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

Center for Social and Environmental Futures, C-SEF


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.

Center Director: Matthew Burgess

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

Center Research Fellows: Ashley Dancer, Alex Flores, Sara HooseHeather Yocum

Center Office Manager: Jennifer Katzung


Ph: 303-735-7104