Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Center for Social and Environmental Futures, C-SEF

Conducting cutting-edge research, education, and outreach activities focused on human dimensions of environmental problems

The mission of the Center for Social and Environmental Futures (C-SEF) is to conduct cutting-edge research, education, and outreach activities focused on human dimensions of environmental problems, with specific emphases on two broad areas, focusing on long-term and short-term futures, respectively.

  1. Activities focused on ‘the big picture’ will address questions pertaining to long-term and large-scale futures, such as how economic growth, geopolitics, global security, inequality, migration patterns, and other development trends will be affected by environmental problems, and how they will affect humankind’s ability to achieve environmental goals.
  2. Activities focused on ‘the here and now’ will address questions pertaining to how we can move forward in addressing environmental problems immediately, such as coalition building across partisan and other divisions, adaptation, environmental policy, links between public and private sectors, resource management, and resilience, among others. C-SEF will also serve as a hub for environmental social science research in CIRES and on campus, catalyzing collaboration between social and natural environmental scientists.

Rationale for the Center

There are large gaps in knowledge, and unvetted assumptions about how social systems will evolve in the 21st  century, with very different outcomes for various environmental goals as well as human well-being in general. There are also large knowledge gaps regarding nearer-term and more local issues such as how communities can adapt to the environmental challenges they face immediately, and how society can quickly scale up sustainable infrastructure, among others. Social science is crucial for an accurate and empirically-based characterization of human-environment interactions, defining problems and solutions, and ensuring that science and technology are applied in ethical and equitable ways. Science that is aimed at informing decisions to support human well-being is best pursued as a multidisciplinary, integrated, societally-engaged effort.

C-SEF will be unique on campus in at least three ways. First, through its focus on futures, it will connect local and global, and near-term and long-term, issues in explicit and innovative ways. Second, it will connect topics and challenges that are seldom connected explicitly, such as security and equity, in the context of sustainability. Lastly, it will connect quantitative and qualitative, and social and natural, sciences within CIRES and on campus.

C-SEF Seminar Series

C-SEF will host a regular series of seminars addressing four themes, with one seminar from each series occurring once per semester.

Seminar Themes

  1. The Big Picture: These seminars will highlight research and difference-makers related to the center's 'big picture' theme. 
  2. Here and Now: These seminars will highlight research and difference-makers related to the center's 'here and now' theme. 
  3. Get Serious: Conversations about environmental problems too often focus on sweeping and vague solutions. In contrast, these seminars will highlight people working on important but often-overlooked details of solving environmental problems. They will give students a sense of the many different possible ways to make a difference in sustainability. 
  4. Come Together: Solving major environmental problems requires coalition building. This series will highlight research and people working towards building coalitions, between political parties, stakeholders and scientists, different levels of government, industry and public, etc. 

Information on upcoming C-SEF events can be found on the Meetings tab.

Please check out the current open positions at C-SEF on the Opportunities tab. 



May 5, 2023
Interdisciplinary Workshop on Population Decline: Details to be announced 

May 3
Max Boykoff, Core Faculty at C-SEF, comments on the accuracy of a new Sci-Fi television series called Extrapolations which explores a climate-changed future.

April 19 at 3 pm
Max Boykoff, Core Faculty at C-SEF, will present at the CU Boulder 30th Annual Campus Sustainability Summit on "Sustainability Across the Curriculum".

April 14 at 3 pm
Kathryn Wendell, Core Faculty at C-SEF, will present at the 2023 Conference of World Affairs on "Enacting Climate Solutions Through Human Rights Climate Commitments: Right Here, Right Now Boulder Impact Forum". 

April 13 at 9:30 am
Max Boykoff, Core Faculty at C-SEF, will present at the 2023 Conference of World Affairs on "Communication Strategies to Motivate Climate Action". 

March 22
CU Boulder Today spoke with C-SEF Director Matt Burgess about the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. 

C-SEF Events

Spring 2023

C-SEF Webinar Series 
April 27, 11:00 am (Note: Date Changed from April 20)
Location: Join the zoom link here

Carbon Dioxide as a Risky Asset
Adam Bauer, NSF graduate research fellow in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

We develop a financial-economic model for carbon pricing with an explicit representation of decision making under risk and uncertainty that is consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report. We find that this approach provides economic support for the warming targets in the Paris Agreement across a variety of specifications. We show that risk associated with high damages in the long term leads to stringent mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions in the near term. Our results provide insight into how a systematic incorporation of climate-related risk influences 'optimal' emissions abatement pathways.

C-SEF "Here and Now" Seminar Series 
April 10 at 1 pm
Followed by a Reception at 2 pm
Location: CIRES Fellows Room (Ekeley S274), CU Boulder, University Avenue, CO, 80302

The Big Possibilities of Small Data: How Qualitative Methods Can Lead Change in Extreme Weather Hazards Research
Jen Henderson, Assiant Professor, Geosciences, Risk and Equity in Disasters (RED) Lab, Texas Tech University

Although increasing national attention has focused on the benefits of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data to address complex environmental problems, there is likewise tremendous, yet often untapped promise in small, rich data from qualitative studies in the social sciences to do the same. These methodological approaches—interviews, focus groups, ethnography—are commonly recognized for their generative capacity to offer insights into the processes of meaning-making, the diversity of human experience, and how and why people make decisions. Less visible are the ways qualitative data can offer knowledge that can be useful and usable, enabling problems to be identified, systems to be co-designed, and new tools and platforms for information sharing to be built in the here and now. Through three illustrations of qualitative-led collaborative research, this presentation will illustrate how a rich understanding of forecasting and warning systems for extreme weather can be built through a deep engagement with a variety of experts in the weather hazards community. Across different contexts—developing training for forecasters’ situational awareness of compound hazards, co-producing a platform for interrogating; visualizing, and sharing ensemble model information; and creating systems to reflect expert understanding of local vulnerability—these cases likewise demonstrate how qualitative research can lead generative and important changes in extreme weather prediction and communication for expert communities that help create resilience to future weather disasters.

Watch the recording here:

Postponed. New Date to be determined!

C-SEF "Come Together" Seminar Series
Previously April 6

Just Do Good: A Fireside Chat With Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer
Co-hosted by Leeds Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR) and C-SEF

Noel Kinder, Nike's Chief Sustainability Officer
Kathryn Wendell, Executive Director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at Leeds
Maxwell Boykoff, Chair of the Department of Environmental Studies

Nike's Chief Sustainability Officer, Noel Kinder, will join Kathryn Wendell, Executive Director of the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at Leeds, and Max Boykoff, Chair of the Department of Environmental Studies and core faculty of the Center for Social and Environmental Futures, for a Fireside Chat at CU Boulder on April 6th. Learn about Nike's commitments to a sustainable future and how Noel's journey was shaped by his time in the Peace Corps and in a variety of nonprofit and private sector positions.

This event will be recorded but not live streamed. 
Register Here: 

C-SEF "Big Picture" Seminar Series 
March 1, 12:30 to 2 pm
Followed by a Reception at 2 pm
Location: Kittredge Central Hall, Kittredge Market, 2480 Kittredge Loop Dr., Boulder, CO 80309

Debating Divestment
Co-sponsored by C-SEF and the Leeds Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR)

Students at CU Boulder have been asking more questions about how CU's values align with its institutional investments, particularly when it comes to the oil and gas industry. This panel will explore whether a large investment fund with complex stakeholder groups can maximize both financial returns and positive social and environmental benefits, the trade offs of different approaches to shareholder activism, and how a strategic approach to investing applies to other important sustainability conversations.

Speakers include:

Betsy Moszeter, Chief Distribution & Marketing Officer and Portfolio Manager, Green Alpha Advisors
Devon Reynolds, PhD Candidate, CU Boulder
P. Noel Kullavanijaya, President of Capital Markets and Investor Networks, Equilibrium Capital
Shaun Davies, Associate Professor and Research Director of the Burridge Center for Finance, Leeds School of Business

Moderated by: Joshua Nunziato, PhD, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Social Responsibility and Sustainability division at Leeds

Watch the recording here:

C-SEF "Get Serious" Seminar Series 
February 23 at 3 pm (Note: date change from January 26)
Followed by a Reception at 4 pm
Location: SEEC Auditorium, CU Boulder, 4001 Discovery Dr, Boulder, CO, 80303

Climate action in government, business, and civil society 
Claudine Schneider, Former U.S. Congresswoman, Entrepreneur, and Climate Advocate 

In a fireside chat with C-SEF Director Matt Burgess, Rep. Claudine Schneider will share her experiences as a climate leader in government, business, and civil society. In Congress, Rep. Schneider sponsored the Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989, and she earned a reputation as one of the House’s strongest environmental advocates. Since leaving Congress, she has been an Emmy award recipient, a faculty member at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and an entrepreneur, consultant, and advocate for zero-carbon technology, climate action, and democracy. The conversation will focus on Rep. Schneider's insights into how to get things done and bring people together for the climate.

Watch the recording here:

C-SEF Webinar Series 
February 9 at 12 pm

Mitigation and adaptation emissions embedded in the broader climate transition​ 
Corey Lesk, Research Associate, Climate Modeling & Impacts Group, Dartmouth College

The broader climate transition will involve massive deployment of renewable energy and adaptations like enhanced space cooling and coastal protection and retreat. These interventions require energy and materials, resulting in CO2 emissions. But the magnitude of these emissions remains unconstrained, opening the potential for under-accounting of future emissions and conflicts or synergies between mitigation and adaptation goals. I’ll show that these embedded transition emissions are likely considerable, reaching 185GtCO2 under a pathway consistent with current policies (2.7 °C warming by 2100). But there is good news: embedded transition emissions can be minimized by a faster transition to clean energy. 

Fall 2022

C-SEF "Come Together" Seminar Series
December 4 from noon to 1:00 pm at Byron White Club Level, Folsom Stadium 

Bipartisan Youth Climate Advocacy, Panel 5 at the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit
Moderated by Matt Burgess, C-SEF Director

Interested in building bridges across the aisle to address climate change? This event will feature panelists from politically diverse and bipartisan-oriented youth climate advocacy groups in a conversation with a CU student audience.


  • Chris Barnard, national policy director, American Conservation Coalition

  • Jameka Hodnett, Green for All campaign director,

  • Sarah Jensen, MENV student and co-founder of American Conservation Coalition Boulder chapter

  • Emily Nocito, environmental studies PhD student and founder of 10 by 2020

Recording of this event is available here:

C-SEF "Big Picture" Seminar Series 
November 10 from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at Benson Center Suite, Kittredge Central, N221. Pizza will be served.

What is Longtermism?
Taylor Jaworski (Economics) and Matt Burgess (Environmental Studies) 

The overwhelming majority of humans that will exist throughout our lifespan as a species have probably not been born yet. What moral implications does this possibility have for our decisions today? How should this possibility affect how we think about policy issues, such as climate change, and personal decisions, such as how much to save and spend, and on what. In this discussion, Taylor Jaworski (Economics) and Matt Burgess (Environmental Studies) consider these issues in the context of "longtermism" as a new social movement. The conversation will touch on environmental issues, existential risk, and the implications of future economic growth, among other topics.

Additional resources:

C-SEF "Big Picture" Seminar Series 
November 3 at 3:30 pm in the CIRES Auditorium (CIRES 338)
Followed by a Reception at 4:30 pm in CIRES Map Room (CIRES 340)

Environmental Change and Human Migration
Lori Hunter, Sociology Professor and Director of Institute of Behavioral Science, CU Boulder

This talk presents a general overview of the state of empirical, social science understanding of the connections between human migration and environmental context and change. Specific examples will be provided from Dr. Hunter’s research focused on rural Mexico, while important recent advancements and continuing gaps will also be explored.

A recording of this seminar is available here 

C-SEF "Here and Now" Seminar Series
October 21 from 9:10 am to 4:10 pm 

Social Science and Sustainability Technology Workshop 

Developing and deploying new technologies will be key to decoupling the dramatic improvements of the past century in human material well-being from their environmental impacts. Developing and deploying sustainability technologies at scale is a complex social, political, and engineering challenge. Please join us for an in-person workshop that will bring together North American thought leaders working on the social-science aspects of this challenge. This event is co-sponsored by the CIRES Center for Social and Environmental Futures (C-SEF) and the Center for Creative Climate Communication and Behavior Change (C3BC).

A recording of this event is available here

C-SEF "Get Serious" Seminar Series 
September 29 at 3 pm in the CIRES Auditorium (CIRES 338)
Followed by a Reception at 4 pm in CIRES Map Room (CIRES 340)

Ocean Legacy: Inspiring marine conservation in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, and beyond
Cassandra Brooks, Environmental Studies Assistant Professor, CU Boulder and John Weller, John Weller Photography

Join Environmental Studies Assistant Professor Cassandra Brooks and award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and author John Weller as they tell the inspiring story of the Ross Sea. Weller and Brooks worked alongside a global coalition of organizations, scientists, diplomats, and more than a million people, which eventually entrained the attention of world leaders from the White House to the Kremlin. The process took five years of intense international negotiations and more than ten years of scientific planning and public outreach. But the work paid off: on October 2016, the international community made history by adopting the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica – by consensus. This demonstrated international leadership and inspired hope that despite political tensions in other parts of the world, the Antarctic continues to be a great global commons dedicated to peace, science, and conservation.

A recording of this event is available here.



Dilling L, Daly ME, Travis WR, Ray AJ, Wilhelmi OV. March 2023. The role of adaptive capacity in incremental and transformative adaptation in three large U.S. Urban water systems. Global Environmental Change 79. 

Burgess MG, Becker SL, Langendorf RE, Fredston A, Brooks CM. 2023. Climate change scenarios in fisheries and aquatic conservation research. ICES Journal of Marine Science. In press.


Basseches, J.A., Bromley-Trujillo, R., Boykoff, M.T. et al. Climate policy conflict in the U.S. states: a critical review and way forward. Climatic Change 170, 32 (2022).

Dubash, N. K., Mitchell, C., Boasson, E. L., Córdova, M. J. B., Fifita, S., Haites, E., Jaccard, M., Jotzo, F., Naidoo, S., Romero-Lankao, P., Shlapak, M., Shen, W., Wu, L., Aasen, M., Bashmakov, I., Bhatia, P., Bertoldi, P., Boykoff, M., Britton, J., ... Tosun, J. (2022). National and Sub-national Policies and Institutions. In Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge University Press.

Burgess MG, Becker SL. 2022. Good and bad news for ocean predators. Science 378: 596-597. (Companion to Juan-Jordá et al. 2022)

Marshall R, Burgess MG. 2022. Advancing bipartisan decarbonization policies: Lessons from state-level successes and failures. Climatic Change 171, 17. Correction to Table 2.

Hegwood M, Langendorf RE, Burgess MG. 2022. Why win-wins are rare in complex environmental management. Nature Sustainability 5: 674-680.

Pielke Jr. R, Burgess MG, Ritchie J. 2022. Plausible 2005-2050 emissions scenarios project between 2 and 3 degrees C of warming by 2100. Environmental Research Letters 17: 024027.


Current open positions at C-SEF: C-SEF Research Fellows

We seek at least two scholars who are currently researchers in CIRES who wish to collaborate with C-SEF on a grant proposal, with an environmental social science focus related to C-SEF's mission. The mission is stated below. Fellows will receive one month of salary support. Fellows will also be expected to participate in CIRES programming related to C-SEF during their appointments. 

Please note: Candidates from DSRC should discuss their interest with supervisor and lab leadership prior to application. 

To apply: please send a cover letter that includes a short (~2 paragraph) description of your proposed project, and a CV, to Jennifer Katzung:

Fellows will be selected and notified shortly thereafter. If you have any questions, please contact Matt Burgess:

These positions will remain open until filled.

C-SEF Members

Center Director: Matthew Burgess

Core Faculty: Maxwell T. Boykoff, Lisa Dilling, Kris Karnauskas, Kathryn Wendell 

Office Manager: Jennifer Katzung

Research Fellows: Audrey GaudelHeather Yocum

Postdoctoral Researchers: Ekaterina LandgrenRyan Langendorf

Graduate Students: Sarah BeckerAshley Dancer, Waverly EichhorstAlex FloresMargaret Hegwood, Naya O'Reilly

CIRES Sabbatical Visiting Fellow: Alexandra Coțofană 

Summer Research Assistant: Pierre Uginet, Jamie Ma, Anthony Bugarin

Student Intern: Callie Blaseg


C-SEF Alumni

Summer Research Assistant: Sara Hoose

Summer Research Assistant: Henry Westfall