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Center for the Study of Origins (CSO)

About

What is the study of origins?

In every department of every university the goal of research and teaching is understanding. We understand a thing when we can explain it. Explanations come in different kinds, however. The most familiar sorts of explanation are those that draw upon or attempt a universal theory couched in general principles, the paradigms of which are found in theoretical physics. In a great many cases, however, the understanding we seek cannot be framed as a universal theory but is instead fundamentally historical in nature. In these cases, we seek to explain not through general principles but through an understanding of origins.

Why CU-Boulder?

CSO is part of the campus-wide Grand Challenge Initiative (GCI). GCI includes projects in Earth and space science, which are two of CU’s areas of greatest strength, as well as the study of origins. The origins project is unique in its inclusiveness, however. While connecting with important issues in Earth and space science, such as historical explanations for changes in Earth’s climate over the past 500 years and the fate of the ancient Martian ocean, CSO brings together researchers from the social sciences and humanities, as well as the natural sciences, to investigate an underappreciated but important issue, namely, the diversity, nature and justification of hypotheses and theories about the past and how they inform our understanding of the present and the future.

Mission

The Center for the Study of Origins (CSO) fosters interdisciplinary investigations into specific topics on origins and transdisciplinary research into the general nature (structure, justification, and function) of theories of origins, including ways in which they are used to understand the present and envision the future.

Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF)

Mission

The Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) is a unique subnational collaboration between 35 states and provinces from Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, and the United States. The GCF seeks to advance jurisdictional programs designed to promote low emissions rural development and reduced emissions from deforestation and land use (REDD+) and link these activities with emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance opportunities. More than 25% of the world’s tropical forests are in GCF states and provinces, including more than 75% of Brazil’s and more than half of Indonesia’s. The GCF includes states and provinces that are leading the way in building comprehensive, jurisdiction-wide approaches to low emissions development and REDD+ as well as the only jurisdiction in the world (California) that is considering provisions that would recognize offsets from REDD+ as part of its GHG compliance system.

The GCF focuses on all aspects of the effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and establish lasting frameworks for low emissions development. It facilitates the exchange of experiences and lessons learned across leading states and provinces; synchronizes efforts across these jurisdictions to develop policies and programs that provide realistic pathways to forest-maintaining rural development; supports processes for multi-stakeholder participation and engagement; and seeks financing for jurisdictional programs from a range of sources, including pay-for-performance public finance, emerging carbon markets, and ongoing efforts to de-carbonize agro-food supply chains.

The overarching rationale of the GCF is that any successful effort to address the complex relationship between forests, land use, and climate change requires multiple efforts at multiple levels of governance, and that state and provincial governments, together with their civil society partners, are among the most important actors in building viable programs for low emissions rural development. The GCF was therefore conceived as an effort to leverage the fact that certain states and provinces around the world are in a position to be early movers in the effort to build robust jurisdictional programs for REDD+ and low emissions development, thereby bolstering overall momentum for the issue and enhancing national and international efforts to demonstrate how this can work in practice.

Laboratory for Energy and Environmental Policy innovation (LEEP)

Mission

Our goal at LEEP is to develop and support real-time policy experiments, robust networks for learning and exchange, meaningful processes for stakeholder engagement, and durable policy outcomes.

We start from the premise that bottom-up approaches to climate, energy, and environmental problems must be the foundation for any lasting solutions. Much of the hard work and many of the most important policy experiments aimed at tackling these problems are taking place at subnational levels. The challenge is to connect, replicate, scale, and learn from these efforts.

Our theory of change starts from the premise that subnational governments (including states and provinces, counties and districts, cities and municipalities, and communities and villages) are critical actors in the effort to fight climate change, promote clean energy, and build durable frameworks for environmentally sustainable development. We believe that effective solutions to many of our energy and environmental problems must be public-private in character and that, in all cases, they must fit with and grow out of vernacular institutions. To that end, we focus on mobilizing and engaging political leaders, empowering civil servants, and connecting them with civil society partners in a manner that will advance integrated and equitable approaches to sustainable development.

Strategy

We embrace a network approach to governance. We work to thicken the relationships between government, civil society, and the private sector in the regions where we work while also forging broader connections with ongoing policy initiatives and processes around the world. We work across scales, seeking to promote vertical and horizontal policy alignment. And we ground our work with ongoing policy experiments in a recursive approach to learning and knowledge management.

We believe that some of the most important policy experiments are happening in places far removed from national centers of business and government. We want to understand and support these experiments because we believe that they hold important lessons for other similarly situated places. One of our goals is to establish a distributed platform of satellite labs in places that are already innovating – and that are often far removed from the metropolitan centers of political and economic power – and to connect these efforts to other sources of support and financing to reduce the risks of policy experimentation.

We recognize that we live in a world of fast policy – one in which policy ideas are often quickly disembedded from their original contexts and diffused around the world without any critical assessment of their effectiveness. We believe that this can sometimes constrain bottom-up policy innovation by promoting a model of policy adoption and diffusion that does not fit with vernacular institutions. We want to understand better the dynamics of fast policy and we want to harness and tame it in ways that will promote better and more durable policy outcomes in real places.