Seeing the Forest for the Trees (Part II)

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Continued from Part I of Seeing the Forest for the Trees.

Last week I attended Dr. Peterson’s lecture, “Climate, Forests and Future: A View from Treeline” at the University of Washington as a part of the School of Forest Resources and the College of the Environment lecture series, Sustaining our Northwest World.

There were two subjects within the lecture that particularly caught my attention, the first being a number of actions that policy makers and environmental managers need to take into account when preparing for the effects of climate change. The second topic was a discussion on the very interaction of climate scientists and policy makers themselves and the effects on the issues at stake. He said that scientists as well as environmental managers need to take a keep a number of things in mind when responding to this climate crisis.[ad name=”Go-RT-Large Square”]

1. The first of these issues is undoubtedly, communication. Scientists and policy makers need to collaborate with each other, with planners and coordinators who don’t necessarily read all the scientific journals through which the majority of data is published. Scientists need to be proactive in getting their info out to the people who need to put it to use. Connections need to be made, both informal and professional. Something so informal as going out for a beer and a chat can have particularly relevant effects. Though it seems as though scientists and policy makers can be speaking completely different languages (and sometimes they actually are), communication and partnership in the end will trump the mentality of individualism that has reigned over the field for so long.

2. The second issue is the need to recognize and encourage interdisciplinary training in our environmental scientists. There is a need for ecologists who understand policy and risk assessments and policy makers who understand ecology. Cross training and mutual understanding is extremely important in such an interdisciplinary field as climate change.

Note: there is a significant difference between interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary training. Interdisciplinary training knows how multiple disciplines interact, affect each other, respond to each other, and work together, something that is essential to the understanding of climate change and environmental science.

3. Next, Dr. Peterson discussed an essential shift in and improvement of research priorities. Rather than following the funding based motivations, or even the curiosity based motivations, climate researchers need to follow the need based motivations. Collaborating with climate managers and policy makers will make it clear where these needs actually lie. Frankly, there isn’t much in the way of glory for this kind of interdisciplinary work. But there should be. It’s hard, necessary work that will drive the future of climate science, policy, and the environment itself. Only by reevaluating our research priorities will we be able to focus our efforts where they are most needed.

4. In a similar vein, there is a need to institutionalize this kind of interdisciplinary research in order to make way for the needed research and create pathways through which the appropriate science can be done.

As the owner of an interdisciplinary degree, I full-heartedly, agreed with Dr. Peterson on this subject. It only makes sense that we need our climate scientists and policy makers to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively in order to develop appropriate solutions, as the issues are as vast and as interconnected as the ecosystems that are at stake.

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