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Ogmius Newsletter

CSTPR’s Fulbright Visiting Scholar: Anna Kukkonen

by Abigail Ahlert, CSTPR Science Writing Intern

Anna Kukkonen

Last semester, Anna Kukkonen had a quintessential “Boulder” experience. A friendly man waiting next to her at a bus stop asked what she worked on. When she explained her research on climate change debates in the media, the man mentioned that he was a part of the Shanahan Ridge Neighbors for Climate Action—a South Boulder group that discusses local sustainability issues—and invited her to join. She was delighted by the coincidence. Boulder is a hub for those interested in the environment, and as a Fulbright visiting scholar at University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy (CSTPR), Kukkonen is truly finding opportunities around every corner.

Kukkonen is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Helsinki, and applied for a Fulbright grant with CU’s high ranking environmental policy program in mind. She anticipated that visiting CU would provide many opportunities for collaboration, particularly since her research is well-aligned with that of Dr. Max Boykoff, Director of CSTPR. In 2017, Kukkonen and her co-authors published a paper applying the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) theory to U.S. media coverage of climate change from 2007-2008. According to Kukkonen, “The general beliefs concerning the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the importance of ecology over economy and desirability of governmental regulation divide organizations into three advocacy coalitions: the economy, ecology and science coalitions”. Specific beliefs concerning policy instruments such as cap and trade and alternative energy do not. She found that the ACF theory could be clarified to better account for how beliefs contribute to coalition formation in specific points in time and policy domains.

During her time in Boulder, Kukkonen is working on multiple projects involving climate change politics. First, she is comparing media discussions of climate change in the United States, Canada, Brazil, India and Finland. Kukkonen works with researchers from these countries and others in the Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks (COMPON) project. She finds writing with international colleagues to be very rewarding and acknowledges that the writing process is the most challenging part of her work. “You really grow as a person when you do this kind of stuff, and you learn to take critique,” she says. Additionally, Kukkonen is studying the roles of different types of policy actors (such as non-profit organizations, universities and businesses) and the moral justifications they use in the Finnish and Canadian media debates on Arctic climate change.

When she isn’t working on her PhD research, Kukkonen attends classes offered by CU’s Environmental Studies Program, where she has learned more about the interactions between science and policy. To her surprise, many of her classmates are natural scientists. “It has been very enlightening how differently we think,” she says. “They have their own conception of what social science is and that has been very interesting.” Discussions with her classmates have challenged her to describe her work and its use to researchers outside of her field, and this has given her greater confidence in her role as a social scientist.

Kukkonen also appreciates how many scientists at the University of Colorado prioritize communicating their results with the public. “This is another reason why I came to CSTPR, because here I think they focus a lot on how researchers can communicate their research to the general audience. I notice that people in the US like to talk about their research in a way that people who are not experts in that field can understand it,” she says. In May, Kukkonen will return to Finland to complete her PhD. She is excited about the direction her research has taken at CSTPR and hopes to continue studying climate change after graduate school. “Now I find purpose in my research better than before I came here,” she says. “I feel more motivated after this experience because I’ve had to think about my research in a more practical way.”