the waste
bins and this stuff can all be composted. We have 5 compost bins in
the Tivoli1 but in order to expand the program its tricky. We have the
money (The Sustainable Campus Program) for more compost bins but
because its aligning compost across campus with 3 different schools,
AHEC and Alpine, the waste management company that we use, its
hard. And having Alpine have another pick up zone on the other side
of campus because people cant cart compost from one side to the
other because its currently picked up in the Tivoli, is another
challenge. There are just so many institutions. The projects, trying to
1 The Tivoli is a landmark ofthe Auraria Campus and the epicenter for campus life and services. The
Tivoli "supports the University of Colorado Denver, MSU of Denver, the CCD, and the greater Denver community.
In 2013, the Tivoli was named #9 ofthe 25 best student unions by Best College Reviews
implement a project on campus is so much work and takes so much
time and so I just think people are committed to SCP for a year and
with a constant rotation of students, students cant see projects
completed. There are a bunch of projects, like I said this chiller2, a
whole bunch of other students approved money for this and none of
them are at the table now.
Other major themes that emerged throughout the interviews included
communication, outreach and integration. These involved both positive examples
for each theme as well as negative. Communication incorporated concepts of
discussion between individuals or groups while outreach involved the intentional
reaching out to communicate issues of sustainability and/or climate change. Coding
for integration represented the desire to collaborate with other programs and
institutions on campus through the lens of education.
Communication was a consistent theme exemplified by its 91 references
within the broader category of challenges. It was the largest referenced theme
within this category. The code of communication more thoroughly refers to the
networking challenges among individuals, departments, schools and administration.
Other referenced challenges impacting communication directly included limited
resources (time, energy and finances) for campus networking and collaboration,
geographical/location hurdles on the Auraria campus as well as the struggle to gain
and maintain the ear of various parties on campus including students, faculty and
administration. One interviewee illustrates the dynamic struggles of
communication on campus, explaining,
2 A chiller is a machine that removes heat from a heat source. With sustainability funds, SCP is in the
process of purchasing a new chiller for the Tivoli building.
I think it would be helpful if there were more clearly identifiable
leadership and some coordination among, more effective coordination,
among all the groups that are making efforts to improve things. We
might get more bang for our buck if people will at least talk to each
other. Understanding that there are always turf issues and my way is
better than your way of doing it sort of ideas, but even just the
sharing of ideas could be healthy. And Im sure there are small forays
like that all over but it is not as visible as could be helpful.
Another interviewee highlights the unique challenges of networking on campus,
Before I left the campus in this formal way, I was feeling like a gopher
trying to tunnel to the other limited spots on the campus where the
issue of climate change or sustainability was recognized and spoken
about. Sustainability was one place where folks were talking about it
and IGERT was another place. There were tunnels to very small
pockets of awareness and discourse around this issue.
The associated architectural and location challenges involved with
communication are further illustrated by another interviewee.
I think thats a common theme not just for SCP but for a lot of things
that happen on this campus, whether its other initiatives that are
being done, whether its sustainable or not, I think its a challenging
campus to get the word out, one you have a large student population,
40,000 plus students and being that everyone is primarily commuter,
is a challenge, you dont have a lot of the benefits that you would at a
CU Boulder or a school that is primarily residential in term of
physically getting students on campus and getting marketing
information or where to send it out to them. Many students do come
here and do hang out but a lot of students are here taking a class and
then they are immediately off because they have families and jobs and
other commitments. And so we dont have as long of a window to
make the awareness and sometimes it gets lost. Im not saying that is
an excuse for us to try and figure out ways to improve but I think that
is a challenge that this campus has faced in a lot of different areas with
awareness on a lot of things.
As illustrated in the above quotes, the theme of communication, outreach and
integration commonly overlapped throughout interviews. Multiple examples of
ways to address some of these challenges were mentioned by interviewees
including the need for more identifiable leadership on campus, improved
coordination among actors, and better marketing or outreach to more effectively
engage a commuter campus population. These three themes were also specifically
combined within conversations that mentioned programs such as the Integrative
Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant that was awarded to
CU Denver in 2008. The IGERT is a highly competitive National Science Foundation
grant that enabled CU Denver to fund a number of graduate students within a newly
created Sustainable Urban Infrastructure program. This program brought "together
faculty and students from the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the
College of Architecture and Planning, the School of Public Affairs and the College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences to work around the common question: How can these
disciplines collaborate to create the sustainable cities of tomorrow? (IGERT 2008).
Thirty one percent or 6 out of 19 (4 campus administrators) interviewees
mentioned the IGERT grant as a positive example of what the campus is "doing well
regarding sustainability issues. This grant exemplifies the impact of sustainable
related programs on campus as a result of both its collaborative nature as well as its
specific focus to "solve large and complex research problems of significant scientific
and societal importance at the national and international level (www.igert.org).
Interestingly while this was viewed as a positive example, few interviewees,
primarily administrators, were aware of the details regarding the IGERT grant
including that it was completed in the Fall of 2014. Perhaps it was distinguished as
something the campus is "doing well because of its unique collaborative nature in
combining groups on campus around the topic of sustainability. Unfortunately at
this time, there is nothing similar to replace it.
In the pursuit to further understand if there is a culture of climate change on
campus, interviewees were asked whether or not there is a culture of climate
change on campus. The first response to this question for the majority of
interviewees was "no however, many nos were followed by a further clarification
explaining that there is an "isolated, "small and "disjointed culture of climate
change on the CU Denver campus. One interviewee specifically responded when
asked if there is a culture of climate change on campus, "No, I dont. I think what you
have is the university culture being shaped by 50 other priorities and climate
change being way at the bottom. I dont even know if there is a culture of climate
change denial. My feeling is that there is a culture of climate change ignorance.
This ignorance may be a technique to protect and preserve an individuals
habitus (Bourdieus concept that refers to the physical collection of cultural capital
through the deeply ingrained habits, skills and dispositions that a person possessed
due to their life experiences (2001)) and as a result, larger social entities, from the
threat and dangers of climate change. Another interviewee touches on this theme as
well as the competing social issues on campus, explaining not only the social
behavior of preserving ones habitus by shifting towards a more accepted topic on
campus such as racism but also highlighting the competitive nature of social issues
[The] Campus itself is a culture. It is one community, not a very social
community but a very busy community. Still I cant tell if someone is a
Metro student or not, I meet them in the Tivoli and I could talk to
them and unless youre wearing a Metro State hat I wouldnt know or
care. As far as the culture, I dont know about a culture. People care
more about racism here than they do about climate change. That is
their big topic.
Another theme that was only directly mentioned by one interviewee but
indirectly mentioned by other interviewees is the recent (past 2 years) reduction of
what was an already limited discourse surrounding climate change on campus. One
interviewee is particularly concerned about this, explaining, "When I was hired (x)
years ago this was a hot topic. There were a lot of people involved and a lot of
people wanted to be involved and it was important to a lot of people and we had a
lot of participation on our sustainability committee and for some reason over the
past 2 years it has just waned. It has kind of gone away and I dont exactly know
why it is.
This reduction in discourse is not unique to the CU Denver campus, as it has
also been documented within mainstream media. Boykoff (2015) explains, "there
was a high water mark in climate change media communication in 2009 but from
that high water mark until 2014, it has dropped. It has dropped 36% globally, 26%
in the U.S. and as much as 55% in the U.K.. In light of the socio-ecological
framework it can be observed that mainstream media is only one piece of the larger
puzzle surrounding climate change discourse and culture more broadly.
Challenges Influencing the Lack of Communication on the University of Colorado Denver Campus
Figure 2.3: Diagram of interrelated issues surrounding the dominant challenge and
theme of lack of communication on campus. The main issues for each demographic
group are labeled; students in italics, faculty bold and administrative personnel
underlined. Note: there are numerous ways in which each component influences
and interacts with the others.
Table 2: Table explaining the key themes and their significance from Figure 4.
Challenges Influencing Commmunication on the University of Colorado Denver Campus
Lack of Communication Most consistently mentioned theme among all interviewees. Involves the lack of interaction among campus members and the challenges that result.
Isolation: Limited Horizontal Integration Involves the theme of isolation as a result of the limited interactions amongst groups on campus based on location as well as the lack of integration between departments.
Individual University Branding & Priorities There is a current push on campus to distinguish and separate the schools from one another. This involves new branding, buildings, and program distinguishment including the push for creating identifiable "neighborhoods" on campus.
Competing Priorities Due to limited resources, competition between priorities on campus exists.
Commuter Campus Due to no on campus housing for CU Denver students, commuting influences the campus as students are tyipcally on campus for classes but then return to their homes off campus for community engagement. This limits the formation of community on campus.
Campus Specialization Each of the University of Colorado schools have established specialties in different areas. CU Boulder has a much larger sustainability program which was given as a reason that CU Denver is so limited in this area.
Limited Resources: Time, Energy & Finances Each group offered examples of limited resources. Students discussed personal energy limits due to the challenges of communicaiton on campus, faculty discussed time and energy due to busy schedules and the pressue of tenure and administrtaion mentioned all three including extra emphasis on finances as there is limited budgeting for sustainability programs.
Lack of Focused Leadership The lack of leadership emerged as a consistent theme throughout interviews. There is no central hub for communication of sustainability and climate change issues and information on the CU Denver campus or across all three of the Auraria schools.
Split locations: the Auraria Campus The split of locations is important as there are 3 separate schools operating on the Auraria campus. Often the schools share buildings such as the student services building (Tivolli) or the Administration building (Metro. State is based out of this building yet the CU Denver Anthropology department is housed in it as well).
The culture of climate change on the CU Denver campus in 2015, though very
limited based on what emerged from interviews described in the previous section,
exists within and is constructed by an intricate web of complex integrated issues. A
socio-ecological framework offers space to examine and employ the pieces of this
web within the context of its interrelated and dependent nature. Socio-ecological
models are powerful tools to analyze systems where "the facts are uncertain, values
are in dispute, the decision-making stakes are high, and there is a sense of urgency
that decisions be made that this framework becomes invaluable (Waltner-Toews et
al. 2008). This is due to the unproductive and impossible nature of isolating
individual components within the dynamic system that shapes the culture of
campus. In addition, it is the combination of these many components that
perpetuates the culture in which this research seeks to expose.
The components of this web are interconnected and may vary based on the
position of the interviewee, as illustrated in Figure 2.3, yet communication emerged
as a consistent major theme as mentioned in the previous chapter. The lack of a
central hub for communication concerning climate change or more broadly
sustainability was reiterated directly and indirectly throughout the majority of
interviews. Beginning from the perspective of an administrator that works directly
with AHEC, a quote already mentioned on pages 30-31 discusses the major
challenge of communication on campus.
In this quote the interviewee begins by explaining the challenges of
communication from the structure of the tri institutional campus, stating that it is an
inherent challenge of this campus to get the "word out regarding a multitude of
issues. Beginning from the consistent theme of communication, additional
challenges emerge, defining and illustrating participants individual issues with
sustainability and climate change from their perspective. For example the above
interviewee is focused on the marketing challenges on a three school campus versus
a single school based on their position. Due to the diverse perspectives gathered
from students, faculty and administration, a strong theme of isolation or lack of
horizontal integration amongst departments and organizations, including the
overarching lack of central leadership, the challenges of communication are
deepened and perpetuated throughout campus.
Another interviewee exposes the issues of communication through the
excuse of the unique demographics and situation of CU Denver (commuter
challenges as well as isolation within the city of Denver).
We sort of excuse ourselves on this campus by saying, "Well a lot of
our students work. Its not your classic college campus its one that
people commute to and its really hard to organize things when there
are activities in the evening, people dont come. But I think at this
point weve got to move beyond that and even if thats the case we
have got to make it happen. But I think thats got to come, I think the
University has got to kick in some money and Im not just saying for
talking for climate change. They want CU Denver, at least from the
branding aspect, that we should be an integral part of the city but to
make that happen we should open up this campus to the people of the
Continuing on through the interrelated components of communication, it is
imperative to explore the limited resources mentioned by participants throughout
this research including time, energy and finances. One interviewee, another
administrative member, explains,
Funding is always an issue for addressing climate change and
sustainability in general. Its just that we dont have a budget for it so
it is always going to ask for money and its often being told "no its
not a priority. This is because there is other stuff that is more
important, new construction projects, building new programs, and
lots of stuff just come before this. Being a top tiered research
university has been a very competitive business and there is not a
direct correlation between getting more students in the door and
raising revenues and it often takes priority from other things. There is
no budget just for sustainability projects.
From their perspective, a number of faculty members reiterated the
challenge of resources. Depending on their academic status, faculty voiced various
pressures regarding the topics they research as well as the pressure to publish
articles in order to more successfully reach the goal of a tenure position within the
university. One interviewee elude to their limited time and energy for climate
related research and action as well as different pressures regarding their job duties
(...I need to make a living...) as a university professor,
I dont see myself as being the vanguard of the social movement
although I would certainly get involved in one. On the other hand I
need to make a living and I dont have the energy that I had when I
was younger and it would be difficult for me to do a whole lot. Its
Interestingly one of the seven faculty members, who was unaware of
recycling locations on campus outside of their office building as well as larger
current actions surrounding sustainability on campus, iterated an opposing
perspective from that of the above quote, explaining that there is motivation to
achieve tenure yet they dont "see any barriers to taking on climate change as a
I think there is plenty of room on the faculty side as well (referring to
the opportunity for students). Its really an issue of what do you want
to write about, whats your background, and what is going to get you
tenured or promoted until you get to that point. And I think there is
plenty of room for faculty to do that. I dont see any barriers to
preclude that. I dont see any barriers to doing more other than
people taking it on as a project.
Students similarly mentioned the challenge of limited resources when
dealing with climate related issues. One student explained that because of the
frustration and time that it takes to organize three schools and AHEC around
sustainability issues, they have chosen to work on projects that are "realistic and
can be accomplished before they graduate. This challenge was also demonstrated
by another student interviewee who took on a third major to push back their
graduation date. This additional major was not motivated by the improvement in
job perspectives but to continue their sustainability focused internship that would
have otherwise fizzled due to shifts and recent vacancies within the larger campus
structure. This students response is an example of one of the many individual
actions that are conducted on campus in order to continue sustainability discourse.
In addition to the large hurdle of communication, the unique priorities of members,
isolation of the three campus system, limited resources, the missing hub for
sustainability and overall the lack of direct leadership on campus, sustainability
guides on campus struggle with the same overarching themes yet frame them from
their unique perspectives and underlying individual habitus.
A central motivation to this research project is the importance of educating
students about climate change as it is and will be an increasing force throughout
their lives. One interviewee explains the importance of climate change discourse on
If universities are to educate future generations shouldnt that be part
of the conversation? Shouldnt we be concerned about whether the
future generations that were suppose to teach are actually going to
have a future? So I dont know whats going on [on campus] and I
think there could be a lot more going on. During the anti-war
movement in the 60s professors took it upon themselves because
their students were at risk for the draft and for this war that didnt
really make sense. So they started having teach-ins and faculty took a
leading role in teaching students about Vietnam and about all kinds of
issues that were related to it. The same happened with the Civil
Rights movement. I cant help but think that we should have this sort
of energy around climate change.
A student during preliminary research also mentioned the necessity of
climate change education, "It is an exciting time to be alive on this planet. No matter
the discipline that one belongs to, it is the responsibility of all to contribute to the
protection of both the environment and its most vulnerable populations. In the
global world in which we live, no one is free from the impacts of anthropogenic
climate change (Thorley etal 2013).
As a result of the inherent nature of sustainability and climate change issues,
individual campus traits including its physical layout and location, the unique
demographic of its students as well as the communication hurdles surrounding
sustainability related issues, a single answer or solution is challenging to deliver.
Rather, if change is to occur on campus, it must incorporate a dynamic and multi-
faceted approach that understands the many challenges that the campus currently
Gibson (2006) expounds on the necessity for this multifaceted approach as
well as the shift towards this perspective, explaining that sustainability has slowly
evolved into its improved current rendition as a "multi-dimensional and integrative
concept from its once flat interpretation however there is still much more that can
be done. He further reiterates the transformation to current sustainability concepts
that now "link the human and bio-physical, present and future, local and global,
active and precautionary, critique and alternate vision, concept and practice, and
universal and context. In addition, proper sustainability implementation engages
participants covering the full range of public, corporate and civil society
organizations and institutions, as well as individuals with their various capacities
and inclinations. And all of these are recognized as constituent factors in complex
and dynamic interrelations (2006:262). It is these interrelations that still need to
increase on the CU Denver campus if the discourse of climate change is to change. In
order to accomplish this, the campus must approach the shared values and beliefs of
its participants from a multi-dimensional systems approach (the socio-ecological
model) in which sustainability and climate change already exist on campus.
For example, to improve the conversation of climate change on campus, as
already discussed, a multitude of actions could take place. One major leverage point
however, could be the creation of a boundaiy-less position of leadership. Emerging
from the data, a potential campus or program wide position of leadership could
have the potential to influence all areas of current challenge in the discourse of
climate change on campus. This position could improve the ease at which members
can communicate with one another on campus as well as the overall network of
communication to collect and combine the presently isolated pockets of campus
members that are already motivated, active and engaged in these issues. Currently
there is one sustainability officer solely responsible for CU Denver as well as the
Anschutz Medical campus (outside of AHEC, MSU and CCD do not have one). This
position is housed on the Anschutz Medical campus and is primarily responsible and
limited to the large task of reporting yearly greenhouse gas emissions for both
campuses. If a new position were created that allowed both the time and resources
to look beyond greenhouse gas emissions, a improvement in communication could
Our research is showing that the culture of climate change on the CU Denver
campus in 2015 is very limited. The broader culture of sustainability, which
encompasses several aspects of climate change, was analyzed through interviews.
The analysis of these interviews showed that the culture of sustainability on the CU
Denver campus operates and is framed by a complex web of dynamic
interdependent relationships. CU Denver itself exists on a large urban three school
campus within the larger University of Colorado school system including CU Boulder,
Colorado Springs and Anschutz Medical campus. Due to the structural logistics of
the University system there are a multitude of players that are involved with any
climate change or sustainability related decisions made on campus adding
complexity that may otherwise not exist in smaller centralized institutions or
After interviewing 19 sustainability leaders on campus and observing
various meetings and classes, influential interrelated relationships directing the
culture of climate change emerged. Many challenges are not exclusive or
independent of one another but instead operate interdependently in shaping the
current discourse and overall culture of sustainability on campus. Because of this,
we have developed a socio-ecological framework to observe the system and its
current state holistically in order to better understand effective points of leverage to
improve the campus culture of sustainability and climate change.
There exists an extensive network of resources available on the University of
Colorado Denver campus. This includes 14,000 active and potentially engaging
students and additional faculty, the entire Auraria campus with a total of 48,000
students, as well as the larger University of Colorado network. The culture of
climate change exists as a disjointed, quiet and hidden entity on campus yet the
question remains, how can the resources that are available best be harnessed,
utilized and ultimately expand the culture of climate change for both ethical and
economic benefit as well as to reduce the Universitys local contribution to global
As already discussed, this can be done through various ways; 1) the
improvement of communication on campus, including between the three schools
and the larger structure of AHEC as well as improved exchange amongst students,
faculty, and administration, 2) the reintegration of collaborative programs such as
the IGERT, and 3) increased overall designation of resources towards the
conversation of climate change on campus. In addition to these three potential
points of leverage, it is imperative that the need for overarching leadership be made
priority. Multifaceted, focused and integrated leadership on campus has the
potential to promote the greatest change in the current CU Denver climate change
culture. Currently there are countless activities, organizations and projects
occurring on campus yet very little awareness and integration among these groups.
A central person or office solely focused on facilitating sustainable activities and
communication on the CU Denver campus and/or the Auraria campus in general
could facilitate and harness and spread resources that are already available.
Essential to this leadership or any directed change on campus is the assimilation
and awareness of the socio-ecological framework and the integrated and complex
nature of issues like sustainability and climate change.
It is the responsibility of all members of the University to further explore and
act upon these necessary changes, including the challenges identified in figure 2.3, in
order to shift the discourse of climate change and sustainability on the CU Denver
campus. While students hold the power of numbers within the University system, it
is not solely their responsibility to educate themselves about a warming world.
Rather, if an educational institution exists to successfully prepare students for the
workforce and to be educated contributors to their country, responsibility to teach
climate change education and sustainability practices must also exist at the level of
faculty and administration. University students pay tuition in exchange for a well-
rounded education that optimistically grooms them for a successful future. For
todays generation of college students, a successful future undoubtedly entails a
thorough understanding and awareness of climate change related issues. As one
freshmen explained during preliminary research, "As a teenager, as a student in
college, full time worker, and in debt, there are many things to be concerned about.
And the climate, although I know is an issue, and I drive a V-8, and I shouldnt be
saying that Im concerned, it is something that we should be concerned about and I
feel bad that I am not as concerned as should be. At the end of the day we dont
have the luxury to concern ourselves with this type of epidemic when you have to
worry about life.
This quote as well as the many others cited throughout this thesis, highlight
the complex web of challenges facing the current discourse and action involving
sustainability and climate change on the CU Denver campus. Within the constraints
of an institutional setting, these challenges are the current cultural climate change
hurdles that each member of the campus face. In order to most successfully invoke
and cultivate change, these hurdles must be met from a multidisciplinary and
integrated perspective, utilizing the socio-ecological framework. CU Denver holds
the resources to shift from its current position of being "woefully behind according
to one interviewee, in the discussion of climate change and sustainability issues and
ultimately it is the redirection and improvement of related communication on
campus that will promote the greatest change. It is the responsibility of every
member of campus to increase the discourse, action and overall culture of climate
change, if we dont, we are not doing our job as educators, facilitators or students.
Students deserve the best education possible, the University administration aims to
provide this to them, while faculty members are eager to teach on the most pressing
issues of today, yet despite their overall similar goals in sustainability and climate
change, it is the many challenging hurdles within the University system that jointly
create and perpetuate todays limited culture of climate change on the CU Denver
In order to create a more cohesive, tangible and impactful culture of climate
change on the CU Denver campus, we must improve the communication amongst
members on campus, reinstate collaborative programs such a the IGERT and
gather/materialize greater resources specifically designated towards related issues.
However small, isolated and quiet it may be, there is a culture of climate change on
the CU Denver campus and in order for its further development and expansion,
multifaceted and dynamic attention from its members must be given. The
University environment is a locale of new ideas and innovation. If any shift in
climate change mitigation is to occur, undoubtedly the campus environment will be
an invaluable catalyst in the process.
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Tell me about Climate Change...
What do you do on campus?
How many years have you held this position?
How are you involved with climate change issues?
Who else is involved with work associated with climate change on the UCD campus?
Do you have interactions with these groups?
Who else do you feel should be involved?
What activities surrounding climate change are happening on campus?
How have they changed over the last decade or two?
What does the UCD campus do well in regards to climate change?
What do you think could be improved on the UCD campus regarding climate change
communication and visibility?
Do you believe there to be a culture of climate change on the UCD campus?
Is there anything additional that you would like me to know or are they any
questions that I should have asked?