Author Archives: ljshaffer
Every week I get a summary of climate news, funding, short courses, and available jobs from DISCCRS, the DISsertations initiative for the advancement of Climate Change ReSearch (pronounced discourse). The summary includes both science media and popular media sources. They are funded by NASA and the NSF, and co-directed by oceanographer Susan Weiler and political scientist Ron Mitchell. I joined the listserv as a postdoc back in 2011 after attending a climate research training course at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. It made sense. My postdoc focused on climate change adaptive learning and my doctoral dissertation had included a climate adaptation component.
So where’s the hot mess in all of this? The global climate. The local climate. The short-sighted financial interests, political ideologies, and deliberate ignorance informing current US federal climate policy. The fact that I’m drafting a review article on the relationship between climate change and physical violence (one-on-one aggression, small scale conflict, and war), and all signs point to poor governance, structural inequality, environmental degradation, large scale structural shifts in society, and resource scarcity as key ingredients needed for the mix. Oh, and perhaps a pinch of identity issues thrown in too for extra flavor. The weekly DISCCRS summary has always included some bad news, like ice shelves the size of Rhode Island calving off Antarctic type bad news, but 2017 seems even worse than 2016 from a climate news perspective. There have been bright spots. The EU and China are moving full steam ahead on the 2015 Paris Agreement and China just ran a whole province for a week on 100% alternative, renewable energy production. US cities and states have joined them trumping the federal government’s inadequacy in addressing probably the greatest challenge our world currently faces. That’s great news! No denial from me on that. But here are this week’s emailed headlines…
- Evidence of “tipping points” turning climate change from gradual to rapid – New Atlas – June 26, 2017
- World has three years left to stop dangerous climate change, warn experts – Guardian – June 28, 2017
- One-Fifth Of Humanity Could Become ‘Climate Change Refugees’ – Peak Oil – June 27, 2017
- Climate change threatens to wipe some islands off the map – Washington Post – June 23, 2017
- Sea level rise isn’t just happening, it’s getting faster – Washington Post – June 26, 2017
- Greenland now a major driver of rising seas: study – AFP (via Yahoo! News) – June 27, 2017
- Sea level rise is accelerating due to Greenland ice melt. – Mashable – June 26, 2017 (related)
- The race to save Florida’s devastated coral reef from global warming – Washington Post – June 25, 2017
- Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – New York Times – June 26, 2017
- 95-Degree Days: How Extreme Heat Could Spread Across the World – New York Times – June 22, 2017
- In Pakistan, scorching Ramadan month highlights chronic water, power shortages – Washington Post – June 28, 2017
- Study Shows People Are Hotter On ‘Climate Change’ Than ‘Global Warming – Huffington Post – June 22, 2017
- What’s In A Name? Global Warming vs Climate Change – Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – May 27, 2014 (related)
- How Climate Change Will Transform the Way We Live – Fortune – June 25, 2917 – By Laura Entis
- How we’re living with climate change and can beat it – New Scientist Special Feature – June 21, 2017
I debate whether or not to click and read any of this hot mess knowing that it will feed the twin monsters of depression and demoralization. I click and read anyway, knowing that hiding my head in the sand doesn’t solve the problem. The evidence is all around us that change is happening and I have to stay informed.
If you are interested in receiving your own weekly climate hot mess summary: http://disccrs.org/subscribe
So, last week I got a call on Thursday afternoon from a new research partner asking if I’d like to take their place on an upcoming trip to Africa. Kenya and South Africa specifically. He didn’t even get to finish his sentence before I said yes. I feel a little guilty because it (a) throws the plant work off schedule and (b) I’m replacing the ecological ethicist who threw out his back. However, it puts me in a position to do some pilot research for a new project that could lead to something else in the conservation/climate research nexus. This new research project, Saving Africa’s Vultures, synthesizes what is known about why vulture populations are declining in eastern and southern Africa to develop tools to improve vulture protection through societal/behavioral and legal means.
I hadn’t intended to instigate a whole new project this summer but that is exactly what is happening. This afternoon I drafted questions for a semi-structured interview with social network questions. My next step is to get feedback from my research partners and write my IRB application. Based on the overarching research goals, my interviews will be aimed at (1) building/strengthening the current vulture conservation network; (2) identifying/ranking known vulture species stressors; and (3) identifying tools for vulture conservation education. This last one will be interesting as vultures are definitely not the first thing people think of in terms of conservation despite their important ecosystem role as scavengers/decomposers. They are not pretty or cute or cuddly. My work will also focus on interviewing conservation experts; learning about their environmental knowledge and networks for sharing knowledge and resources.
I expect the next month or so to be a mad scramble as I read up on vultures and prepare for new interviews with experts. I don’t want to sound like an idiot. At the same time I will forge ahead with my plant data. In all it completes the circle of life – from primary producers to consumers to decomposers.
In foraging online, I’ve discovered a number on links to plant identification and information sites. In the effort to share I have posted these links below. As you can see, it isn’t an exhaustive list. These are materials that I and my student research assistants use regularly to check spellings of scientific names, determine if native or not, and verify growth form. Some of the sites give additional information about range, habitat, and use value to humans and other species.
World Collections Websites
- Kew Gardens – Plants of the World online – robust use section, particularly for medicines. Not a big focus on common names.
- Global Plants on JSTOR – digitized global collections, historic materials, specimens, herbaria
- iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections Homepage – more than just plants, although plants dominate the media records
- iDigBio Portal – online specimen record access
- Pl@ntUse – online wiki with over 50,000 plant species
- Botanic Garden Meise – BR Herbarium Catalogue – the herbarium has three main geographical divisions, the African (Central Africa focus), Belgian and General Collections
- Missouri Botanical Gardens
Southern Africa Focused Websites
- South African National Biodiversity Institute
- Flora of Mozambique
- Flora of Zimbabwe
- Flora of Botswana
- Plants of Namibia (Oxford)
- Flora of Zambia
- Swaziland’s Flora Database
- Dressler, S., Schmidt, M. & Zizka, G. 2014 + [continously updated]. African Plants – A Photo Guide
If you know of or regularly use other related websites, please send along. I would be happy to add to our list.
Last summer I challenged myself to use Twitter’s social media platform (@jin_verde) to get more information out about the work I do as an ecological & environmental anthropologist. I’m not sure I did a great job promoting my own work – mainly focused on climate change and biodiversity conservation. But I have been consistent in highlighting what scientists in my field do and how they contribute to supporting the well-being of individuals and communities. (And the work of scientists in related fields.) I love finding and sharing success stories, useful links, and serendipitous findings. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad news when it comes to climate change and biodiversity conservation. Finding these bright points I like to share is a little more difficult, but so necessary.
It is needed as part of our larger efforts as scientists to share our knowledge and results more publicly. If the federal government is no longer willing to promote science to the public, then we need to do so ourselves. Many already are, but more of us need to be involved because federal agencies are wiping important public information off their websites under orders of their new heads. My goal then this summer is to publish a short essay every two weeks about my research, ideas I’m working on, ecological anthropology methods and processes, and environmental/climate information. I posting this here so that I can shame myself when I don’t follow through.
But there are other ways for scientists, science teachers, and science supporters to get involved, be heard, and make our scientific work known for the benefit of all living beings on this planet. Last Saturday I Marched for Science with my husband and another scientist friend, a marine ecologist, in the cold rain. Yesterday, I braved record-breaking heat (91F, plus humidity) to participate in the People’s Climate March. It’s 2017. Why do I need to do this? The GOP-led Congress and Trump Administration are pushing our shared planet America first into a dystopic nightmare in the name of Free Market Capitalism. Or Capitalismo Brutal as my husband would say. Resisting actions that place our life support systems – land, air, water – at risk is important. For years we’ve been told to take personal action to reduce those risks at the individual level (e.g. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but standing together as a public, as a community, and resisting short-sighted ignorance is equally important.
Last weekend, scientists around the world took the fight for science to the streets. We can also call our legislators, run for office, hold teach ins and give public lectures. Most importantly we can keep doing science. #ScienceNotSilence
There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest base of public happiness.
-President George Washington, 8 Jan 1790, 1st State of the Union Address to Congress
Earlier this week a fellow anthropologist from Australia posted a suggestion to our environmental anthropology listserve that we “consider ways to move our posts and conversations online to Twitter. I am serious about this.” I giggled. Not at my colleague, because I think she’s absolutely right about the need to take our work to the people, but at the idea that anthropologists could condense their thoughts into 140 characters. Despite our ability to craft pithy interview questions and participant observe quietly for hours on end in far-flung communities, members of our chatterbox tribe tend to pontificate when provided the opportunity. We are a long-winded and multi-syllabic people. Yet a challenge had been issued. And that’s when I found myself reopening a Twitter account from 2009 to see how it had evolved.
My fellow environmental anthropologist raised some great points about how Twitter could be used by us all to reach a wider audience.
- Are you worried about the public understanding of how environmental anthropology can help respond to pressing regional and global issues?
- Would you like more people to know about your recent publications, job announcements, or call for papers?
- Would you like to expand your network of colleagues, potential collaborators, and co-authors?
- Is your university placing increased emphasis on rewarding scholars who seem publicly visible and engaged?
- Would you like an open-access forum to debate topics about environmental anthropology, one that includes public participation?
- Would you like to help build a database of searchable resources that secondary, higher education, and continued education learners could access on their smartphones and tablets within seconds of following a hashtag?
As a whole we are an invisible tribe. That is not to say that exceptions don’t exist. Margaret Mead, Temperance Brennan, and Indiana Jones are the most likely candidates for household recognition (well, at least those are ones my mom could name quickly), and two of them are fictional characters. Those of us who work at the human-environment interface should really be making our work more widely known. Sure a virus or an asteroid could wipe out life as we know it, but the majority of environmental problems we face as a species have their roots and solutions in human behavior and decision-making.
Engaging the public by relating what we do, how we do it, and what it means requires that we actually put something out there for consideration, recognize that people will respond, and commit to civil conversation that may take us in unexpected directions. Public environmental anthropology might not get counted towards tenure (if that’s your goal), but it takes a step towards building scientific literacy, public trust, and a community that works together to make the planet a more sustainable place for all living beings.
So, I accept the challenge and will give Twitter a try for the summer. #environmentalanthropology
For more information:
- Five ways in which Twitter can be useful in academic contexts, Raul Pacheco-Vega
- Twitter for academics, The Online Academic
- The academic benefits of Twitter, Carole McGranahan, Savage Minds
Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers. Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering. According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.
Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM. Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States. Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”
As scholar-teachers, all professors at R1 universities are expected to devote time towards research, teaching, and service. My expected ratio of 60-30-10 for my “40” hour workweek was described to me when I was hired. It doesn’t really work out that way very well unless you are an expert at time management and saying no. Most professors work way more than 40 hours a week to get everything accomplished. I read recently it was more like 60-80 hours per week, including weekends (thank goodness I don’t work in Wisconsin). Plus, saying no, when you stand in the shadow of the tenure monster, is difficult. If I say no to this person or this project or this committee now, will it come back to haunt me later? This is the question that keeps many an assistant professor up at night tossing and turning. Read the blogs.
I didn’t do a good job saying no my first three years as an assistant professor. Let’s just say that in Fall 2013, just before my mom died, I did a back of the envelope calculation and figured out that between classes, research, and advising I was interacting with roughly 220+ students. Go ahead and laugh if you’re running a calculus program or managing introductory biology, chemistry or physics lab courses. Get it over with. It’s all relative. In a small department like mine, you sit on multiple committees. And with my interests in environmental change and sustainability, I was identified pretty early on and asked to participate in a couple of larger university initiatives focused on these topics. Lastly, I was also trying to establish an international and interdisciplinary research program. So lots of stuff to do, people to manage, projects to get up and running.
Now I am not complaining. I love challenges, and took all of this head on. However, as I head into my third year as an assistant professor I am seeing the need to slow down and change things up if I want to survive long-term and have some measure of success. And as awful as it sounds, the deaths of both my parents last year put a lot of things about life and living into perspective for me. A final lesson from parent to child. So no is my new, old favorite – my mom told me once that no was the second word I learned to say. My brother had to learn to say no last year at work when he was taking care of my dad. He told me the other day he is still reaping the benefits and getting what he needs to get done.
Saying no to things though, I’m finding out means saying yes to others. Options, in some cases, that I didn’t even know existed. Now I have time to finish that manuscript that’s been languishing in my files, learn a new data analysis program that I’ve been wanting to test with an old dataset, and really network with other researchers in order to develop new projects. It’s a bit bewildering. Just what have I said yes to?