Baron on earth stewardship and promoting a sustainable society
Jun16

Baron on earth stewardship and promoting a sustainable society

A key component of advancing earth stewardship involves communicating ecological science to stakeholders outside the ecological community. Continued outreach to policymakers at all levels of government is critical for sustaining investment and resources for all fields of science as well as building relationships that foster collaboration. Yet, now more than ever, success in the advancement of earth stewardship efforts necessitates engaging the ecological community with a diverse array of stakeholders who, in addition to policymakers, can include city planners, landowners, religious leaders and businesses. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA past president Jill Baron reflects on her work to advance the Earth Stewardship Initiative, which she carried forward from former Presidents Mary Power, Terry Chapin, Steward Pickett and Scott Collins. She also discusses her work as an ecosystem ecologist with the United States Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center and her history of involvement with the Ecological Society of America. Baron also reflected on her 2014 annual meeting special session on engaging with business and industry to promote earth stewardship. Perhaps surprising to some, the business community has long been working on climate resiliency efforts that lower the cost of insurance, save energy, promote green infrastructure and other efforts that decrease their carbon footprint and help local economies adapt to climate change. Baron stresses the importance of ecologists practicing their science by reaching out to communities in need of environmental science knowledge and encourages young scientists to pursue careers in the corporate world, particularly in light of declining opportunities in academia and government. “There are great ecology students coming out of the pipeline, but only a fixed number of academic positions, and a dwindling number of federal service positions like my own. There is, however, a growing need for people with ecological background to inform and work on sustainability issues with corporations.  ESA can help show ecologists the many career opportunities that will make a difference, not just in the corporate world, but for the products they provide to society, and ESA can also show corporations there’s a need for this kind of knowledge as they move towards sustainability.” “We have in this country wonderful environmental regulations and those are incredibly important to maintain and strengthen, but in order to actually move sustainability activities forward, we must increasingly engage with the businesses that provide the products of daily life, not just...

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Social science in action

By Nadine Lymn, director of public affairs Social scientists have been weathering repeated attacks lately from congressional leaders deriding  the value and validity of their work. The scientific community has responded.   The Ecological Society of America is one of several scientific societies serving as a collaborator to show support for social science and its contributions to other fields and to society. A new initiative of the National Academy’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences in Action (SBSIA) aims to “raise awareness of the vitality, validity, and value of the social and behavioral sciences to the scientific enterprise, to public policy, and to the nation’s well-being…” Earlier this week, a symposium, held at the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the key role social science plays in national security, medicine and engineering.  Biologist Rita Colwell, health policy analyst Lucian Leape, national security psychologist Robert Fein and mechanical engineer John Lee were among the speakers who highlighted how social science is integral to their work. Colwell said that without her social scientist colleagues, she would have had neither the access nor the success in reaching the 150,000 individuals in 50 villages in Bangladesh to tamp down the incidence of cholera.  This social-biological collaboration reduced cholera by 50 percent in three years.   The insights provided by a social scientists opened the way to reach these communities, said Colwell.  The social scientists developed the questionnaire with local mores in mind, knowing what questions would and would not be appropriate in the region.  They understood the cultural practices and environmental views of the local people and selected families to participate in the study. “It would have been a tragedy” said Colwell, if the scientists had missed the chance to help so many people who were suffering and dying from this disease.  Colwell has studied cholera for 40 years and she and colleagues knew that it can be dramatically curtailed by filtering water through sari cloths folded five times.  Cholera—which is often fatal—is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the environment and is associated with a tiny zooplankton called a copepod.  Filter out the copepod and you’ve also filtered out the cholera bacterium, along with a host of other water-borne bacteria and viruses. Women in the rural villages of Bangladesh are the ones who educate the family and are therefore key to addressing the problem—Colwell and her fellow researchers  in essence trained the women to be extension agents who learned how to filter the water and then shared this technique with others.  When Colwell and colleagues did a follow-up study five years later, they found that a significant proportion of women were...

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From the Community: space bacteria, chimeras and sea turtles

Citizen scientist notices thousands of birds trapped in the lights of this year’s 9/11 memorial in New York City, endangered turtles get a second chance in Florida, flu viruses last longer in cool, dry environments, a blogger sets up a serendipitous research collaboration and the Potomac River shows signs of improvement due to aquatic conservation efforts. Here is research in ecology from mid-September.

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National Academies report: A “New Biology”

This post was contributed by ESA’s Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn. Tony Janetos, a panelist at today’s National Academies briefing. Today the National Research Council, a division of the National Academies, released a report that calls for a new biology initiative to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges, including food and energy production, environmental degradation, and human health.  The report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century“, calls for the collaboration of biological, physical, and social scientists, mathematicians and engineers, using recent advances in biology to address some of society’s most pressing problems.  This ambitious national initiative, according to the report, should be on par with America’s quest to put a man on the moon in the 20th Century. Committee participants Phillip Sharp of MIT, Anthony Janetos  of the Joint Global Change Research Institute and Keith Yamamoto of UC-San Francisco gave an overview of the report this morning at the National Academies.  Among their messages:  we need an increased investment in the life sciences to address some of society’s most pressing problems, and we have a unique opportunity for cross-discipline integration with the physical, computational, and other sciences to address some of our most urgent problems. The thread of ecology weaves through each of the four major challenges identified by the report.  The food challenge is to achieve sustainable, local food production and understand crops as ecosystems.  The environmental challenge is to halt and reverse ecosystem damage from pollution, over-harvesting, habitat fragmentation, and climate change.  The energy challenge is to develop a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, and the health challenge is individualized health surveillance and care, including an individual’s environment, history, micro-biome, genotype and physiology. The report makes four recommendations: (1)  Launch a National New Biology Initiative to achieve solutions to societal challenges in food, energy, environment, and health. (2)  Make the Initiative an interagency effort with a 10-year timeline and funding in addition to current agency budgets. (3)  Develop information sciences and technologies that are critical to the New Biology. (4)  Develop interdisciplinary curricula, graduate and educator training needed to create and support New Biologists. The report’s release is exciting to many who for years have been advocating for greater support for collaborative research and tools needed to address major society challenges.  The panelists noted that they have already had conversations with White House officials about the report. Biologists have a great opportunity to get engaged and help move the ideas of this report forward with their fellow scientists, Congress, and the Obama Administration. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy supported the report. Read the full report...

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