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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Scientists, practitioners, religious communities urge collaborative action to save our planet
Sep03

Scientists, practitioners, religious communities urge collaborative action to save our planet

September’s Special Issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment brings together the perspectives of anthropologists, architects, city planners, ecologists, engineers, ranchers, members of religious communities and others on ways to foster Earth Stewardship—defined here as taking action to sustain life in a rapidly changing world.

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Pickett touts importance of stewardship and a diverse, collaborative ecological community

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst When sharing science with diverse publics representing a broad swath of cultural, ethnic, ideological and socioeconomic interests, it certainly helps when those doing the sharing are themselves representative of a diverse cross-section of society. In a recent The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Ecological Society of America (ESA) President Steward Pickett (2011-2012) notes that the science of ecology is strengthened when a wide variety of individuals are engaged in it, bringing a diversity of values to the table. Pickett refers to science as a system consisting of three parts: 1) engaging in discovery 2) nurturing a diverse community that carries out the act of discovery and 3) connecting the science to the larger society. “This diverse community, that’s part of the mechanism by which science works, but this diverse community is also the mechanism that connects the science, the discovery and the understanding, to the larger society…science is a system. It requires all three of those things and the community that does this complex job needs to be mutually supportive and to really understand what all this does and ESA is uniquely positioned to promote all three of the parts of the scientific process.” says Pickett. In the podcast, he also discusses ESA’s Earth Stewardship Initiative and the Society’s efforts to advance sustainability. Pickett emphasizes that ecologists need to function as a partner amongst a network of groups and disciplines working towards a common goal.   These can include religious groups, landscape designers, natural resource managers and social scientists.   A diversity of people and perspectives play just as important role in advancing environmental sustainability, says Pickett, as biological diversity does in sustaining an ecosystem. This commitment to fostering human diversity in the ecological community underscores the importance of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which seeks to nurture interest and development in ecology among traditionally underrepresented communities. Increasing minority participation in the sciences has been a priority at the US Department of Education and was cited in a National Academies report as key towards sustaining the nation’s global competitiveness in innovation. As Pickett notes, promoting diversity internally should complement external outreach by scientists beyond the traditional ecological community. Science investment enjoys support in part because of the broad cross-section of the nation that benefits from it, including education and research institutions in virtually every state. Sharing science beyond the scientific community is a critical part of the scientific enterprise.   To maintain critical investments in science and education as well as further public understanding of the natural world, it is essential that this outreach continue....

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Psychologist, green building manager, religious leader urge ecologists to move beyond their own scientific community

The Ecological Society of America’s 96th Annual Meeting is taking place in Austin, Texas and kicked off on Sunday, August 7 with an Opening Plenary Panel featuring Richard Morgan, Austin Energy’s Green Building and Sustainability Manager, social psychologist, Susan Clayton of the College of Wooster, and the Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Matthew Anderson-Stembridge.  Joining the trio, was ecologist Laura Huenneke, ESA Vice President for Public Affairs, who moderated the discussion.  The group explored the management, psychological, and religious and moral aspects of ensuring that Earth’s life support systems remain resilient in the face of human demands. In her opening remarks, Huennke said that the ecological community understands it has much to learn from other communities and that advancing the goal of stewardship of the planet will require multiple efforts by many different communities.  She said that ecologists should “listen very deeply” and work collaboratively with others. Richard Morgan explained that because Austin Energy is a city-owned electric utility, it must be responsive to its citizens, who want to see the utility take environmentally responsible actions.  Increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste are a key part of Earth stewardship, said Morgan.  The old fashioned way in which building permits are still issued, he said, are holding back the degree of progress that would be possible if these were updated.  The same prescriptive codes used in the 1980s are still in effect; if the real impact of a building in a community were taken fully into account, said Morgan, it would dramatically reduce energy consumption using already-existing technology. Matthew Anderson-Stembridge expressed his gratitude to ESA in inviting him to the Plenary and said that the open letter members of the scientific community send to religious leaders in 1990, set a course for many communities of faith to embrace care for the environment as part of their charge.  He said the term ‘steward’ is particularly meaningful to communities of faith and helps define our relationship to each other and to the environment.  Anderson-Stembridge encouraged ecologists to use the “universal human venue” of storytelling and then provide the facts. Susan Clayton recommended that ecological scientists be mindful of language choices in speaking about environmental issues.  She reminded the audience that because many people react negatively to well-known but politically affiliated people such as Al Gore, one should avoid associating such people with an issue because doing so can prevent an audience hostile to someone such as Gore from hearing your message.  It’s important to learn something about your audience and find a way to connect with their values, said Clayton; find language that resonates with where they...

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Sharing ecology online

It is no secret that the world is becoming increasingly digital. The evening news has less of a role in disseminating leading headlines than a friend or colleague does. That is, social media outlets have become primary sources of news—in general, stories vetted by friends, coworkers and family members have gained more credibility than a random, syndicated news report. This change in interactive networking brings with it challenges and a unique potential to broaden and simultaneously deepen conversations about science. As a result, the Ecological Society of America, has launched a new Facebook page as part of its efforts to initiate dialogue about the Society and ecological research, policy engagement, education and other initiatives in general. The new Facebook page allows you to Like ESA, post on the wall, view or add photos and start a discussion. You can also subscribe to the new Facebook page on your phone or as an RSS feed to receive ESA news and updates from the ecological community. ESA also provides updates on Twitter @ESA_org. And during this year’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, tweeting enters meeting attendees into a drawing for the new ESA t-shirt, “Ecologists Do It in the Field.” Use Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on Earth Stewardship—in addition to networking with colleagues and receiving real-time meeting and Society announcements. Join the conversation about Earth Stewardship using #earthsteward on Twitter and mentioning “Earth Stewardship” on ESA’s Facebook wall. All responses will be automatically entered into the daily drawing. To share information about the annual meeting in general, use #ESA11 on Twitter. The theme of this year’s meeting, “Earth Stewardship: Preserving and enhancing the earth’s life-support systems,”will be explored in the numerous presentations and discussions during the conference.  The Society hopes some participants will also use the Society’s social media venues to share opinions, ideas, insights and suggestions. With your help, these contributions can help ESA formulate the best approaches to enhancing Earth Stewardship. Participants MUST be attending the annual meeting in order to collect the prizes. Winners will be announced on Twitter through ESA’s Twitter page, using the @mention feature to notify the winner. They will also be announced on ESA’s Facebook wall. Prizes will be picked up at the ESA booth in the exhibit hall. Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig...

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Environmental justice: Merging Earth stewardship with social justice

Can social justice be achieved (at least partially) through the advancement of environmental stewardship? Both the executive branch of the federal government and a number of local community outreach organizations across the country believe it’s certainly an effective avenue to take when working to ensure our nation’s communities have equal input into the policy proposals that impact our natural surroundings. One of those organizations is the Eden Place Nature Center in Chicago, which received accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 for its creative use of natural landscaping to support the native wildlife that contributes to the region’s biodiversity. In the most recent Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winner Kellen Marshall-Gillespie speaks about her experiences working on ecological issues within the Eden Place Nature Center as she pursues her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Chicago. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The term arose in the 1980s when racial minority communities raised concerns that they were disproportionately impacted by the effects of industrial pollution. There were also concerns in these communities that mainstream environmental organizations were not prioritizing issues related to environmental justice, concerns that would finally earn a federal response in the coming decade. According to the EPA, at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus and a bipartisan coalition of scientists and conservation activists, the agency created the Environmental Equity Working group in 1990 to address these concerns. In 1992, the working group issued a final report entitled “Reducing Risk in All Communities.” Among its findings, the report noted that due to exposures to environmental pollutants, black children have a disproportionately higher lead blood levels compared to whites, even when socioeconomic variables are considered. It also cited findings from the Argonne National Laboratory, indicating that “higher percentages of blacks and Hispanics live in EPA-designated non-attainment areas, relative to whites, for particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide and lead.” (A non-attainment area is defined as a locality where air pollution levels persistently, over several years, exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards as defined under the Clean Air Act of 1990). The report also attributed the “not in my backyard” syndrome as the reason many hazardous and solid waste facilities are positioned near communities with the least ability to mount a protest. On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, entitled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low‐Income Populations” (EO 12898). It directs...

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Inspiring an Environmental Stewardship Generation

It’s been said that, for better or worse, the experiences from your early childhood tend to stick with you for the rest of your life and influence the adult you become. Policymakers, environmentalists and ecological scientists are wise to take this sentiment into account in their efforts to get average citizens to care more about the environment and inform policy as it relates to environmental stewardship.

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Moving forward on environmental literacy

This post contributed by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs Connect with gamers.  Connect with religious communities.  Work with public health professionals.  Explore.  Make the connection to a green economy.  Find champions in the private sector.  Engage with your community.  These were all messages those participating in last week’s Ecology and Education Summit heard from a wide range of speakers focused on improving environmental understanding and stewardship.   Convened by the Ecological Society of America and the National Education Association, as well as dozens of partners, the Summit explored ways to enhance environmental education in the United States.  The conference brought together a wide range of people involved in education—from those focused on green schools to those exploring ways to deepen interest in the environment using computer games, and religious leaders promoting Earth stewardship and social justice.  Focusing on global climate change, polar explorer Will Steger said that he sees building a clean-energy economy as a method for alleviating climate change, contributing to the economy, and advancing national security.  Through his Foundation, Steger seeks to contribute to this transition. Cassandra Carmichael, with the National Council of Churches, pointed out that, while the science community has knowledge, the religious community has thousands of years of practice in powerful metaphors that successfully move and motivate people.  She argued that these two communities should interact more on their common goal of protecting ecosystems, regardless of differing views about whether or not these are “God’s creations.”  Carmichael noted that elected officials take particular notice of “someone with a white collar or a nun” appearing in their office and making a pitch for taking better care of our natural resources.  Watching a congressional hearing on endangered species unfold years ago, I saw first-hand how an evangelical minister disarmed a Member of Congress with eloquent arguments based on religious values when that same Representative had just successfully filleted a scientist who was also testifying for species protection. Thinking carefully about various communities and their perceptions was another recurring theme of the Summit.  One conference participant noted that in his experience, replacing the word “environmental” with “stewardship” or with “natural resources” keeps people engaged who would otherwise immediately switch off, assuming that the speaker is an elitist “tree hugger.” And while some conference attendees seemed to feel strongly that an outdoor experience should be the top goal, others argued for taking advantage of existing trends in society, such as the estimated 500 million so-called gamers, or people who regularly play computer games.  Instead of maligning this activity, argued game designer Rusel DeMaria, those promoting environmental education should think about ways to reach gamers through their favorite...

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