UCS Blog - Science Network Guest Posts

From Scientist to Activist

“Dr. Doom.” fellow students joked as we walked out of our department seminar. It was 1998 and the presenter was Richard Gammon, a co-author of the first IPCC report. I didn’t share my fellow University of Washington grad students’ joke. I was uneasy, wondering about the timing of forecasts and feedback loops.

My grad school journals detail my awakening to the climate crisis. One 1999 entry reads, “I’m probably an expert on climate change compared to my peers and the general public. I need to share my knowledge.” Then I listed areas the public needed to know: “Climate change, coral bleaching, ozone hole, air pollution, and mass extinction.” I feel a sense of missed opportunity re-reading my journal. I clearly felt a sense of urgency in 1999. In grad school and postdoc, I heard stories of colleagues, such as Michael Mann, professionally maligned and harassed by fossil fuel industry stooges. I’m afraid to admit, his experience scared my younger self away from climate action.

I was a ‘good scientist’. I stuck to the science and didn’t interject my views regarding action or policy solutions. When I taught my first climate class in 2001, the strong El Nino year 1998 was the warmest year on record and CO2 concentration was 367ppm. Today, 1998 doesn’t even rank among the top ten hottest years on record, and CO2 reached a new high of 415 ppm in 2019. It took me decades to learn that just presenting the problem and solutions isn’t enough to effect change. It is the contributions of women climate scientists, activists, and children, who inspired me to join them and raised my awareness of climate justice. Mary Heglar, Jamie MargolinGreta Thunberg, my own children, and scientists Sarah MyhreKatharine Hayhoe, and Peter Kalmus, have all inspired me to step out of my comfort zone, act, and encourage others to act with us.

If I, a climate scientist, don’t share what I know and how I feel, who will? How many atmospheric chemists are out there who can explain the science in a way that the average person can understand and connect it to justice and equity? Every scientist I know feels a sense of urgency around the climate crisis. Urgency that we should share with our families, colleagues, and public. As I tell my students, “You know more about climate change than 99% of people. Share what you know. Talk about it.”

Today, I share my sense of urgency and connect to the civil rights and women’s rights heroes of the past: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, suffragettes. I introduce audiences to today’s climate activists: Michael Foster, and scientists turned activists, James Hansen, retired Director of NASA-GISS, and Sandra Steingraber, whose peaceful direct actions all led to imprisonment. Michael Mann is also among these heroes, standing up for decades to the fossil fuel juggernaut of disinformation.

Social media helped facilitate my climate outreach and activism, connecting me with journalists, fellow climate scientists, and activists. I don’t seek out media opportunities, but when asked, I now see it as my duty to share my knowledge and sense of urgency.

It’s not enough to just study and report on the fossil fueled climate changes occurring. I feel compelled to sound the alarm. You don’t need to be a doctor to tell someone to stop smoking around a baby. All of us who understand the climate crisis have a duty to speak up.A medical doctor is not viewed as an activist when advocating for her patient. Our patient is in the ER with a fever over 1.0 C, it’s getting hotter, and the toxic buildup in her systems is reaching critical limits. What gives me hope is our human capacity for love, ingenuity, faith, and my knowledge that we already have the solutions.

The burden of responsibility lies with the business and political leaders hindering change for profit. Rich businesses and individuals don’t intend to destabilize climate, hurting the poor and most vulnerable. Yet rich lifestyles do exactly that. The lifestyles of the richest 0.54% (~42 Million people) are responsible for more emissions than the poorest half of global population (3.8 Billion people). As with all issues of equity and justice: It’s actions that count, not intentions. I find hope in the more equitable, healthier, and peaceful world we will create as we address this crisis.

My activism today is speaking out, showing up, and educating. I say yes to testifying against the continued poisoning of my patient, with a liquified natural gas plant in Tacoma, Washington. I say yes to media requests for interviews to explain climate science and discuss anxiety. I say yes to joining the youth at Friday climate strikes.

No one wants to sacrifice time and energy or become a political prisoner. Yet sacrifice of time and freedom by the great activists (MLK Jr, the suffragettes, Rosa Parks, etc…) was required to effect change. And they did not act alone. Thousands marched and sacrificed with them. You can too. Join a climate action near you on Sept 20, 2019: the Global Climate Strike. Everyone is needed.

This post was originally posted on Medium.com and has been condensed for length and clarity

 

Dr. Price is an atmospheric chemist, climate scientist, researcher and educator in Seattle Washington.

The Courage of Youth Repudiates New Yorker Article on Climate Change

Photo: Matt Heid/UCS

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – attributed to Plato

Like Jonathan Franzen, who authored a New Yorker article on climate change that stirred up the twitterverse, many people are just now coming to grips with the implications of the climate problem. With each new article that sheds light on the severity of the climate crisis, many are pushed further down the road to despair and defeatism. I should know, since these are issues I’ve been wrestling with for years — as a scientist, as an advocate, and as a parent. The fundamental question is this: Can we, as a society, really change course in time to avoid the climate catastrophe?

Fortunately, the climate youth movement arriving in New York for next week’s UN Climate Summit aren’t taking “no” for an answer. They’re asking hard questions of their elders, and they are displaying a remarkable maturity in their response to the climate crisis. In contrast to Franzen’s article, they are not falling into despair and defeat. Instead, they are rolling up their sleeves and working to build a better future.

Is this foolish naivete? Childish “pretending”? After years of probing the science, working with experts, developing the policies, and understanding the fundamentals of what a societal course correction would take, I’m convinced that it’s actually within our grasp. In fact, it’s already underway, and the path is proving easier than previously thought.

So before losing hope, one should understand that Franzen’s article relies on a few unnecessarily daunting premises. Here’s one: “The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy.” This is demonstrably untrue – many countries in the world have already turned the corner on emissions without “shutting down” anything or employing “draconian” measures. The per capita carbon dioxide emissions of Germany are about 40% lower than the per capita emissions of the United States, while Germany continues to operate a substantial energy and transportation infrastructure system. The state of California is another example – its climate policies are working, while its economy continues to outpace all other states. Presenting climate change as a choice between ecological disaster and economic shutdown is a false choice. No credible authority has been talking that way for years—it’s a narrative conveniently perpetuated by those vested interests who want us to believe that we can’t shake our dependency on fossil fuels. It’s a narrative that is increasingly difficult to maintain, as country after country proves otherwise.

Why do these countries (and states) succeed? The key seems to be a sustained commitment to systemic change. Once they implement some early opportunities and those start working, they open up additional opportunities for further action. What once seemed impossible is suddenly within reach. This is why vested interests resist these small early actions – even to the point of stalling a transition to cheaper, better, more efficient light bulbs.

A sustained, systemic approach to the climate problem is possible, globally — in part, because many countries never enjoyed the benefits of a fossil-fuel-dependent economy in the first place, so they have nothing to lose and much to gain by growing in a sustainable way. Others, like India and China, are at a crossroads: they are heavily invested in fossil fuels, but they are also testing out more sustainable and systemic changes (albeit for different reasons).

Franzen’s article also implies that if we go beyond 2 degrees C of warming, it’s game over. That framing conceals the fact that every 10th of a degree matters, before 2 degrees and beyond. It’s true that, as temperatures warm, populations will experience more devastating impacts, as we have already seen in examples like Hurricane Dorian, or the rampant wildfires across the tropics this year, or horrific flooding in the Midwest, which nearly led to a major crop failure this year. These impacts are already happening – and if warming continues, they will ripple through the global economy with increasing frequency and strength, leading to famines, uprisings, and suffering.  But 2 degrees is not a precipice that we fall over; rather it must be seen as an alarm bell, growing louder and more insistent as we draw closer to it. It warns us that complacency can no longer be an option, even for the most skeptical and the most jaded. The quality of life of every child on earth, and the rest of those unborn, depends critically on what we do over the next 10-20 years.  On this point, Franzen agrees: every action we take now could benefit a child later – including the climate youth arriving in New York this week to make their voices heard.

To put this in perspective, I look at how generations of the past responded to crises. A century ago, the world had just endured an unprecedented geopolitical crisis, which incurred a massive and tragic loss of life. A generation later, humanity was convulsed again in an even more devastating conflict – one that produced weapons so powerful that they continue to threaten humanity’s very existence. Climate change is similar, in that it may pose an existential threat to humanity.

But we must remember that this historical era of crisis also ushered in new, positive transformations. Leaders of that era were forced to reckon with the full potential for catastrophe, and they built new institutions to reduce the risks of such wars breaking out again. Maps were redrawn and the most egregious, visible aspects of the colonial era ended. Fragile democracies took hold in places that had never known such freedom – and citizens of these new democracies had never grappled with such responsibilities. There was an increased recognition of the value of human life, later expressed through human and civil rights movements. In a swords-to-plowshares process, industrial processes that once supplied explosives for warfare were converted to supply nutrients for an industrial agriculture system that now has the capacity to feed billions more people (which, we have also learned, has contributed to its own suite of environmental consequences). Along the way, we rebuilt America’s transportation infrastructure in the process (though here again, we are now reckoning with the long-term climate impacts resulting from its design). Then we built a space program that put people on the moon. I’m not suggesting that these changes were made for solely altruistic reasons. My point is that these transformations could scarcely have been imagined in 1919 — but by 1950, they were all but complete.  We need a similar process of transformation over the next 30 years. Just because we can’t imagine every mile of the road today doesn’t mean that the destination is unattainable. We know enough now to start down the path – and hopefully we are wise enough to avoid the tragic losses that motivated the changes in the last century.

So, while Franzen gets some facts right, and his reckoning is approximately of the right magnitude, the despair of his response feels sophomoric. Faced with the challenge of doing a hard thing, he confidently concludes that it can’t be done, rather than focusing on what it would take to do it. I get it – there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed and face the challenges of being an adult, let alone work to avert the climate crisis. But I keep doing it, day after day, along with thousands of others. And those of us who’ve been working on the hard thing for many years will tell you this: you should help us lay a few stones in this road before you turn your back on the destination. Try showing the kind of courage and moral conviction that our predecessors displayed in response to past crises. The climate crisis is dire, that’s true – but defeatism only plays into the hands of those who want to convince us that change is not possible. In fact, change is upon us, whether we like it or not. We can passively let it happen to us, or we can actively and intentionally shape it. (And make no mistake, intentionally shaping is what the fossil industry has been doing for years now, while we’re not paying attention. Their job becomes much easier if we accept defeat before we even get started.) For the youth arriving in New York this week, passive acceptance is no longer an option.

The path of fortitude does not involve either “a false hope of salvation” nor a weird “kind of complacency.” Rather, it requires us to act deliberately, intentionally, and with full awareness of the consequences if we fail. Real hope is not built in foolish naïveté; it is the only grown-up response to life in a risky and changing world. It’s time for Franzen – and everyone – to pick themselves up, take the measure of the challenge, and commit to the level of effort that can overcome it. This won’t happen in a day, or a year, or a political cycle. It will take visionary leadership, new innovations, clarity of purpose, and a commitment to a just outcome – the kind of qualities the climate youth are already displaying.

The commitment is the first step. So dry your eyes, abandon despair, and let’s get to work.

 

Jason Funk is the Principal and Founder at Land Use & Climate Knowledge Initiative a project of the Global Philanthropy Partnership and a former UCS climate scientist

Photo: Matt Heid/UCS Photo: Fabrice Florin/Flickr

Giving a Voice to Students & Early Career Researchers in International Science Policy and Diplomacy in the Post-Truth era

Science increasingly underpins many of the global challenges the world is facing today. In turn, the ever-changing global political landscape also has a significant influence on our ability to pursue science needed to tackle these challenges. And in our interconnected 21st century, domestic policies set in one country inevitably have global repercussions. 

With the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union on 31st October 2019 (Brexit), it is unclear what impact this will have on the UK’s research and innovation capacity. Indeed, the UK is one of the largest recipients of EU research funding, receiving €8.8 billion out of the EU’s total €107 billion spending on research, innovation and development between 2007 and 2013. Exiting the EU, possibly without a deal, means that UK’s STEM professionals, diplomats and policy makers need to find strategies to mitigate any potential negative impacts of Brexit on the sector. Acknowledging that the problem is about more than cash-flow of research funding, early career researchers set up the Scientists for EU movement: a campaign by scientists to keep the UK in the EU. Scientists for EU are concerned about the UK no longer being able to collaborate on research projects with other European nations, and the negative impact this could have on the overall advancement of much needed scientific knowledge and technological breakthroughs.

The emergence of the so-called post-truth era has motivated students, early career researchers and policy fellows across the world to move out of the labs and onto the streets to stand up for science. The President of the USA, Donald Trump, called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax”, and the UK’s former Environment Secretary, now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove has said that the British people have “had enough of experts”. Consequently, the ‘March for Science’ movement first took place on Earth Day (22 April) in 2017 and saw scientists from over 600 cities across the world march through their cities, stand up for scientists, and call for evidence-based policy in political decision-making.

JSPG contributions to science policy and diplomacy

These actions are much needed in this aberrant context, but early career researchers and policy fellows also have a vital role to play in  providing evidence-based recommendations and policy analyses, and in engaging with politicians and decision-makers to protect scientific research. After all, it is students and early career researchers who are most affected by a trajectory towards the rejection of scientific knowledge in favour of political point-scoring.

The Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSPG) is an international forum that provides students, early career researchers, and policy fellows with a platform to publish policy-related pieces of work across a wide range of science, technology, and innovation policy areas, from all STEM disciplines to social science perspectives on STEM. Formats include policy memos, technical reports, book reviews, workshop reports and policy analyses. JSPG is a registered 501(c)(3) charity in the USA but it has a global reach and receives submissions from every corner of the world.

Since its formation in 2012, JSPG has received and published submissions that tackle such global science, technology & innovation policy issues, including

  • A policy analysis that explores the challenges that NASA faces in collaborating with China as a rising power in the exploration of space (Hester, 2016).
  • A policy analysis that explores the lessons from Kenyan modern biotechnology processes and the controversies surrounding the use of biotechnology in agricultural productivity and production (Kingiri & Ayele, 2012).
  • A policy memo that urges India’s Ministry for New and Renewable Energy to provide financial incentives for the dairy industry to help maximise biogas production at industrial level (Naryan, Li & Timmons, 2018).
  • The proposals put forward to the Governor of Ulaanbaatar to introduce policies such as a car allowance rebate system and incentives for pairing electric vehicle charging infrastructure with on-site renewable energy in order to combat unsafe levels of particulate matter smog in the Ulaanbaatar district of Mongolia (Zegas & Zegas, 2018)
  • A policy memo addressed to India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare that addresses the problems of antimicrobial resistance and provides a series of recommendations to implement the National Action Plan and tackle the misuse of antibiotics (Chatterjee, Rabbani & Sandford, 2017).

We actively encourage more international young scholars to submit articles on domestic or global science policy and governance issues and to make their voice heard, whilst helping develop their professional skills and credibility in global science policy and diplomacy. We hope that JSPG can become an international voice for science.

Partner with us

JSPG’s efforts are global, and we are always actively seeking international partners and collaborators. If you would like to get in touch with us to discuss collaborations and partnerships, please email us at [email protected]. Also consider joining our mailing list, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Together, we will address the most topical issues in global science, technology and innovation policy by encouraging students, early career researchers and policy fellows from across the world to share their ideas on how we can solve global challenges of the day.

 

Gary W. Kerr is Lecturer in Festival & Event Management at Edinburgh Napier University and a science communication and science events specialist. Gary’s research is focused on the role of science festivals and public engagement events. He is the Chief International & Operations Officer at JSPG, having previously served as Director of Operations and International Outreach, Editor-in-Chief, and before that as an Associate Editor. Gary is a former Science Policy Fellow at the Scottish Parliament.

JC Mauduit is Lecturer in Science Diplomacy at University College London and he was previously a Visiting Scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. He currently acts as Director of International Engagement for JSPG where he also volunteered as an Associate Editor. He also has a former career as a researcher in Astrophysics and worked for the International Astronomical Union.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

How Science Watchdogs Can Protect the Gray Wolf

Sadly, we have grown accustomed to seeing political candidates denying the reality of established scientific facts, such as those that underpin our understanding of evolution and climate change. Science denial is even more disturbing, however, when it emerges from federal agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that are meant to uphold scientific integrity. But scientists can play an important role in watchdogging government actions. My new peer-reviewed study sheds light on how far we’ve strayed from what the science says we should do in protecting the wolf, and how the FWS can return to a science-based path to recovery.

Mexican wolf recovery planning

Mexican gray wolf. Photo: California Wolf Center

An extreme example of political interference in species recovery involves one of North America’s most endangered mammals, the Mexican gray wolf. This unique type of wolf, one of the several subspecies of gray wolves in North America, once inhabited much of the southwestern US and Mexico. After being extirpated in the wild, Mexican wolves were reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico beginning in 1998. But unlike wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone, the southwest population has grown at a slow pace. To help move the program along, in 2010, the FWS selected eight leading scientists (myself included) to help develop a comprehensive recovery plan.

After two years of analysis, the scientists unanimously endorsed a set of goals or criteria to serve as a road map to recovery. These peer-reviewed recommendations provoked political opposition from southwestern states, and in 2012 the FWS suspended recovery planning. Five years later, faced by lawsuits over their failure to complete the legally-required recovery plan, the FWS restarted the process. However, this time, recovery goals were based on the results of negotiations from closed-door meetings between the FWS and officials from southwestern states. The 2017 recovery criteria called for less than half as many wolves as in the 2013 plan, inhabiting a smaller portion of the southwestern states. In a new peer-reviewed study, a group of scientists including myself who had participated in Mexican wolf recovery planning analyzed whether the contrasting sets of goals could both be based on best-available science, as required by law.

We discovered that the 2017 planning group found smaller population goals were adequate because they chose optimistic values for threat factors such as disease without accounting for uncertainty in the data, increased the thresholds for what level of extinction risk and loss of genetic diversity was deemed “acceptable”, and assumed that many of the wild population’s wolf packs would continue to receive supplemental feeding indefinitely in order to mask continuing threats from genetic inbreeding and other factors. These recovery goals based on politics rather than science will likely slow Mexican wolf recovery by allowing the agency to forego opportunities to establish new populations in suitable habitat and to underestimate the number of wolves that need to be released from captivity into the wild population to improve genetic health.

Unfortunately, as seen in the case of the Mexican wolf, what science tells us is necessary to securing a future for a species is often politically unpopular. This causes agencies to distort science to promote politically-compromised decisions regarding not only recovery goals, but also when to remove (delist) species from protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A national proposal to remove protections for the gray wolf

To be effective, endangered species policy must conserve the genetic variation that allows species to adapt to climate change and other changes in Earth’s ecosystems. Conservation of such ”adaptive potential” has increasingly been recognized as a key element in achieving the ESA’s goal of “saving all the pieces”. However, the US government recently proposed removal of the gray wolf from the list of protected species throughout the lower 48 states based on a claim that the law allows a species to be declared recovered when only a single population (in this case in the Great Lakes states) is thriving.

I was among the five scientists selected to officially review this proposal. Although the 4000 wolves inhabiting the Great Lakes states constitute about two-thirds of the total wolf population in the lower 48 states, they occupy only three of the at least 17 states within the species’ historic range which still hold substantial areas of habitat. FWS argued that wolves that occur outside the Great Lakes are not necessary for recovery because they said wolves in different regions of North America are basically the same genetically due to the wolf’s ability to disperse long distances.

However, recent genetic research has shown the wolves in different regions differ dramatically due to historical factors, isolation, and association with particular environments. For example, wolves recolonizing the Pacific Northwest have included individuals dispersing from the coastal rainforests of British Columbia. These wolves, which feed on salmon among other foods, are adapted to a different environment than wolves in the forests surrounding the Great Lakes.

The current administration recently enacted sweeping changes to the ESA regulations designed to limit the law’s reach. The 2019 wolf delisting proposal forms part of this broader effort. If applied generally to other species, this narrow interpretation of the ESA would represent a scaling back of recovery efforts for many other species such as grizzly bears, and would significantly limit our ability to slow the ongoing loss of the nation’s biodiversity.

Previous attempts to delist wolves have been blocked by the courts in at least six separate decisions since 2003. Wolf delisting proposals have also been panned by official panels of scientific peer reviewers in 2014 and again this year, and it’s uncertain how the FWS will respond given the errors identified by the reviewers.

Pushing back against science denial

Just as we expect the EPA to use honest science in setting limits to arsenic in our drinking water, we expect the FWS to apply best science in safeguarding our nation’s wildlife. Scientists and citizens who care about wildlife should demand that FWS scientific integrity policy becomes a practical commitment to use of best science even for controversial species such as the wolf. If the pattern of science denial in endangered species management is not broken, we risk undermining the effectiveness of one of our nation’s signature environmental laws and pushing many of today’s imperiled species toward the brink of extinction.

Our new study identifies eight science and policy reforms that are needed to limit inappropriate political interference in recovery planning. Scientists and concerned citizens also have a broader responsibility to communicate to policymakers why science-based policies and regulations are important in ensuring transparent decision-making and ultimately sustaining democratic societies. One promising solution is the Scientific Integrity Act recently introduced in both the House and Senate. You can lend your support by contacting your member of Congress and telling them you want to see government scientific integrity strengthened for our public health, safety, and environmental protection through the Scientific Integrity Act.

 

Dr. Carlos Carroll is an ecologist with the Klamath Center for Conservation Research in Orleans, California. His research focuses on habitat, viability, and connectivity modeling for a diverse group of threatened species ranging from large carnivores to endemic plant species.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Women Scientists Form a Policy Advocacy Network in the Mid-Atlantic

Many societal challenges are rooted in structural inefficiencies and inequities that require government solutions informed by science. Women experience burden and harm from inaction in distinct ways, but our voices are underrepresented in both the advocacy and policy processes. We believe women scientists have untapped potential to leverage their expertise and perspective and to connect with their elected officials to lead discussions about policies that impact their communities.

From our previous advocacy work as members of 500 Women Scientists, we’ve learned that many voices advocating together strengthens our message calling for positive institutional changes. This past spring, 500 Women Scientists leaders from DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York met in Philadelphia to coordinate policy messages that our chapters (called “pods”) can bring to their elected officials. Before the meeting, we virtually selected three focus issues: solving the climate crisis, ending harassment in STEM, and making higher education affordable.

Science & Social Justice Policy Workshop

We started our meeting with discussion with Kelly Morton, an organizer from Reclaim Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that supports policies that fight for a vision of putting working people before the profits of corporations. Kelly shared her advocacy work in getting people to vote in their local elections and how Reclaim endorses city level candidates who have a platform centered on social justice. She went into detail about partnering with local organizations to support grassroots efforts in an inclusive way and how scientists can work together with groups already doing important work in our regions.

We spent most of the meeting doing policy communication training exercises from a “developing our pitch” exercise to drafting a policy brief for one of our focus issues. Julia from the DC Pod drew on her experience as a congressional staffer and led us through an exercise to practice meeting with policymakers to talk about climate change, harassment in STEM, or college affordability. We took notes on our discussions so we could create policy one-pagers about each issue.

From Training to Action

The Philadelphia pod has used the three policy one-pagers at meetings with local and federal representatives. So far they have met with staff from Senator Bob Casey’s office, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick’s office, and PA-74 Representative Dan Williams’ office. They met in person with Representative Chrissy Houlahan and PA-44 Senator Katie Muth. Many of the representatives expressed interest in hearing their take on other policy issues after seeing the one-pagers. In November, Senator Muth is hosting the Philly Pod for a lobbying day in Harrisburg!

The DC pod partnered with the Science Network to host a workshop in DC, modeled after the regional workshop. Although DC is seen as the center of policymaking, many scientists in DC work on fundamental science at universities or research institutions and are just as in need of policy training as scientists outside of DC. The DC pod is planning to make these workshops reoccurring and is developing a lobbying strategy.

The Ithaca Pod partnered with Cornell Graduate Women in Science to host a two-day workshop designed to engage and promote advocacy and policy change in their community. Participants engaged with multiple speakers on a variety of topics and worked together in groups to develop and plan community actions that leaders then continued to act on after the event.

The Buffalo pod had their first in-person meeting in spring, and they have been growing membership and planning action on climate change. Jess, who helped form the new Buffalo pod, shared “that workshop was a powerful introduction to the world of policy for me and some things I learned there have been helping me to pursue the idea of organizing a science policy workshop here in Buffalo.”

Our Favorite Resources

Resources from the Union of Concerned Scientists were essential to our policy education and action. Listed here are the advocacy guides we relied on:

 

Advocate with Us

The workshop has been a great starting point for getting pod members engaged in advocacy and encouraging them to effect policy change in their local communities. We encourage all scientists to get involved with local policy using the resources provided by UCS and connecting with local organizations in your area. 500 Women Scientists is a voluntary, grassroots organization – meaning that we welcome anyone committed to our mission to join a pod or start one. Check out the websites for Philadelphia pod, Ithaca pod, DC pod, and NYC pod to stay up to date with our advocacy efforts.

 

Kristen Gulino (she/her/hers) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biology Department at New York University where she studies viruses and the microbiome. Outside of the lab, she is interested in science outreach and science policy. Twitter: @KristenGulino

Jewel Tomasula (she/her/hers) is an ecologist, environmental justice advocate, and graduate union organizer. She is a PhD candidate in the Biology Department at Georgetown University in DC. Twitter handle: @JewelTomasula

JoEllen McBride, PhD (she/her/hers) is a mom, former astrophysicist, and science writer with a PhD in Physics. She currently works as a Communications and Stewardship staff writer at Penn Medicine and loves talking, teaching, and writing about science. Twitter: @astrophyspunkin

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Maunakea and the Need to Indigenize Astronomy

Photo: pedrik/Flickr

I am told by Hawaiians that Maunakea is sacred. I am not sure I understand what that means, I am not Hawaiian, I am an outsider.

What I know about Maunakea is really only two things. The first is that Maunakea is one of the best sites for astronomy observing in the world, thanks to its height and the mostly stable weather on the mountain. That is why astronomers have proposed that the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) be built there. With this telescope, we can expect new discoveries about planets orbiting other stars and whether these planets might host life as we understand it. We might learn about the first stars ever born and peer deeper into the Universe’s history than ever before. I am an astronomer and I will benefit from Canada’s participation in the TMT.

The second thing I know is that Maunakea is Hawaiian territory and we, astronomy, do not have consent for TMT on Maunakea. I think this has been clear for more than a decade through court cases and protests, but the idea of consent came to a head on July 18, 2019 when Elders were arrested by police for trying to protect the mountain. This was a violent moment, but not a new moment. Elders have been arrested for protesting the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia, Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia and as we all know, Standing Rock. All of these situations and more are instances where Indigenous peoples were telling settlers/colonizers that they do not have consent. TMT does not have consent to be on Maunakea. I understand this as an Mi’kmaw First Nation person myself and seeing those arrests on Maunakea from thousands of kilometers away was wrong.

I know these two things and both concepts appear to be in conflict. But not to me. TMT does not have consent and that should be the end of the story. As a scientist, Indigenous rights are infinitely more important than whatever research benefit I might obtain from TMT on Maunakea. For me to do otherwise is to do unethical science and to harm Indigenous peoples. I only wish my colleagues could see this.

Even after weeks of protest, TMT is still looming over Maunakea, and colleagues are making many arguments justifying TMT over Hawaiian rights. Some are saying this is science versus religion, or that TMT is an economic boon to Hawaiians or that science is more important, or that polls say Hawaiians support TMT. None of these arguments matter or are relevant. Saying science versus religion is a Eurocentric (Western) way of diminishing Hawaiian culture and history and attempts to define the sacredness of Maunakea in Eurocentric way. It is irrelevant. Maunakea is Hawaiian and we do not have consent. Our ethical duty is to respect even if we don’t understand. When astronomers/scientists note that TMT should be built because it is an economic boon to Hawaiians, it is also irrelevant. Maunakea is Hawaiian territory and Hawaiians will decide what is or isn’t an economic boon. When scientists cite polls saying Hawaiians  support TMT so it should be built, they are saying that they get to decide what is or isn’t consent. But, Maunakea is Hawaiian and we do not have consent. No matter what frivolous argument astronomers make, (Eurocentric) astronomy does not have rights to Maunakea. Maunakea is Hawaiian territory and it is time we in science and astronomy respect that ahead of our own ambitions.

While I see this “debate” in a simple way, I think the debate exists because of how we do astronomy.  Astronomy in the USA, Canada, etc. is built from a Eurocentric perspective and erases Indigenous knowledges and peoples. Just think about a constellation in the sky made of a grouping of stars. Who defined that constellation, was it European or from somewhere else? It was probably a constellation defined by a group of European scientists about a century ago based on historical use of Greek/Roman constellations and less likely a Hawaiian constellation or an Inuit constellation or any Indigenous constellation.  We have not learned to respect and embrace Indigenous knowledges into astronomy. We have never truly listened to Hawaiians and Indigenous peoples. Maybe if we as scientists had a meaningful understanding of Hawaiian astronomy and perspectives, we could have avoided the situation we are in now.

Instead of erasing Indigenous knowledges, what if we braided Indigenous knowledges and Eurocentric astronomy? The Mi’kmaq Elders Albert and Murdena Marshall presented the term “Two-Eyed Seeing” as a methodology to view natural phenomena through two perspectives: one Eurocentric, one Indigenous. Bringing the two perspectives together allows us to understand natural phenomena better and in more detail. We as scientists would learn to see our relation to the natural phenomena we observe and to the land on which we live and work. Perhaps methods like this would help scientists and astronomers better understand Hawaii and Indigenous peoples worldwide. We have a lot to learn.

 

Hilding Neilson is a non-tenure stream assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto and is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation from Newfoundland and Labrador. He is an interdisciplinary scientist and educator working to blend Indigenous knowledges into astronomy curriculum with the goal of Indigenizing astronomy in Canada.  His research also focuses on probing the physics of stars from those like our Sun to the biggest, most massive stars and how we use these stars as laboratories to better understand our Universe from cosmology to extrasolar planets.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Photo: pedrik/Flickr

Tackling Health Disparities in St. Louis

Many factors cause disparities in who has access to healthcare, as well as the quality of the care they receive. Health disparities facing St. Louis are not unique to the city but are intensified by two primary factors: division between the city and county, and extreme racial segregation. Having two separate governments operating in the same municipal area means that multiple initiatives may be formed to tackle the same problems, but never communicate or share resources. While some services – such as the sewer district and certain medical centers – are shared, many more function independently,  necessitating that organizations communicate and comply with two sets of legislatures and regulations.

To learn more about and address the specific issues facing St. Louis, Washington University ProSPER worked with the Union of Concerned Scientists to host a panel with public health experts, community leaders, and county officials. Speakers included Angela Brown, acting CEO of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission, Dr. Bettina Drake, Associate Director of Community Outreach and Engagement at the Siteman Cancer Center, Jessica Holmes, Principal Strategist for Alignment, Innovation, and Growth for the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, Dr. Will Ross, Associate Dean of Diversity at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Dr. Spring Schmidt, the current Acting Director of the St. Louis County Public Health Department.

The impact of racial segregation on health outcomes

St. Louis City has been ranked as the 10th most segregated city in the United States while the metropolitan area is the 6th most segregated. An example of this is the Delmar Divide. North of Delmar Boulevard the population is more than 98% African American, while south of Delmar, the population is more than 70% white. Additionally, south of Delmar Boulevard the median income increases by $30,000, the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees by 60%, and the median home value by $250,000. This is not the only location in St. Louis where such a stark contrast can be seen, and these socioeconomic disparities have significant impacts on the health of residents.

Evidence of this segregation is reflected in cancer rate differences and outcomes in north St. Louis. Eight zip codes close to Coldwater Creek were found to have higher rates of breast cancer and leukemia and these rates were highest among African American women. Furthermore, African American women were more likely to be diagnosed with later stages of breast cancer and have a mortality rate 10% higher than the total population. These women were more likely to delay diagnosis and treatment due to cost, which results in greater numbers of late-stage diagnoses and higher mortality.

Challenges to equitable access

To address this and other issues, the Missouri Department of Social Services in partnership with the St. Louis Regional Health Commission have funded Gateway to Better Health, a pilot program to “provide uninsured adults a bridge in care until they are able to enroll in health insurance coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act.” The program was implemented in 2012 and serves as a means of providing healthcare access to over 60,000 residents. Although the program helps many in the St. Louis area, the panelists agreed that it is a stop-gap measure incapable of adequately addressing the needs of the region.

These needs may grow in the near future due to funding cuts to the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Program (DSH). This program provides funds to hospitals that provide care to a large number of uninsured and Medicaid insured individuals to offset the corresponding costs. DSH is federally funded and expected to be cut by $4 billion this year and an additional $8 billion over the next five years, justified in part by the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act. Missouri hospitals expected to lose over $157 million in funding last year alone which could have a devastating impact on the amount of services they are able to provide to low-income and un- or underinsured individuals. As Missouri is one of 13 states that has not accepted the Medicaid expansion, it will be disproportionately affected by these budget cuts.

Hope for progress & action to reduce disparities

While there are many challenges to fixing health care disparities in the St. Louis region, some progress is being made. The St. Louis Integrated Health Commission is working to bring together resources in the county, city, and from private organizations and reduce some of the inefficiencies and missed populations caused by lack of communication. There has also been an increase in the use of community health workers, community members who may not have medical training but are a key resource in helping people navigate the healthcare system, especially for the specific needs of at-risk populations. More research is being done to address racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. There is still a long way to go and many problems to resolve, but we can all do our part to support the organizations and people on the front lines of these issues and by contacting our legislatures about fixing some of the systemic issues that drive health disparities. Having public conversations about the issues and hurdles we face is one step toward addressing disparities within the system and supporting the initiatives and healthcare workers who are working toward health equity.

 

Max Lyon is a graduate student at the Washington University of St Louis School of Medicine. He is also a member of Washington University ProSPER (Promoting Science Policy, Education, and Research), a graduate student organization that helps students explore issues in science policy, advocacy, communication, and outreach.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Climate Change and Wine – Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

In the past decade, there have been a number of stories written on the connection between climate change and wine. Climate change is already one of the greatest challenges our planet is facing. Its effect will continue to take hold and shake up countless aspects of our lives. As a scientist who studies the connection between climate and agriculture with a focus on viticulture, I’m asked routinely – is climate change good, or bad, for wine? – which is a fair question. Perhaps better put: If the world is on fire, will there be Merlot?

It depends, in part, on if you are a wineglass half-empty, or half-full kind of person. And in part on other factors, like terroir.

Lightning wine 101 lesson

The concept of terroir is central to winemaking. Terroir, or the characteristics of the land where grapes are grown, is made up of four components:

  • Soil
  • Topography
  • Tradition/Grape variety
  • Climate

Soils are important for vine growth and fruit quality. Soils control factors like water and nutrient availability, drainage and pH. Topography is also critical, as even a slight slope to the land can have a large influence in vineyard management. Tradition and grape variety are tied more to the history and types of wine produced in a region. These are all significant variables that  explain why one area may be famous for an expensive delicate white wine that one would pair with a heavenly seafood meal and another region may be famous for a bold red that you picked at the store for $6 that’s going to go great with that $4 frozen pizza* you also bought. These components change over space, but they stay relatively static over time. The fourth component, climate, changes over space too.

*This is a judgement free zone here

Different wine-grape varieties thrive in different climates. Climate change will greatly influence regional, and global, wine trends. Click to enlarge.

The fact that climates changes over space is important because it helps establish the types of wine-grape variety grown in the major production regions of the world. Each variety has an optimal temperature threshold, thus growers traditionally pair their location’s climate with a certain type of grape. We have warm-climate regions like Sicily, Spain, Southern France, the Murray-Darling region in Australia, or the Central Valley in California which produce red wines; we have cool-climate regions that produce lighter reds and numerous white wines like Germany, Northern France, Oregon, or New Zealand; and we have many places in between. This concept of climate changing over space allows for thousands of varieties of wine-grapes to grow on six continents.

However, climate also changes over time. This can mean two things: 1.) year-to-year climates vary such that no two growing seasons are ever the same for one location, and 2.) large-scale climate change greatly influences regional, and global, wine trends. For now, let’s focus on the second aspect because the first feature is worth an entire blog post of its own.

A brief history of climate change and wine

Climate change is directly connected to wine throughout history. It is written in to the DNA of Vitis vinifera and its thousands of varieties. Even for times before there were reliable temperature or rainfall measurements, historians can estimate regional climate fluctuations via records of grape and wine production, wine quality, and even pricing. We have reliable historic records that tell us that when the world warms up (Medieval Warm Period, approximately 900 to 1250), wine production moves poleward. When the world cools down, production shifts equatorward (Little Ice Age, mid-1600s). We know where people were growing winegrapes, and we get a picture of their success – and the climates they were experiencing – on a year-by-year basis. This is incontrovertible data that bears no ability to be twisted to conform to an ideological thought process. Simply put, you can’t argue with it.

In modern times, we’ve seen warming of nearly 1˚C (>1.5°F), and we now have a robust, reliable network of weather measurements for entire planet. The change we see now is different than what we have seen in the past, and that change is yet again being reflected in the vines. Most of the world’s major producing regions have seen significant warming, particularly in the last few decades. This has sped up the cycles of fruit maturation, changed fruit biochemistry, introducing new pressures to these regions. Growers have methods for counter-acting some of these issues, but most problems do not have simple solutions. For example, increased water stress coupled with a rise in the cost of water, is one of several issues that warmer regions will need to contend with more and more.

Maybe that glass of Merlot is starting to look half-empty.

Michigan Pinot Noir grapes undergoing full fall colors.

Or is it? Warmer global temperatures allow for production to move poleward which can introduce winegrapes to regions that could not previously accommodate production. My research, across four peerreviewed papers, looked at one such region: Michigan. Before the late 1960s, there were virtually no Vitis vinifera varieties of grapes growing in the state. The growing season was too short and not reliably warm enough to sustain winegrapes. Additionally, brutal winter temperatures would drop below the threshold for traditional winegrape varieties. A few enterprising growers attempted some plantings, and after a few rough years, they managed to survive. By the mid-2010s, there were nearly 3000 acres of more than a dozen varieties of vinifera. So what happened?

Michigan, in particular the SW corner of the state along the shores of Lake Michigan, has experienced a rise in temperature of at least 0.55°C since 1950. Using seasonal Growing Degree Days (a measure of thermal time that allows one to compare how much heat “accumulated” over time), we found that the region had warmed significantly since the 1950s. Average growing season temperatures had increased, and, perhaps most importantly the growing season increased by 28.8 days from 1971 to 2011. That is nearly an entire month more of proper growing conditions that allow for growers to harvest when they want to, rather than when they need to. This reliability, particularly since 1980, saw an explosion of vinifera acreage that continues in to the present. There are, of course, challenges. Inconsistent late frosts, pest pressures, and severe weather still make Michigan a challenging location for expansion, but the opportunity is alluring.

As the climate changes, so will our wine

Currently, there are several “Michigans” across the globe which are emerging as viable winegrape producing regions. As global temperatures very likely will continue their rise, these regions will also grow in reputation, size, and number. At the moment, it’s a waiting game.

To recap: climate change is happening. And one place to see, or taste, it is a glass of Michigan Riesling or a snifter of Oloroso Sherry. Climate change has impacted global winegrape production in the past, it is having an impact in the present, and will almost certainly continue to do so in to the near and foreseeable future. For the warm wine producing regions of the world, it is already becoming more difficult and new vineyard management strategies will be needed. But, there are many areas that are now gaining the ability to produce winegrapes, like Michigan. Those places are not without difficulties, but as these regions continue to warm up, new varieties and methods will almost certainly bring them to the forefront of global wine production.

Ultimately, it largely depends on if you are a wineglass half-empty, or half-full kind of person.

 

Steven R. Schultze is an assistant professor of Geography at the University of South Alabama. He teaches courses on atmospheric processes, climatology, and the geography of alcohol. His research focuses on agricultural climatology and the links between wine and climate change. Additionally, he is conducting studies on the connection between microclimates and specialty crop production on a sub-field level, and on the viability of growing beer hops (Humulus lupulus) in the Central Gulf Coast region. For copies of studies done by the author, please email him. You can follow him on twitter @GEO_Schultze

 Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Public Domain Image: WineFolly.com

Psychologists and Pediatricians Know that Families Belong Together: A Call to Action

As family medical and mental health professionals, society entrusts us not only to care for children, but to protect children when they are in harm’s way. It is for that reason, and simply as compassionate human beings, that we write with profound concern about the ongoing conditions for migrant children and families at the US border, from the ongoing horror of family separation to the deteriorating medical, physical, educational, and sanitary conditions of vulnerable families. We have watched countless families flee violence and danger, only to find themselves newly at risk at our borders. If anyone in our profession knew of children living in conditions that our colleagues have witnessed at the border, we would face professional sanctions if we failed to report our concerns to child protection services. 

We choose our vocations to protect and nurture children, the most important natural resource for any society’s resilience and sustainability. When we are not aiding children in danger, we work with them to develop resilience to overcome adversities and traumas that they may face. Yet perhaps more powerful than either healing or helping is to advocate for equitable systemic change that will minimize adverse childhood events and traumas.

This is important within, at, and even beyond our nation’s borders. Our work is to ensure that young people may grow up in healthier conditions to reach their full potential as thriving and contributing members of society. Addressing the human rights crises at our border and in the northern triangle, both of which US policy has and can impact, would prevent more of the horrors we have been seeing along the Rio Grande.

No Amount of Detention is Safe for Children

South Texas Border – U.S. Customs and Border Protection process unaccompanied children after they have crossed the border into the United States. Photo: US Customs and Border Patrol

The science is unambiguous that adverse events, including the conditions these families are fleeing and those at our borders, have a profound negative impact on emotional, psychological, and even physical development. While one only needs compassion and common sense to know that children need to be with their families, the scientific literature on attachment tells us the same thing. Children need the consistent presence of a caregiver to grow healthy, happy and resilient, and contribute to society.

The forced separation from caregivers is traumatic to children and families, as well as to many ordinary Americans who have witnessed the photos and heard the cries of the children coming through our screens. This is why in 2018 the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics called this policy “nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.” Similarly, psychological organizations have made statements condemning family separations and acknowledging the negative consequences and costs for families and for society down the road. This persistent “toxic stress” and Adverse Childhood Experiences disrupts development, causing profound and lifelong damage to the brains and bodies of young people, costing our society far more in the long run.  Recent news brings confounding and infuriating reports of physicians being unable to visit children in the facilities.

Aerial view of the detention facility in Yuma, Ariz. as part of an ongoing response to the current border security and humanitarian crisis along the Southwest border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Despite the 2018 executive order to end migrant child separation, each week brings still more reports describing significant numbers of children who continue to be separated and held in inhumane conditions. Despite the binding legal settlement requiring that children are held under safe and sanitary conditions, the reports show that children are deprived of basic necessities such as soap and toothbrushes. One 15-year-old girl described caring for another child, age 5, in the “Ice Box,” sleeping on a mat on a concrete floor, and saying “There are no activities, only crying.” As pediatric health care professionals, if we knew of children living in the community being treated this way, we would be legally and ethically obligated to report to child protective services for abuse and neglect. From the perspective of child welfare and professional ethics, why should it make any difference whether the treatment is at the hands of an abusive adult in the community, or at the hands of our own government? Even if instant reunifications were possible, the impact on traumatized caregivers and children would be lasting.

We must remember too that the current crisis exists in a larger context of  increasing racism in society, and increasing fear and dehumanization of immigrant and refugee children. Racism itself is a public health issue, impacting both physical and mental health, with the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine recently calling for adolescent health professionals to address racism and promote equity at the individual as well as societal level.

All of these refugees are members of the human family. Most Americans living today had trauma as part of their family’s immigration story. For most, that trauma began to heal, not fester once they reached American shores. One of the authors of this piece, Dr. Vo is the son of Vietnamese refugees, and his partner was a child refugee herself in the last century. The other author of this piece, Dr. Willard, had ancestors that fled economic and political hardship in the 19th century, his partner’s family escaped Europe during WWII. Their own experiences have motivated them to continue to make the US better for the next generation, and continue to ensure the promise of our nation.

In a deeper sense, this debate is about far more than soap and toothbrushes. Children need to feel loved, they need to feel cared for, they need to feel protected and safe. This is a fundamental human need, and one of our most sacred duties as professionals who care about children. What’s more, parents, and by extension, societies need to love and care for vulnerable, so that they may continue into the future.

Families Belong Together rally on the east lawn of the Iowa State Capitol. Photo: Phil Roeder.

Call to Action

With that, we call for an immediate end to the detention of migrant children. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently reaffirmed, no amount of detention is safe for a child. All children have the right to basic humanitarian standards including medical care, nutrition, and sanitation. Recent reports have suggested that doctors have not been given access to children under five to assess health conditions in some facilities. We ask for this in a nonpartisan spirit of inclusiveness and compassion for people on all sides of this situation, including the separated families, their loved ones and advocates, as well as those who are suffering even as they implement this inhumane policy.

We were raised learning that the American dream, for immigrants and residents, was a better life for your children. Harming children and families who are seeking safety hurts not only those seeking refuge, but all of us who believe in continuing to make America an idea and place we believe in.

 

Dzung X. Vo, MD, FSAHM, FAAP, is an academic pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, an author, and a mindfulness practitioner and teacher. His clinical and academic work is founded on promoting resilience and positive youth development so that our young people can thrive and grow into contributing, caring adults. He is a Vietnamese American Canadian, the son of Vietnamese refugees, and a dual US and Canadian citizen currently living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia.  

Dr. Christopher Willard (PsyD) is a clinical psychologist and author educational consultant based in Boston. His clinical work and research primarily focus on resilience and mindfulness. He teaches part time at Harvard Medical School.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

US Customs and Border Patrol

The Masked Syndrome: HIV, Health Disparities, and the Two-Pronged Approach

“I have to tell you something” he said to my father on the phone. My father could sense immediately the conversation would be pivotal. “Cancer?” my father asked, to which he quietly responded, “Much worse.” He was my mother’s uncle; he was hilarious, hardworking, and passionate. He was also a gay Armenian man, and his sexual orientation was a subject of shame, criticism, and volatility in many cultures like my own. It was 1989, and the public, including my father, knew little about human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. Within days of this phone call, my parents flew to see him. I often think about this moment and my mother’s uncle considering his diagnosis the worst news he could possibly share. I think about the shame he felt and the vulnerability he displayed in sharing his status. This moment of sheer vulnerability and honesty has been shared by over 36 million individuals and their families worldwide.

Disproportionate impacts on already vulnerable communities

Despite significant advancements in the understanding of HIV over the past thirty years, the epidemic disproportionately affects disenfranchised communities. The health disparities are striking, affecting communities of color (Black and Latinx people account for more than sixty percent of cases), sexual minorities, and the intersection of these communities (Black gay males account for about half of cases). A number of crucial risk factors have been identified, including poverty, substance use, low educational attainment, unequal access to health care, and discrimination. These disparities are present not only in the transmission of the disease, but in the diagnosis and treatment as well. Research has shown that compared to non-Hispanic whites, racial/ethnic minorities have a higher likelihood of virologic failure and resistance; being prescribed less efficacious and more toxic treatment regimens; brain and cognitive impairments; poorer quality of life; and early mortality. Additionally, racial/ethnic minorities report experiencing discriminatory health care experiences and overall distrust toward health care providers. The access to quality care in these communities is heavily impacted by a number of social, environmental, and psychological factors.

The two-pronged approach to reducing disparities

The HIV epidemic is unique in that transmission is dependent on both behavioral risk factors and the federal government’s historical role in the silencing and marginalization of minority populations. Though significant public health advancements and advocacy efforts have been made over the course of the epidemic’s history, these benefits have not necessarily been shared equally throughout the U.S. population. In order to better conceptualize and treat this syndrome, a two-pronged approach is needed to better integrate research findings with social justice efforts. First, research will continue to aid in the identification of risk factors and protective factors to prevent further damage. Second, policymakers and organizations must integrate these findings and mobilize in order to combat social injustice and properly communicate this information to all.

Advocating for compassionate, accessible and equitable care

Research has shown that discrimination is a major barrier to care and facilitates the transmission of HIV and disease progression. Currently, explicit protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity do not exist at the federal level, which can lead to significant problems in accessing health care. More than a third of LGBTQ+ people of color have been refused treatment and/or feel scared to access health care resources due to fear of discrimination. This results in low accessibility of care and subsequently worse health outcomes. Organizations such as the Prevention Access Campaign work to devise equity initiatives such as U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable), a global community of advocates and researchers working to disseminate the crucial finding that individuals on effective treatment with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood have a negligible risk of transmitting HIV sexually. This may assist in the eradication of the stigma associated with sexual disease transmission and encourages diagnosed individuals to remain adherent to treatment regimens to keep both themselves and their partners healthy. It is crucial to continue to combine research findings with advocacy work in order to bring together professionals from a number of sectors to increase communication, understanding, and prevention of further risky behavior.

HIV can be characterized as a syndrome with two faces. The face of the disease we see corresponds to the physical and cognitive burden associated with the diagnosis of a chronic disease. The second, and arguably more important part of the syndrome is a masked face tucked behind the first, corresponding to the internal turmoil, which includes enduring stigma, shame, and discrimination. Stigma is considered a major predictor of mortality within this population and serves as a barrier to accessing both HIV testing and treatment.

It was this masked face that led my mother’s uncle to respond with “much worse” and it was this face that had kept his life, sexual orientation, and diagnosis a secret from everyone he loved. Resiliency in this community is the pulsing, beating heart allowing them to overcome adversity, despite this diagnostic label. This resiliency has been tested repeatedly, yet this community has continued to laugh, sing, advocate, and share their experiences, shining bright and dispelling the grim social pressures casting a shadow on their lives. The time has come for the American people to enact change; let us collectively stand behind a relentlessly strong community who need not hide behind any mask.

 

Maral Aghvinian is a doctoral student at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY specializing in clinical neuropsychology. Her research interests include the intersection between neurocognitive functioning, health behaviors, cross-cultural issues, and health disparities in highly stigmatized, chronic disorders. Maral’s primary goal is to use a biopsychosociocultural framework to better understand the relationship between the role of stigma and factors that contribute to disparate health outcomes in underrepresented populations. By conducting clinically informed research, she hopes to eradicate the climate of stigma surrounding mental health, especially in marginalized groups.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

ExxonMobil Execs Care More About Dodging Responsibility for Climate Damages Than Preventing More Harm

I had the privilege of attending the ExxonMobil annual shareholders’ meeting on May 29th in Dallas, Texas. As a scientist focused on urban ecology and biodiversity in the context of the sustainability of urban greenspaces in my home state of Texas, I attended the meeting with a question for ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods.

I wanted to know why the company was so far behind in creating a business plan that protects the Gulf Coast, and the entire planet, from the impacts of fossil fuel-driven global warming. What I heard instead was corporate double-talk: ExxonMobil simultaneously claims that it is doing plenty to curb climate change, and also that it is not the company’s responsibility to act. I disagree. Like the majority of Texans, I believe that global warming is harming my community and that fossil fuel companies are responsible for climate damages (such as the devastation wrought by increasingly destructive hurricanes).

Before the meeting even began, I was able to discuss my concerns with ExxonMobil Board member and climate scientist, Dr. Susan Avery. I was curious to speak with Dr. Avery about her personal and scientific position on climate science, and specifically on the aspect of uncertainty, since ExxonMobil’s public statements have misrepresented climate science by downplaying the connections between its global warming emissions and climate change.

Dr. Avery’s comments were representative of what I observed overall for the day regarding ExxonMobil’s official policy positions and talking points: that despite science that causally links climate impacts to emissions from major fossil fuel producers, neither ExxonMobil  nor the petroleum industry as a whole should be singled out for primary culpability as a major enabler of fossil fuel emissions over other segment of polluters.

This sentiment was again enforced in a second informal discussion among several ExxonMobil employees, Union of Concerned Scientists’ Kathy Mulvey, Edward Mason with the Church of England, and me at the pre-meeting coffee hour.

We were gathered at the ExxonMobil Environment kiosk sign discussing ExxonMobil’s role in promoting disinformation on climate science and its avoidance in adopting strategic corporate polices and goals to bring the company’s emissions in line with the global temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.

What struck me about the replies from ExxonMobil employees was the insistence—again, in sticking to the corporate talking points— that ExxonMobil is being unfairly singled out for negligence and that we need to look beyond ExxonMobil to other polluters for both blame and solutions.

During the formal shareholder meeting, I must admit that I was very surprised when Mr. Woods pointed to me to take my question. I stated that ExxonMobil has failed to take responsibility for its contribution to climate impacts and failed to help prepare and protect Texans and our neighbors along the Gulf Coast from the impacts of its products.

I illustrated the impacts I’ve seen in my own backyard: urban green spaces threatened by changes in temperature and precipitation trends, extreme weather harming plant and wildlife biodiversity, and of course the toll that climate change-charged storms like Hurricane Harvey have had — and will continue to have – on communities living along the coast.

I also stated that the company claims to support the Paris Agreement, but has not taken any serious actions toward achieving its goals. Finally, I asked why ExxonMobil still fails to lead the way globally on protecting our safety and curbing emissions.

Mr. Woods’ response was a litany of the official corporate talking points of the day. Namely, ExxonMobil believes that it can have its cake and eat it too: we can have continued reliance on fossil fuel exploration, production, and consumption while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts, “including the risks of climate change.”

However, in reality, ExxonMobil is committed to a false dual challenge and solution, one that is non-sustainable and unfortunately encourages and promotes continued reliance on fossil fuels and its heavy carbon footprint, while obstructing policies that would bring us towards renewable energy solutions. It might look good on paper, but it is business as usual.

Rick Hammer is an Associate Professor Biology at HSU and Associate Professor of Restoration Ecology at the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona Michigan. He holds a Ph.D in botany and ecology from Texas A&M University.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Chevron Evades Questions About its History of Climate Disinformation

On May 29, I joined Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) at the annual Chevron shareholder meeting in San Ramon, California. There, I asked the company’s CEO, Michael Wirth, about

Dr. Benjamin Franta is a PhD Candidate at the Stanford University Department of History and a JD Candidate at Stanford Law School. He has a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University and is a former Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Chevron’s past and present promotion of climate disinformation.

Documents continue to be uncovered showing the internal knowledge fossil fuel companies had of the harm their products would do to global climate. Two reports in particular — one from Exxon in 1982 and another from Shell in 1988 — stand out for their detailed predictions of global warming and its consequences.

Chevron Knew About “Globally Catastrophic Effects”

Although ExxonMobil has received the most attention for its early knowledge of climate science (spawning the hashtag #ExxonKnew), the entire petroleum industry knew its products would cause global warming.

In 1959, the physicist Edward Teller warned the industry about global warming in a keynote address. In 1965, the President of the American Petroleum Institute (API) followed with a warning of his own.

By 1968, the API was commissioning scientists to write private reports assessing the problem, and by the end of the 1970s, the trade association had established a committee to monitor climate science. That committee was warned of “globally catastrophic effects” by the middle of the 21st century if fossil fuel production continued to expand. Chevron’s precursor companies were members of the API and had this information.

Industry Disinformation Campaign

Despite knowing that its products had dangerous side effects, the industry didn’t warn the government or the public.

And when, in the late 1980s, governments around the world began proposing policies to avert climate change by reducing fossil fuel use, fossil fuel interests coordinated with each other to form the Global Climate Coalition, which spread disinformation about climate science and blocked climate policies for over a decade.

Chevron’s precursors, including Texaco and Unocal, were members of the Global Climate Coalition, along with industry-wide trade associations such as the API.

Chevron and other fossil fuel producers knew their products would cause the climate change damages we’re now experiencing, such as sea level rise, drought, and flooding. First, these companies failed to warn the public despite studying the problem privately. Then, they actively denied the problem, spread disinformation, and blocked attempts to prevent the damage –- practices Chevron and its peers continue to this day.

Lawsuits Against Chevron and Other Fossil Fuel Companies

That brings us to lawsuits. A variety of cities, states, and private groups — including New York City, Rhode Island, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations — are bringing suits against fossil fuel companies in order to be compensated for climate-related damages resulting from the industry’s products and corporate behavior.

Chevron is a defendant in at least eight of these suits so far, and more are being filed regularly. These lawsuits expose fossil fuel producers — and their shareholders — to significant liability risks.

My question for Michael Wirth, Chevron’s CEO, was simple: How will the company protect shareholders from its own history of disinformation?

His answer was part avoidance and part additional disinformation. Wirth stated, without rationale, that the growing number of lawsuits facing the company won’t help to address global warming (a claim the plaintiffs presumably disagree with). He then went on to tell shareholders that the suits bring “no new science” and “no new evidence” to the table.

Both claims are false. Attribution science — the epidemiology of climate change — is central to these lawsuits and can causally link Chevron’s products to damages from global warming.

Additionally, historical researchers continue to uncover more and more evidence of industry knowledge, denial, and malfeasance. These two prongs — science and history — proved devastating to Big Tobacco in American courts, and Big Oil may be next. That’s likely why fossil fuel producers are now seeking legal immunity from climate lawsuits in exchange for a small carbon tax.

Chevron’s CEO might be misinformed about these lawsuits. Or he might be lying to shareholders. Either way, it’s not a good look for Chevron.

 

Under Our Noses: PFAS Contamination in Southern Colorado

I was born an only child in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1979. My father, who is a retired military officer, moved us from coast-to-coast and across the country until we finally returned home in 1989. By the time I was 20, I had traveled and seen parts of the Western world that continue to enrich my life. However, Colorado has always held me safe, secure, and nestled in the Rocky Mountains as I continued to mature into adulthood. The quiet solitude the outdoors here provided me just as much ecological insight as scuba diving in the Grand Caymans or walking along the coasts of Hawaii. Now I’ve seen the delicate balance of nature in Colorado disrupted by devastating wildfires and operations from fracking plus other continued operations of big oil and gas.  

There were a lot of wake-up calls to the United States in 2018. Following my own personal revelations, I emerged from my own cave of isolation as a single parent to learn just how bad things have gotten. Seeing the corruption of facts and scientific evidence in my own local community I started working to illuminate truth in others and grasped what an uphill battle it is.

In January 2019, my formal training as an activist began. As an advocate for Colorado’s environment, one of the first things that truly disturbed me to the core was the contamination of drinking water—which I thought I was well-informed upon regarding my involvements in attempting to ban fracking last year in Colorado. The data in front of me stated that immediately south of Colorado Springs the worst circumstance imaginable was already over and done with, the PFC levels detected in water supplies makes it unfit for human consumption.

Contamination of the Widefield aquifer

Fountain Creek flows through the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, past the Martin Drake Power Plant fueled by coal, south-southeast to the communities of Fountain, Widefield, Security, and others in Southern Colorado. At least 57,000 residents were drinking water from the Widefield Aquifer, which is a paleochannel of Fountain Creek, in a renewable annual supply of nearly four billion gallons. During 2013-2014, as part of regular EPA testing done under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology collected surface and groundwater samples from various areas of Fountain Creek and Sand Creek.

Solid phase extraction followed by high pressure liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry pinpointed the examination of ten separate PFAS compounds of differing lengths and makeups. The data was compiled using ArcGIS software to indicate concentrations along the paths on surface water. This initial study produced conclusions that showed contamination in every area that was sampled, the contamination exceeded the EPA’s advisory of 70 ppt being as high as 320 ppt, and that one of the local United States Air Force (USAF) bases was likely responsible for the contamination. It’s an Air Force base I know well.

Peterson Air Force Base, like other airstrips and airports and institutions throughout the world, has conducted firefighting training for its airmen using aqueous film forming foams since the 1970s. For decades the foam seeped into the Widefield Aquifer. In addition to that, base leaders admitted to disposing of foam-contaminated wastewater directly into the sewers in Colorado Springs three times a year. A report released by the Air Force clearly downplayed their responsibility for this contamination, but they did admit to it.

While the ultimate source of the Widefield Aquifer’s contamination may never be determined, just as the contamination might ever be fully removed, Air Force officials immediately began discussions with local congressional delegates, county commissioners, city staffers, and representatives of environmental agencies plus regional water districts. The Air Force committed to a five-year plan in providing alternative drinking water and funding installations for water treatment. Still, local and state officials have clearly indicated that even the proposed $4.3 million would not be enough to restore the damage done. To this day residents surrounding the Widefield Aquifer don’t trust that the water that comes from the taps in their homes is safe.

New watchdogs emerge

As of July 2017, the United States Air Force no longer uses AFFFs (aqueous film forming foams) as part of an internal mitigation plan. In April 2018 the USAF announced plans for delivering clean water to the impacted residents outlining the installation of filtration systems and purchasing 235 million gallons of drinkable water. Investigations continue in and around Peterson while local and state environmental scientists establish standards to limit contamination of the aquifer to 70 ppt. Water officials and advocates from the towns of Fountain, Security and Widefield continue their efforts in exposing and preventing further water contamination. Their sights are upriver directly at the Martin Drake Plant where its residual coal combines with surface runoff flowing downhill right into Fountain Creek. Also, in downtown Colorado Springs is Colorado College (CC), whose students and faculty are on the front lines of creating a sustainable future. CC’s chemistry students and faculty collaborators are working on an intensive curriculum of analyzing and eventually predicting contamination from surface water flow. All involved have established direct communication and contacts with different officials of the EPA.

The EPA gathered for a conference in Fountain, CO on February 14, 2019 for discourse on the contamination there and across the country. EPA regional administrator Doug Benevento and senior counsel to the administrator Peter Wright were present. One thing communities have been demanding is an enforceable standard, known as a maximum contaminant level, for drinking water. Benevento and Wright stated that the Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to gather this data, but they must go through legal steps in this as well as recommendations for treatment. PFOAs and PFOSs are planned to be first for detection with steps in place by the end of the year and will begin regulating PFASs as dangerous chemicals. Furthermore, the eight examples of contamination, which were given direct orders from the EPA, will provide information and cleanup recommendations for maximum containment levels in drinking water plus establishing timelines for future purification efforts.

If our communities are going to have any semblance of normalcy in recovering from such disaster, then it is the communities who need to be directly involved. This sentiment is mirrored directly by Cornell Long of the Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center, “Thanks to our strong partnership with Fountain, Security and Widefield, these agreements will help us protect those communities as we move forward.” The more we know, the more we can prevent things like this from happening again, even if we can’t undo the damage that has already been done.

 

Ryan Nelson has profound loving respect for the Earth learning from invaluable conservational wisdom and traditions for over 25 years. Ryan grasped the importance of activism as a lead volunteer citizen advocate in his community. Now he works internationally empowering others in their own contributions enacting environmental and social justice. 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Photo: FEMA

Bury Myers’ NOAA Nomination

Photo: C-SPAN

We became scientists to make discoveries and explore the unknown, not to wonder why science is rife with sexual harassment and discrimination. But that is not how our paths have gone. One of us (Dr. Willenbring) survived severe sexual harassment at a remote field station in Antarctica, which only recently resulted in the firing of the perpetrator. The other (Dr. Freitag) is a NOAA contractor who has watched how handling of sexual harassment cases can make or break a career in science.

We knew from our own experience that sexual harassment in the scientific fields is all too common. And so we were appalled, but not surprised to learn that AccuWeather—led by the President’s pick to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Barry Myers—agreed to pay $290,000 to 35 women as part of a settlement after a federal oversight agency found the company subjected female employees to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. We also were not surprised that AccuWeather denied any knowledge of harassing activity, declined on-site access to investigators, and objected to any expansion of the investigation. And sadly, we were particularly unsurprised at the original 2016 complaint by a former AccuWeather employee alleged that she was, among other things, subjected to a hostile work environment and ultimately terminated due to her sexual orientation.

But despite our hard experience, we were surprised, shocked, and disgusted by the sheer extent of the harassment that occurred while Myers was CEO of AccuWeather, which was detailed in a federal report that became public earlier this month. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) found, “Over two dozen witnesses spanning many different departments and in positions ranging from administrative support to senior management described unlawful sexual harassment that occurred at the company. This sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive, that some female employees resigned.” The investigation confirmed that AccuWeather was indeed aware of the sexual harassment but took no action to correct the unlawful activity.

At the same time that women at AccuWeather were being subjected to this pervasive harassment, so were women scientists, observers and contractors at NOAA. After several came forward to alert Congressional leaders to a system that had failed to protect them, Congress passed legislation to require the agency to develop a comprehensive policy on sexual assault and harassment prevention and response. NOAA complied with that requirement in February 2018.

NOAA’s reforms are working. We have seen them play out in practice and are cautiously optimistic that progress is being achieved. But those steps forward are still incremental enough to be undermined and will only be as strong as the leadership of the agency enforcing them. Myers claimed to be unaware of rampant and pervasive sexual harassment in a company of only about 500 office employees, How are we to have any confidence that he will have the capacity to ensure that an agency with 11,000 employees and contractors, many of whom are at sea and in remote locations, is aggressively enforcing an anti-harassment policy? As we both know all too well, serial harassers thrive in isolate environments where their victims have little recourse.

Myers has already made clear how he views such matters. When asked by the Senate during his confirmation process if “any business where he served as an officer had ever been involved as a party in an administrative proceeding, criminal proceeding, or civil litigation,” he responded that the company has been involved in “routine civil and administrative actions, such as (1) contracts disputes; (2) employee claims for unemployment compensation, EEOC matters, workers compensation, and OFCCP compliance; and (3) other personnel matters.” In other words, he views a settlement of pervasive sexual harassment in his own company, and financial payouts to at least 39 women who were subject to that harassment, as “routine.”

The women and men of NOAA, and of the ocean science community, deserve better than for gross sexual harassment and a hostile workplace to be considered routine. The nation’s premier ocean science agencies cannot and should not be led by anyone who does not understand that. The environmental threats facing our ocean today can only be addressed by the best scientists and subject matter experts in the world – and they should be led by someone committed to protect them. Barry Myers has shown he is not up to the task. We urge the Senate to reject his nomination.

 

Dr. Jane Willenbring is an Associate Professor at the Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and Dr. Amy Freitag is a contract social scientist for NOAA.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Photo: C-SPAN

Scientists Advocating for Climate Action in Oregon: Why we are stepping up and speaking out

Photo: BLM Oregon

We are two climate scientists, currently teaching about climate change at two universities in Portland, Oregon. We are also two concerned scientists who understand the severe threats that climate change is posing to human well-being, as well as two concerned parents (and one concerned grandfather) who are worried about the future of climate extremes that our children and grandchildren must bear. As members of the UCS Science Network, this year we have used our voices as scientists and experts to speak with Oregon state legislators and advocate for strong climate action in Oregon. Here are our stories.

Sharon Delcambre’s Story: Inspiring (and inspired by) frontline students

I am a climate scientist, teacher, mother, and North Portland resident for the past 6 years.  I am a physical scientist through and through, and worked hard to gain the credentials to call myself a scientist (MS in atmospheric science, PhD researching the impacts of global climate change on weather systems). I am currently a 2-year Visiting Instructor of Environmental Studies at the University of Portland. In my prior position at Portland Community College, I spearheaded development of a “Global Climate Change” course taught online and in-person that reaches hundreds of students each year.

Some of the science I teach is about how climate change is a real threat to our collective ability to live the good life we all desire.  Globally, carbon dioxide concentrations are higher than they have been during the past 800,000 years, primarily due to human emissions.  Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, we are witnessing less winter snowpack, leading to water shortages and increased risk of damaging summertime wildfires.  We see impacts to our fish and other marine life from changes in ocean and river temperature and chemistry.  We see the very personality of our region changing, as our abundant waters, forests, and farmlands irreversibly change.

Upon consideration of these depressing statistics, most of my students immediately ask for solutions.  And thus began my own journey of learning about the intersectional nature of climate change.  While solutions such as a decarbonized electrical grid and solar panels for everyone are powerful and worthy aspirational goals, any solution must address those most vulnerable populations in our society.  For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, just like in most regions globally, “frontline” communities are the first to experience harm due to our changing climate.  In the 2018 National Climate Assessment, Pacific Northwest frontline communities are defined as “tribes and indigenous peoples, those most dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and the economically disadvantaged.”   People in these communities do not have as many resources with which to prepare or respond to climate changes and are thus inherently vulnerable.  In fact, climate change has been said to be a multiplier of injustice, compounding co-existing gender, racial, or economic injustices that exist in our communities.

I tell my students that whether they fight for gender, racial, or climate justice they are helping prevent climate change, and I truly believe this.

I tell my students that whether they fight for gender, racial, or climate justice they are helping prevent climate change, and I truly believe this.   As a white woman with economic and educational privilege, I see my role as more than just a scientist.  If I want to be an ally for those with less privilege, I need to infuse this social justice lens into my classroom, but also step outside of my classroom and work to affect change in our society. And as a mother of a young child, I want to advance solutions that will help to avoid some of the worst climate impacts my child may have to live with.

That is why I am finally stepping up to publicly ask my legislators for action on climate and to serve as a resource on the climate science I know so well.  That is why when Union of Concerned Scientists asked me to sign an expert letter in March, urging the Oregon legislature to take strong climate action in 2019, I did it.  Then, when they asked me to visit Salem to speak with my legislators in April 2019 and again in May 2019, I did it.

The Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill addresses climate change at the root cause by capping carbon emissions in the state of Oregon in order to reduce the state’s emissions to 80% below 1990 values by 2050.  But it does not forget about the frontline communities in our state and invests profits in low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color, affected workers, and Oregon’s tribal communities.

While it was my own frontline students at Portland Community College who first alerted me to this bill in spring 2018, it is the Union of Concerned Scientists who has enabled me to make a difference as a scientist.  They have kept me abreast of updates from Salem and told me what I can do to support the work my legislators are doing.  They educated me on how the political process works and where I can play a role.

Frank Granshaw’s  Motivations for Climate Advocacy: Being a glacial geologist and a grandfather

Frank Granshaw delivers a letter from 71 Oregon scientists calling for strong climate action in 2019 to Logan Gilles, the Chief of staff to Oregon state senator Michael Denbrow, the co-chair of the Oregon Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction.

I’m a retired community college geology instructor now doing climate and sustainability work with Portland State University and several community organizations in Portland Oregon.  I have also done climate advocacy work with the UCS Science Network and have participated in several UN climate conferences as a citizen observer.  Being originally trained as a physicist and a Methodist minister, I eventually went on to become a geologist and geoscience educator. As a researcher my work has been in glacier monitoring, glacier/climate interactions, and the design and use of virtual reality in geoscience education.  During my 40+ years of teaching, much of my work has revolved around helping non-scientists understand, appreciate, and care for earth systems.

During a recent visit to the state capital with UCS, a legislative staffer asked me what brought me to the capital.  I explained that I was there delivering to individual legislators a letter signed by 71 Oregon scientists supporting the Clean Energy Jobs bill (or HB 2020).  She next asked what motivated me to do this.  I answered simply that I’m a glacial geologist and a grandfather.  At which point she simply smiled and said “that definitely explains it.”

In my work as a glacial geologist in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been part of a community monitoring the decline of the region’s numerous alpine glaciers.  Some of the recent work being done by this community indicates that at current rates we may see entire ranges like the Olympics and North Cascades rendered ice-free by the latter half of this century.  While concern about this trend may seem like a nostalgic luxury, there are a host of unsettling issues involving water resource management, forest and stream health, natural hazard mitigation, and rising sea levels that come along with it.

As an elder geoscientist, I am constantly seeking ways to create a better legacy for my grandchildren and their peers.

As a grandfather, I’m aware that what I’m seeing as a glacial geologist is part of a larger package of escalating climate changes that my twelve year old granddaughter and six year old grandson will have to contend with as they become adults.  Like many grandparents, it is hard to look into my grandchildren’s eyes and not feel a sense of sadness about the world they may inherit because of our inaction.  So as an elder geoscientist, I am constantly seeking ways to create a better legacy for my grandchildren and their peers.

For this reason I started visiting the Oregon legislature with the UCS Science Network about two years ago.  It was a very new and somewhat intimidating experience to talk with legislators and their staffers.  Like other science types who have engaged in advocacy, I can find it frustrating that I have to reduce complex issues and concerns to “elevator speeches.”  But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about the legislative process and how to listen to the spectrum of different and often competing voices.  More than once I’ve been surprised by unexpected instances of genuine support and all the serendipitous windows into being able to “talk across the divide.”

During the past year much of my conversations with Oregon legislators have been about the Clean Energy Jobs bill (HB 2020).  I am a strong supporter of this legislation in large part because of my experience with the UN climate negotiation process.  Although process at the international level has slowed to a crawl, many stakeholders feel a sense of hopefulness about change coming from the subnational level.  I believe that the Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill is a critical example of such a movement.

Advocating for more scientists to step up and speak out

Through our advocacy as scientists, we have learned some lessons we hope will help our fellow scientists to step up and speak out for science-based solutions to climate change. On the practical level: wear comfortable shoes! Stepping up for advocacy means you do a lot of walking around the state capital.

Expect surprises and enjoy what those surprises can teach you. Spend some time looking at the photos and other memorabilia on the walls of legislators’ offices. These will tell you a lot about what they value and make for interesting casual conversation that you can connect to your issues and values.

As you speak out, you have to practice and get comfortable with short conversations, sharing your story authentically, and be capable of speaking to legislators’ real concerns quickly and succinctly. As scientists we are comfortable speaking in detail about methods, complexities, and uncertainties. UCS has resources to help you hone in on your message and share your expertise in simple and credible ways. [For example, see the resources in the Science Advocacy Toolkit, like “How to Give a One-Minute Pitch” to your elected official.]

Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill has passed out of the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction and is being considered in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. We will continue to raise our voice as scientists and urge Oregon legislators to pass this bill and show the leadership that our country and the world needs to see: that solutions are within our reach if we work together.

We look forward to many more opportunities to create a peaceful, sustainable future by serving as a resource on climate science for UCS, for our communities, and for our legislators.

We encourage you to try it too – if not us, then who will?

 

Sharon Delcambre is an atmospheric scientist currently teaching Fluid Earth systems classes in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Portland and Portland Community College.  She believes in the importance of hands-on learning, field trips, and community-based learning and loves watching students make the connection between the theory and application while in the field. In off hours, she is most often found in her garden, walking her extra-large dog, or exploring local parks with her family and friends.

Frank D. Granshaw PhD, is an adjunct professor of Geology and University Studies and Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. He is retired Geology Faculty at Portland Community College, and active in the National Association for Geoscience Teachers, Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, and Northwest Glaciologists. He considers himself a fiercely proud Oregon native, an insufferably proud grandfather, and an occasional beekeeper, gardener, carpenter, hiker, and general wanderer.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Photo: BLM Oregon