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Climate Change & My Weekly Hot Mess

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…

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:

Communicating Anthropology Goals

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

For want of a nail…

Listserves drive me crazy, even when I have all the posts condensed to a daily digest form.  However, they occasionally bring me important information about what my peers are working on, job, conference, or workshop opportunities, new articles, relevant news, and networking possibilities.  Today I received notice about yet another looming battle in ongoing war against science – in this case, it would be more accurate to say social science –  in the United States.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, introduced HR 4186 on 10 March 2014 – they’re calling it the FIRST Act.  It’s a budget bill that provides funding to the National Science Foundation so scientists can do basic research, discover, invent, and teach the next generation of scientists along the way. Rep. Smith states,

To remain globally competitive, we need to make sure our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth. Our bill focuses taxpayer investments for basic research in critical areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics. Advances in these fields drive innovation, create jobs and keep our economy strong.”

Don’t get me wrong, we should scrutinize how taxpayer dollars are spent so that monies are spent wisely.  But science is more than STEM, and social science is just as crucial to economic growth and the competitiveness of our nation as any of the biophysical sciences, mathematics, or engineering.  New inventions and technologies are great, but real people with different sorts of values, ethics, risk perceptions, vulnerabilities, economic status, genders, ages, ethnicities, etc. have to actually use them, and maybe even understand what they’re for and why they’re important.

HR 4186 targets the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) at NSF in particular by cutting it’s funding budget 42%.  As highlighted in Nature News Blog, “it seeks to cap SBE funding at $150 million per year in 2014 and 2015, well below the directorate’s actual 2014 budget of $257 million.”  This translates into smaller pots of money available for researchers – both established researchers as well as young scientists applying for funds to conduct their dissertation field work.

As for the proposal peer-review process, Rep. Smith states,The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process. But it does expand accountability and requires transparency so that only high quality research receives taxpayer funds. Finally, the FIRST Act reauthorizes and streamlines federal investments at the NSF and NIST by funding research and development to address national needs.”  Okay, but how does that translate into reality?  Basically, the SBE would need to justify that every awarded grant is in one of 6 national interest areas: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense (Nature News, 2014).  Which means that researchers need to provide this in their proposals.  Does that mean we get more than ~15 pages now to explain everything?  Or do we have to cut out some of the hard, important stuff on theoretical underpinnings and methods to make room?   I like that Rep. Smith specifically cites the waste of $340,000 for early human-set fires in New Zealand.  It’s clear that he doesn’t see any connections between fire, changing climate patterns, and what we could learn from history or other cultures.  Again, this sort of change will make it tougher for many social scientists to get funding for research.

Lastly, grant recipients are capped at 5 years and proposals to 5 citations regardless of discipline.   Long-term research and complex projects just got more difficult.  That includes longitudinal studies with different populations and research on human-environment interactions.  And only 5 citations?  Just to repeat, FIVE citations.  WHAT??????  Are they crazy?  I guess that means we have to cut out all that boring, hard stuff on theoretical support for our ideas and methods on how we actually intend to carry out the research.  There’s more problems with the bill being introduced, but I need to cool off a bit.  How does this work in the interests of making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent?  Anything could be proposed.  <snark> I guess we’ve now seen the edge of the universe, no need to stand on the shoulders of giants to look any further. </snark>

Internet rumor has it that George Washington, our first president, once said, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”  As a scientist, and an anthropologist, I couldn’t agree more.

For Want Of A Nail. Scott Gustafson, 2010

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