Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Communicating climate change effectively and creatively

Maxwell T. Boykoff

Lately, climate change has been unmistakably present in the public sphere…Yet, conversations about climate change have remained stuck.

Lately, climate change has been unmistakably present in the public sphere. An evident swirl of extreme events linked to changes in the climate, new scientific research on climate change, Youth Climate Strikes, Extinction Rebellion actions, a New Green Deal, and United States Democratic Presidential nominees’ climate action plans have all contributed.

Yet, conversations about climate change have remained stuck.

Consequently, there has been an urgent need to ‘smarten up’ communications about climate change in order to find common ground at the intersections of science, policy and society.

With that in mind, I wrote ‘Creative (Climate) Communications’ to provide a handbook that bridges sectors and audiences to meet people where they are on this critical 21st century challenge.

The book works to integrate lessons from social science and humanities research and practices. It appraises how we can harness creativity to better understand what works where, when, why and under what conditions. The book then seeks to effectively make connections between climate change and other pressing issues that everyday people care about.

In the book, I argue that ‘smartening up’ involves processes of listening and adapting rather than winning an argument or talking people into something. I posit that careful approaches informed by social sciences and humanities scholarship provide space and perspective for more authentic participatory engagement in the public sphere. As a result, I assert that these approaches then can more effectively re-capture what may be seen to be a ‘missing middle ground’ on climate change in the public arena.

Together, a ‘smartened up’ approach can help to productively and effectively shape the spectrum of possibility for meaningful, substantive and sustained responses to contemporary climate challenges.

Many parts of the book also reveal that I am not only a researcher but I am also a participant in experimentation, mainly through the Inside the Greenhouse (ITG) project at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) where I’m on faculty.

With Professor Beth Osnes from the Theatre Department, Professor Rebecca Safran from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Professor Phaedra Pezzullo from the Department of Communication, we work through ITG to facilitate and support creative storytelling about issues surrounding climate change through video, theatre, dance, comedy, and writing. We engage youth, front-line communities and decision-makers in order to help connect wider and new audiences to climate change in resonant and meaningful ways.

The project has sought to create cultures of participation and productive collaboration among students at CU Boulder and larger communities in retelling the stories of climate change and to become meaningful and sustaining content producers.

The chosen title of the Inside the Greenhouse initiative 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. ITG offers direct links between the natural and social sciences and arts to communicate, imagine and work toward a more resilient and sustainable future.

Ultimately, through this systematic and big-picture work through research and practice, I hope we will continue to better understand that a ‘silver buckshot’ approach (of many different approaches are needed to reach different audiences in different contexts) accompanied by more mindful and wise strategies will significantly improve creative climate communication efforts going forward. I hope my book will empower, excite and inspire you.


9781316646823- Boykoff
Creative (Climate) Communications by Maxwell Boykoff – find out more here.


Images from masthead and below courtesy of ITG.

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About The Author

Maxwell T. Boykoff

Maxwell Boykoff is Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of ...

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