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 News tab.

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

C-SEF Events

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.

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).

Details and registration:

The Center for Creative Climate Communication and Behavior Change (C3BC) and the Center for Social and Environmental Futures (C-SEF) need your help advancing these technologies by providing research Fellowships to two undergraduate and one graduate student. Any amount helps! Please visit C-SEF’s Crowdfunding page to donate:

A recording of this event is available here

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)
Join by live stream:

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 "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 "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

Register here for in-person or virtual attendance: 

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.

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

Center Student Assistants: Sarah Pierce, Callie Blaseg